Swans skipper Ashley Williams speaks to Jack Magazine about his new style of captaincy and the inspiration behind it.
KEEPING positive and thinking diplomatically is the new mantra of choice for Swansea City captain Ashley Williams.
With the help of new performance psychologist Ian Mitchell and taking inspiration from one of his idols – American football legend Ray Lewis – the club and country skipper has led the Swans to a flying start to the Barclays Premier League campaign.
Despite last weekend’s 4-2 defeat at Chelsea, Garry Monk’s side currently sit third in the top-flight after a historic opening-day victory over Manchester United and home wins over Burnley and West Brom.
And while keeping true to his values, Williams admits that he has tweaked his methods to get the very best out of his team-mates.
“I’ve tried to change a little bit this year,” the Wales international admits to Jack Magazine.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on in pre-season, speaking to Mitch [Ian Mitchell] and the gaffer to try and be a better leader.
“Normally, I’m a very vocal captain and quite aggressive, which probably reflects the way I play and the way I am on the pitch.
“But this year I’ve tried to look at it a bit more diplomatically. I realise you can’t treat all players exactly the same – different players thrive off of a different way of leadership.
“I try and find out what works for my team-mates to get the very best out of them.
“I’m still vocal, and I always will be. However, I want to stay positive throughout the game, so that I can send the right message to the group.”
So far for Garry Monk’s men, that message seems to be doing the trick.
Having enjoyed their best start to a season since 1923, the Swans have earned plenty of plaudits, with Williams playing a colossal role in the club’s promising beginning to 2014-15.
“I look at what other leaders do and try to take what I feel are positives from their style,” says Williams.
“I’m a big fan of an NFL player named Ray Lewis. Wayne Routledge and myself are both big fans of his.
“He was a great leader of his team Baltimore Ravens, and he’s someone that I definitely look up to in order to see how he leads his team.”
Prior to retiring from American football in 2012, Williams’ hero Lewis spent the entirety of his 17-year career with the Baltimore Ravens and is widely regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever leaders.
Renowned for his ability to inspire his team-mates, he often spoke about how important it was to keep his emotions in check – something the Swans skipper is keen to implement on his own style.
“He’s one of the greatest leaders in sport, in my opinion,” adds the 30-year-old.
“What I really like about him is that he always tries to see the good in any situation.
“He’s a very positive leader but, at the same time, he makes sure everyone knows what they are doing and where they need to be by being aggressive within his message.”
Williams also has plenty of his own experiences to draw upon when in need of inspiration.
By his own admission, the Wolverhampton-born centre-back has captained every club he has played for, at some point or another.
Shortly after joining Stockport County from non-league outfit Hednesford Town at the tender age of 19, Williams was named captain of the Hatters, while he has skippered Wales – on a permanent basis – since 2012 and Swansea since 2013.
“I’ve seen a lot of things that have probably moulded the leader I am and the person that I am,” acknowledges Williams.
“From a young age, I’ve always felt like a leader and someone that can make decisions. It’s something I’ve always felt comfortable in doing.
“I’ve been through all of the divisions, so I draw from those experiences.
“It’s not something I consciously think about, but when you play with players that have been to work from nine-to-five before going to training, you see that they are tough men.”
Much like Swansea City as a whole, there is a sense of groundedness in Williams’ tone.
Amid the glitz and glamour of a film premiere last weekend – to launch ‘Jack to a King’, a film documenting the rags to relative riches story of the Swans – there are parallels to draw between Swansea and Williams’ rise to the top.
As ‘Jack to a King’ reminded us, it has been a long and incredible journey to the Premier League for the Swans. From being on the verge of going out of business at the bottom of the Football League to achieving the unthinkable in just a single decade.
Similarly, having been released by West Bromwich Albion at the age of 16, Williams has had to rebuild his career.
And it has been a roller-coaster ride for the man who once worked at a theme park, as a waiter at a restaurant and as a petrol station attendant.
“Being captain of a Premier League club as well as Wales is something I’m used to now, but there are times when I do think about the position I’m in,” Williams reflects.
“When I played for Wales against Andorra – a team of players that all worked in normal jobs bar one player – I could relate to that and it made me think about where I have come from.
“For me, it’s important to ensure my team-mates know that we are lucky to be doing what we’re doing.”
After such a promising start to the campaign, it’s crucial that, like Williams, the Swans remain grounded.
But with their captain to guide them, Swans supporters can be assured that Monk’s men will be taking nothing for granted.
Ashley Williams on the gaffer:
Despite now referring to him as “the gaffer”, Ashley Williams reveals his friendship with Swans boss Garry Monk remains unchanged.
After pairing up regularly at the heart of the Swansea defence for over six years, the Swans skipper insists Monk’s transition from team-mate to manager has only had a positive impact on their relationship.
“It’s probably become more professional,” admits the Swans skipper. “We probably speak a lot more than we used to, to be honest.
“We’re still good friends, we still talk about normal things away from football. But we talk a lot more now than we used to about our profession and what we are trying to achieve.
“He leans on me and I lean on him. We probably talk less rubbish these days, but it hasn’t changed anything in terms of our friendship.”