David Martín Lozano is the current head coach of the Spanish national waterpolo team. He is also a psychologist by academic training. In the past, he was a waterpolo player for Club Natació Atlètic Barceloneta, with which he won 8 Spanish Leagues, 9 King’s Cups, 8 Spanish Super Cups, and 6 Catalan Cups. He was an international player 180 times with the Spanish national waterpolo team and participated in the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the London 2012 Olympics.

As the coach of the national team, he has won seven medals in seven years. Those who know him highlight his emotional intelligence, his strong work ethic, and his ability to instill confidence.

We have talked to him about leadership and values.


How do you build a team and what role does leadership play in this process?

To build a high-performance team, you need to surround yourself with the best, including talented players and a good staff; you also need a clear game plan and a work methodology that allows you to achieve the results you have set. Having a clear game plan is essential. Otherwise, as a coach, you can find yourself plagued by doubts. When you know how you want your team to play, it’s much easier to define the path forward: which signings to make, how to select the members of your staff.

Can the leader, the coach in this case, afford the luxury of doubt?

In fact, I have many doubts, but as a coach, I need to be clear about what I want to achieve beyond those doubts, which are always there, especially at the elite level of sports where results are prioritized, and there is a lot of pressure and criticism.

“If you have
a clear game plan,
you will always know
how to find the path
to success”

What do you look for when building a team?

Personally, I think that for building a team, it is very important: talent, work, and tenacity. First, talent. You need to fill all positions with talent in a balanced way. Talent is not just about scoring goals. There are other talents that help achieve the result.

Secondly, you also need work. If you have a lot of talent but do not work hard, it’s impossible to compete at the elite level. Physical and mental preparation are very important. Therefore, I look for people with specific talent and also a great capacity for work.

And thirdly, I look for tenacious people, capable of pursuing goals without falling, giving up, or doubting. Intermittent work does not allow you to win. You need people who know that their moment can come and who maintain their effort consistently on a daily basis.

And I would add a fourth element: the ability to adapt. You can have talent and work hard, but if you only do so under certain conditions, you also won’t get very far. You must be aware that the environment changes and you need to adapt to it.

What do you not want in a team?

Excuses and permanent toxicity. On one hand, with excuses, you cannot compete at the elite level. Today, I think they are a widespread problem. Neither the referee, the ball, cold water, nor anything else can be an excuse for not performing at your best.

“Excuses and permanent toxicity have
no place in my teams”

On the other hand, permanent toxicity does a lot of harm to the team. Everyone can have a bad day, but as a rule, the team must maintain a positive atmosphere. For this reason, I make sure that everyone who joins, whether players or staff, understands that bad mood and negative attitudes are always left out.

Does the leader build the team or must adapt to it?

Both, depending on the situation. In the national team, for example, you can choose the players you want, but if you sign with a club, you will find a team to which you must adapt because it will take time to mold them to your idea of play.

A good leader is one who has the ability to adapt, who can build from their own idea but also knows how to adapt to the team’s characteristics when necessary. Sometimes you want to play a certain style of game, but the people you have do not allow it.

Busques talent amb habilitats relacionals?

This type of talent is also very important. You can occasionally win with cold relationships within the team, but if you want sustained success, the relationships among team members need to be positive.

Leadership within the team is very important. In this regard, I believe in shared responsibility and shared leadership. You need to have four or five key figures in the team who can trasnmit your ideas about behavior, training, and play to the rest of its members. When you work with so many people, it’s very difficult to reach everyone individually. In this regard, there is a key figure, the ‘firefighter,’ capable of extinguishing small fires because you, as a leader, cannot attend to everything. If you have people who manage the small things, you can focus on what’s really important.

Is trust a key element to achieving results?

No, not always. I don’t believe in the idea that if you think you can, you will. For us, it was very difficult to win a world championship. We had to work very hard to achieve it. It is true that, once we achieved it, being aware that we were capable of competing with the best has boosted our confidence in our abilities, and that has been positive.

Confidence is a very important part, but not sufficient to compete at the elite level. Behind it, there must always be many hours of work and also results. No matter how much confidence you have, if you have never won a world championship, you can’t think every day ‘Today, I will surely win’ and expect it to happen.

“Behind every success,
there is always a lot of work”

Is it easy to destroy confidence?

Very easy. In general, it is much easier to destroy than to build anything. Confidence is destroyed by doubts, and that is why the coach must work to ensure that the team does not permanently dwell in doubt. You have to keep on top of it. As a leader, you shouldn’t be worried about doubts arising, because it’s normal for them to exist, but you must have the ability to manage them and respond to them.

“A leader must be able to resolve doubts because this is a source of confidence for the group”

How does a leader handle their moments of doubt?

The leader also needs help. You need to be surrounded by trusted people who can help you in moments of doubt. It is essential that all decisions are made collectively (in terms of playing style, physical preparation, and when dismissing players). You assume greater responsibility because you are the coach, but the decision is made collectively. In moments of doubt, as a leader, you must ask, you must talk, you should not want to bear the entire weight of decisions individually because this generates a lot of stress and ends up being harmful.

Do you exercise leadership consciously or does it come naturally to you?

“Everything that is for the good of the team and to improve it, I do consciously. The team is above everyone, including the leader.

“As a coach,
my job is
to maximize the players’ performance
to grow the team”

Individual treatment does flow naturally. I like to be close to the players, have contact with them, talk to them. I understand that they are not just players; behind each one there is a person.

Can the ability to lead be learned?

Some say that leadership can be learned, while others think it is an innate quality. I believe it is fitty fifty: everyone has the capacity to lead at some point in their life. It can be temporary or more permanent. There is also a part of life experience that helps shape your personality to be able to manage a team.

In this regard, my experience as a player, having worked with different coaches, or having been a team captain at the elite level of sports, for example, has helped me a lot.

Have you specifically trained to lead?

I am a psychologist and have trained in various aspects related to leadership. I also read a lot and pay attention to people I admire like Pep Guardiola or Phil Jackson. I try to learn every day because I believe you should never stop training yourself.

If you don’t
continuously train yourself,
it will be hard to make progress.

Who are your references in terms of leadership?

I’m not really one to have idols. The values ​​I learned from my family are my main references, both from my parents and from my two older brothers. My father taught me that you have to be honest at work, that you have to work hard because nothing is given to you for free, and that you have to treat people well because that always comes back. From my mother, I learned effort and perseverance in work. Over time, you realize that things go well for you by applying these values.

Can leadership without values ​​succeed?

Leadership without values has an expiration date. You can do it for a season and achieve results, but in the long run, without values, you will end up destroying the project.