An Inspiring Coach

Today I wanted to talk about a coach that has inspired me a lot! His name is Bengt ”Bengan” Johansson and he was a very successful coach for the Swedish national team in handball. During his years of coaching, from 1988 to 2004, Sweden won 13 medals in 16 championships (Olympics, World & European Championships)! This is the most successful time period for any Swedish national team, no matter what sport.


Phenomenal coaching skills

During a time-out in the 2002 European Championship final, between Sweden and Germany, ”Bengan” shows phenomenal coaching skills. It is 17 seconds left of the game, Sweden is down by one goal, and needs to score to make the match a draw (to get it to overtime).  If you understand Swedish you can watch the clip here. The time-out starts exactly four minutes into the clip. The team starts to discuss what they should do, what alternative to play. The coach ”Bengan” basically says two things during the whole time-out:

  • ”How shall we play?”
  • ”Tell me what you want to do.”

This may seem very different from the ordinary situation where you might think that the coach should tell the team what to do. Bare in mind, this is a extremely important moment, so you would almost except that the coach should ”act with strength” and push that on to the team. But not ”Bengan”. He takes a step back. After all, the players play the game and knows the most about what to do. The really magic moment for me is when one of the players after some discussions says ”We need to decide”. What do you think ”Bengan” says then? He says nothing, the team has to make that decision!

So what did happen? Sweden managed to score the goal to take the match to overtime. In that overtime, Sweden won with 33-31 over Germany and became the 2002 European Champions! In fact, this particular time-out has been so famous, that a remake of it has been made.


This is a brilliant example of a motivated team with autonomy, mastery & purpose! As a coach, this is the situation you would want to be in. You can argue that the coach ”doesn’t do anything”, but that is far from the truth. How do you get to this situation you would love to be in?

”Bengan” spent years building the team. Not just by playing handball, but also to develop the individuals as well as doing all sorts of crazy things to strengthen the team. There is one story from a tournament they played in a new city. ”Bengan” took the team from the hotel and spend 30 minutes traveling by subway and bus. Then they stopped. A player asked: ”What shall we do now?”. ”Bengan” replied: ”Now you should find the way back to the hotel”. The players didn’t have any maps, mobile phones or anything. For some it took one hour, for others three hours, but they all managed to get back.

If you want to know more about Bengt ”Bengan” Johansson,  you can watch the “Bengan boys”-documentary (in Swedish) here.


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