The England Team: Is it in their heads?

I haven’t posted a blog for a while  but after watching England lose there second game at this years World Cup in Brazil, I felt passionate enough to put some thoughts and opinions down.  I’d be very interested to get some expert opinions on this..

I’m not going to go into technical or tactical detail about the England team.  Everyone will have their own opinions about Roy Hodgson’s selections and system of play, what i’m going to focus on is what I believe to be a big factor in England’s knack of not performing on the big stage when it really matters.

Is it in their heads?

I’m convinced a lot of England’s failings at this tournament and in those in previous years come down to their mentality and ability to cope with the scrutiny they are subjected to at major tourmaments.  My journalist friend @Andrew_Gourdie tells me that it’s all part of being a top level footballer.  I certainly think there is some truth in that, those are the demands of the modern player and the modern game but why do English players playing for England seem to be worse at dealing with it than say the Germans or the Brazilians?

The English media and many supporters seem to believe England have a right to consider themselves contenders at World Cups, that they should go out and beat the best teams in the world because they are England.  Where do these expectations come from?  What facts, stats or history suggest England will buck the trend and start winning big important tournament matches?  Or do the English media build the England team up to knock them down again to help them sell newspapers and fill column inches?  If England had World Class players like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Bale or Suarez in their team then I’d agree expectations should be higher but they don’t.  What person would consider Jagielka and Cahill to be World Class defenders?  Even Rooney, he’s good but is he World Class in the same bracket as the five others I mentioned.

So the English media create fake expectations, euphoria and hype which leads to more external pressure on the players which creates resentment (which is negative feeling) and we have a situation where the players resent the media and the media resent the players (for failing to perform to their standards).

I actually feel England are achieving to their level at the moment, but thats just my personal opinion and another discussion point.

So lets talk about some mental qualities you might need to succeed at a world cup.  What about freedom and being brave.  That seems to have served Chile quite well so far, that bravery and freedom worked well for Holland against Spain and also for Columbia in their opening two matches.  England showed a decent amount of freedom and some bravery against Italy and gave their best performance at a major tournament for a while (not their best result obviously).  However the first game allows freedom, the second game there is more pressure so England go back to that negative mentality and weren’t brave enough.  Even the coach.

@TonyBarrettTimes said:

“Baines is a great player, his biggest strength or overlapping, what does he get? A system that restricts his ability to get forward”.

“Rooney is a great players, his biggest strength is getting into the box, what did he initially get? A system that wasted him out wide.

“Henderson and Gerard have been brilliant in a midfield three, what did they get? A midfield two that left them exposed”.

“Sterling shone as a number ten in the first game, what did he get? Shifted out wide and his impact greatly reduced”.

All good points which highlight a mentality to turn strengths into weaknesses because of the lack of bravery & belief.

Now you may not be able to get everyone into a system that suits their strengths, but shouldn’t you try and maximise as many or the best ones you have available?

Are England players top level players? Yes they are, they play in the best league in the world every week.  So I’m not convinced technique is the biggest frailty even though it could be better and not as good as the top nations.  I think the biggest flaws could from a mentality problem.

- Can’t cope with demands and pressure (Always fail to deliver when it matters most)

- Won’t be brave or allow freedom (Revert to negative choices when it matters most)

- Can’t be flexible, adaptable or intelligent (Blame the system or the tactics)

- Can’t execute the correct skills at the desired moments in game (Lack of focus which is mental)

So would England be better off investing more time in building their mentality, I believe they did for a bit before the World Cup but I mean, really invest significantly in this area.  If they improve their mentality by 10% that could be the difference.  It’s always an area that gets overlooked or is certainly down the pecking order when it comes to priorities.  Or i it just a cultural thing?  The Germans seem to be pretty good at it!

I believe England need to invest in a plan for the future that creates a style that suits their culture, stick to it and believe in it.  Look at Spain (not this World Cup!) they have won 3 major tournament in a row, I’m pretty sure they used to under perform and fail on the big stage all the time too!  They helped their players mentality because they gave them a style and a system of play.  A revert to type mechanism so they can always go back to the system, trust the philosophy and belief in the philosophy.  It bonds them, makes them one and allows them to put their focus in one place regardless of what happens.

I’m not a psychologist so I’m not sure how much of this makes sense but from a coaches perspective I don’t see England demonstrate the mental qualities like bravery, intelligence, focus, flexibility, trust and positivity that are needed for them to become a successful team.  The closest the come is Sturridge and Sterling who normally play with a smile but id say Brendan Rodgers know about mentality more than most.

Listen to what Chris Waddle says “Its not about talent”  http://www.101greatgoals.com/blog/chris-waddles-brilliant-rant-on-england-we-never-ever-ever-learn-audio/

Game Changing Books

“Game changers” is an expression I often use in my pre match discussions with players.  I always try and sell a concept that “X, Y & Z are the keys to success” in a particular match, basically these factors are my game changers and will have the biggest influence on proceedings.  Recent examples of game changers I’ve used could be: utilising the numerical advantage (3v2) in midfield (we do that well, we control the game and keep on the front foot) or overloading the weak fullback side 2v1 to create attacking overloads (we expose that player and we always have a threat to score goals).  These are my game changers and I’ll be blogging about these soon.

In my mind game changers were things that happened on the pitch until recently..I experienced a game changer off the field when I read Guillem Balague’s book on Pep Guardiola “Another Way of Winning”.  This book without exaggeration has changed my views on certain aspects of coaching, its a game changer for me and no doubt if you have already read the book, you felt the same or you’re are now going to make sure you read it with the expectation it will change your coaching game too.

In brief my journey is very different to Pep’s, I am still considered young as a coach (30) but I am very ambitious, committed, confident and driven to succeed.  I never played professionally so I can’t call upon an extensive array of experience in the pro game like many current top coaches can.  Coaches like Andre Villas Boas, Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho to name a few are shining lights for coaches like myself, coaches at the top of their professional using their intellect, passion, commitment and understanding of football to forge successful coaches careers, not based on playing at the highest level.  They are inspirations for me and so Pep with his amazing career as a top player doesn’t fall into that bracket but I had huge admiration for his style, manner, personna and obviously the football his Barca team played.  I look at Mourinho and Villas Boas and they have an arrogance, a sense of utter self belief that enables them to walk into a room of stars without any playing experience and tell them how to do it better.  So I believed that I had to develop that aura and sense of arrogance about myself to enable me to swagger into a room of top players and hold my own.  Of course you need more than that, you need to know your stuff but to sell yourself and gain respect that swag was a key ingredient in their success.

Then I read Guillem Balague’s book on Pep Guardiola and it changed my mindset.  I just felt so inspired that Pep could act like a well mannered, likeable and sensible human being, without manipulating people, without creating a media fanfare and still succeed.  The fact that the nice guy wins is a great story in itself.

It made me change my mindset and gave me more confidence to be myself, to stay true to my own personality and style.  I felt I didn’t have to be a mini Mourinho and create a fake personna anymore, I could just be me and be happy with that, knowing the pathway had been forged by Pep and his great example.

But it wasn’t just confidence about my own personality I gained from the book, the writing is superb, I used to watch Guillem Balague on Sky Sports in England do his Spanish Football shows and you can tell the man has fantastic insight and feeling for the game, this came across in his words, it was almost like another coach talking to me rather than a journalist. (Hope he doesn’t mind me saying that!).  There were loads, in fact pages of golden nuggets of information, of details that I felt were fantastic to know, read about and imagine.  Coaching is a lot about man management and Pep was a master in this area, the way he handles players and situations were perfect.  I also loved the fact that despite Barcelona being hands down the best team on the planet and Pep being the best coach on the planet during his time there that he still worked himself so hard every day, that he never got complacent and worked harder than anyone to stay at the top of the game.  That shows his character and mindset.

I’m convinced that Pep always felt like he had something to prove to someone all the time, whether that was the fans, the players, the board, the media etc.  Having that sense of redemption when you win makes it sweeter and that nagging fear of not slipping up and letting the doubters have their day in the sun, those are huge factors in a coaches drive and ambition.  It fuels motivation.

You have no doubt heard Brendan Rodgers talk about “If Leo Messi presses and runs hard for the team then it’s a easy sell for his players like Nathan Dyer”.  It’s a funny anecdote but what this book does is the same thing.  If Pep Guardiola (one of the best coaches in the world) works that hard then what excuses do the rest of us have?

The book is a fantastic insight into the life of Pep Guardiola, of what shapes his approach and how he managed at Barcelona.  For any coaches out there who want to develop themselves then reading this book is as good as going on a course or attending a seminar.  You can disappear into your own coaching world with Pep and get your mind racing on how you can adapt his philosophy to suit your team, how you can take the best of what he does and make it your own.  Pep talks about Cruyff passing down his style of play to Barcelona coaches including himself, Pep just adapted it to suit him but it’s not Pep’s new idea.  The same applies here, what Guillem Balague has done through Pep Guardiola is pass on a modern day super coaches philosophy and approach and shared it with the world, for all of us to create our own master pieces.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team and their style of football changed the modern game, this book is about to change the game for coaches all over the planet.

Read it now!

If you are interested you can follow Guillem Balague on twitter @GuillemBalague, I’m sure he would love to know what you felt about his book too. If you have read it then i’d love to know your thoughts so leave a comment on the post.

The ‘C’ Word: Culture

The term culture is defined by Coakley (2011) as “The ways of life that people create as they participate in a group or society”.  In a coaching context this simply means ‘the way your team participate and interact as a group’.  As a coach when you hear the term culture it can trigger lots of different connotations from ‘team building’ activities, to getting out and having a social night with the lads, from training culture to performance culture.  In my mind the term gets over used, I’ve been guilty in the past of trying to ‘create culture’ by putting on activities but in my mind culture comes from actions not words.  You can say what you want about ‘how you are going to act’ or ‘what you want to achieve’ or ‘creating a vision’ but none of it is worthwhile unless you act it out.  If you say you want to be professional, then act professionally, if you say you want to achieve a training culture where everyone keeps standards high then train with high standards and if you create a vision then you have to live it.

In a nutshell team culture is what you do, not what you say and if you are a coach looking to build a better culture with your group of players then hold off on the extravagant or elaborate team building exercises, cancel the booking on the army assault course and plan carefully exactly what your end goal looks like.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap and think team activities help build culture, they might help create spirit and bonding opportunities but that’s not the whole ‘culture package’ that’s a very small part of it.  Your team culture is what defines your team and most importantly how you act on and off the pitch.

Unfortunately building the perfect team culture isn’t an exact science and not a quick fix either, it takes time and you have to find your own way because no sets of players are the same, the dynamic is different with every team around the globe and so you have a unique team and therefore requires its own specific unique culture.

How to Build Culture

I do however have a few hints and tips I’ve picked up along the way that may help establish a better culture within your team, hopefully you can read them and relate them to your unique environment and make them work for you.  I’m going to write with senior men’s elite environment in mind but of course as with most things coaching can be age related and made appropriate, so if you coach a youth team, men or female it will hopefully be useful.

So here goes, in my opinion little things that make a big difference to improving team culture, morale and getting everyone pushing in the same direction. None of them are rocket science or new imaginative ideas but simple is effective.

1. Talk to all not just the 11.

When you are doing an 11v11 practice, the coaching courses and manuals get you to work with one team.  Leading into a match day you’ll have your starting team in mind and work with them in a 11v11 situation in the final days preparation.  This is good practice and very common I would imagine.  Don’t split the team into two 11s then send the second 11 away with your assistant or on their own and tell them to get organised into a 4-4-2 like the opposition then spend 5 minutes with your first 11 telling them the tactical plan for the weekend.  There are some simple reasons why not to do this.

  • The second 11 feel like a second 11 and you don’t want that, football is a squad game nowadays.
  • You will need at least a few of those second 11 players at the weekend in the game so they need to know the detail
  • You are a team, not an 11.
  • The more players who you can improve their tactical understanding the better.

Do get all players together before the 11v11 practice starts and outline your expectations from both teams tactically, give the second 11 some guidance on how to mirror the opposition system and then explain how the first 11 will play against it to exploit it.  That way everyone knows the situation and will feel part of the team preparing for the weekend.

2. Switch players during training games.

Staying on the subject of 11v11 practices or even the 8v8 or 9v9 small sided games you may play.  By all means get your starters playing together to help build combinations but at some point during these practices, swap a few players around or change some players positioning.  Before you do this though discuss with your team what you are going to do and why you are doing it.

  • Keeps players on their toes
  • Improves competition for places
  • Enables you to look at different combinations
  • It will ultimately help the team
  • Changes don’t mean players are performing poorly

This will help keep the larger squad motivated during training, make these games more competitive and help build your training culture and ethic.

3. Bring your substitutes in at HT.

Half time is a key part of the game (see my post The Half Time Break).  Every football match you ever see when the players depart towards the dressing rooms at half time, the subs come out onto the pitch and more often than not they kick balls around aimlessly, shoot at the reserve keeper, play piggy in the middle or muck around taking the piss out of each other.  Is any of this really warming up for the game they might be about to enter?  No so why do we keep doing it? In my book bring the subs in at half time to listen to the key messages you are delivering to the group.  If you stick someone on ten minutes into the second half you’ll spend 5 minutes repeating the half time message to them on the touchline.  The substitutes need to understand what improvement you want from the team in the second half so bring them into that discussion so they know the detail required, then if they are going on straight away send them out after you’ve made your key points and get them doing a proper warm up before the game restarts.  If they are professional enough they would have been keeping themselves ready throughout the first half anyway and 5 minutes is ample time at the break.

4. Bring extended squad players into the sheds.

If you name a squad of say 16 for a match day then ask your un-named squad members to meet the team at the same time if you’re at home.  Away games may be hard because not everyone travels but at home get all your players there and in the dressing rooms together for the pre match team talk.  You may have youngsters who can sample a match day atmosphere, fringe players who would like to know the detail that is said before games to help them understand the way the team prepares and it saves you as the coach repeating messages to others at training the following week.  You could even look at bring them in at HT as well if you have room.  The same principles apply.

5. Name the team before match day.

I’m quite passionate about this and you can read more detail in my earlier post (Naming the Team) but name your team before you turn up on match day.  If you name in on match day everyone comes with expectation and for some of them it will be false expectation, you name the team, they aren’t in it and they will be flat and disappointed.  Is that really the mood you want them in preparing for a game?  NO and don’t hide behind the excuse of “I’ve always done it that way”, “the players are used to it” or “they need to harden up”.  At the end of the day the players are only human and you’re not doing much for your culture if you treat them poorly, show some respect and let them arrive at the game knowing their roles for the day and ready to carry them out rather than disappointing them or creating a bad vibe before you play.  Respect is a huge part of building a solid foundation to your culture.

6. Tell them WHY they have been dropped.

Before you name the team for the next game talk with the players who are going to miss out or have been dropped from the line up and give them an honest explanation.  If you can’t justify your decision then maybe you haven’t made the right decision or not thought about it enough.  There are 1001 reasons certain players are picked over others so just be honest and give them a clear and valid reason why they aren’t playing and then what role you see them playing in the next game.  They may ask about the future or the next few games coming up so you might want to consider those scenario’s too.  There are still far too many coaches who just name the team and players are left no the wiser to the decision.  I don’t buy into it being part of football and players just accept decisions, you might be stamping your authority down but you aren’t gaining their respect that’s for sure.  Everyone deserves a reasonable explanation.

7. Give no starters things to work on.

If players aren’t getting a game or making the squad then take time to talk with them about why others are ahead of them in the pecking order and what you want to see from them if they are to move up the ladder.  Everyone is always going to be disappointed they are not starting or playing but if you give them some things to work on at least they can continue to improve and feel like they are working towards something rather than just going through the motions which will have a big effect on your culture.

Culture Summary

Cultures are created from actions and as a coach you are the leader of those actions.  If you don’t show people respect, if you can’t discuss issues or tough decisions and if you can’t lay down a foundation based on honesty and trust then you haven’t got much of a chance of creating a strong culture within your team.  The 7 steps explained above are not new ideas or revolutionary game changers, they are some basic principles regarding respect, honesty and trust and in my experience these will help you create a better culture.  They are more important than any team building activities because culture is never tested without pressure, everyone can have fun, have a night out and build spirit but it’s not tested in a social context, once you start picking teams, playing games and making tough calls that s when you find out how strong your team culture really is and the steps above will help your culture withstand the tougher times and stand up to the challenges you face as a coach.

Good luck and enjoy connecting with your players.

Coaching: Supporting the Lifestyle

Coaching can be a lonely and solitary task at times, growing your support network could be one of the most important foundations you lay down in your work.

Coaching is generally done at what the rest of the working world determine as ‘unsocial hours’.  It’s evenings during the week when your typical 9-5 workers are at home, nice and warm, watching TV and making dinner.  All the while you are outside (probably in the cold and under half a light) trying to create the next Leo Messi or Marta.  If you’re single this means you come home to an empty place or flatmates who have already sorted themselves out for the night, eat later than your friends and by the time you’ve had a shower and food it’s time for bed.  If you have a partner or are married it means coming home with responsibilities to fulfil, family time, maybe help with dinner, putting kids to bed, helping with homework etc etc.  You are required to switch off instantly and resume where life stopped a few hours before.

It can be lonely if you don’t have a good support network underneath you, to create a foundation for your coaching life.  At times it can feel like you are the only person who truly understands your situation, you can’t get the session, the team or that game out of your mind and it can be all consuming and sometimes hard work just to stay motivated.  The good news is every coach has been there, done that and got the t-shirt.  It’s normal to ride a wave of emotions when you are a football coach because the reality is it’s a tough job that is often done for the love rather than the money.

So how can you make your coaching lifestyle a bit easier, find a better balance and enjoy yourself more?  Everyone is different and deals with pressures and stresses differently of course so in essence you have to find your own way and happy medium but there are a few things you can do that might help along the way.  These relate to your support network.

Lets focus on the home life first..

Get your wife, husband, partner, girlfriend or boyfriend on side and a key member of your support network.  Like coaching, communication is key to this process.  Have you ever sat down with them and explained what your motivations are, what time commitment you think it will involve and where the boundaries start and finish.  I’ve found through my own experience that if there are grey areas it becomes harder to manage than if it’s more black and white.  It’s a good exercise to have an open discussion with your partner about it.  They need to understand when you will be out, back home, still working, switched off because there is nothing more annoying than someone who is there but not really there if you know where I’m coming from.  So make a commitment to each other and find a happy medium where both parties understand each other.  I’d also make time to discuss the team with your partner even if they don’t really like football.  Explain what you are trying to achieve on and off the pitch, introduce them to the team and their parents and include them in your coaching, that way they are going to be always on your side and part of your support network.

If you have older children who aren’t in the teams you coach then do the same process with them, even look at ways you can combine time with the kids and family time.  I’ve seen some great examples of coaches who take their children with them to training, the kids run around and collect balls, put out cones and just help out.

If you are single and live alone then you won’t have too many concerns regarding the above but if you have flatmates then again undertake the process with them. I knew a coach who was a single guy and lived with two female flatmates, he coached for about a year and his flatmates didn’t have any idea about what he did until they saw him working one evening.  After a bit if chat later at home, one of the female flatmates mentioned she had a sports science degree and would be keen to help him with the physical training he did with the team.  All of a sudden this coach now has a free sports scientist at every training, she has added loads to his environment, the players love her and in addition he has someone who eats at the same time as him at home on coaching nights now!

You might be amazed at who is willing to help and become part of your support network, do some talking and sharing and see what comes of it.

Lets have a look at the coaching life now…

If you are a junior or youth coach then you have parents in your environment, some parents are great and very supportive, some are a nightmare who you try to avoid.  In my experience there is way more positive parents than negative but whether you like it or not they are part of your team and it’s your job to make them part of your support network not outside of it.

First of all arrange a meeting, this can be social or more formal depending on what you want but use this meeting to invite all the player’s parents to attend a meeting where you outline your coaching.  Tell them how you coach, what your philosophy is and how you handle players, explain key things like what commitment you expect and what your boundaries are with regards to discipline.  Explain to them your aims and objectives for the season ahead, what style you want to play and how you will train them.  Then discuss what barriers might come along and prepare them for the good and the bad times.  Just by having this meeting you are doing more than your average coach to get parents onside.  I’ve used this type of meeting in the past to even discuss parents behaviour on the sideline and ask them to set standards for themselves as team and how they want the team to be viewed by the other clubs.  It’s a great way of being open and clear with all things concerning the team, it breaks the ice and opens doors to future more open conversations which help you keep everyone onside throughout the season.

Another tip for handling parents is arrange activity for them to socialise as a group themselves during trainings.  Most parents will either drop the kids off in the car park and pick them up later or drop them off and wait in the car.  I’ve seen some brilliant examples this year from youth coaches who have arranged a running group for the parents, they all drop the kids off then head out for a gentle run while the kids train, it keeps the parents fit and healthy whilst building on a team culture.  I’ve seen another example where a coach has got a small group of 4-5 parents to collect balls, put up nets on goal, collect in cones then do some stats during the SSG at the end of training.  All these things keep parents onside, involved and happy.  This means they are part of your support network and when the going gets tough they stay on your side and back you up.

By now you get my drift and understand the point of this blog post, it’s about bringing more people into your circle of trust, engaging others to not only help you but support you and to grow your support network.  Coaching doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolated experience.  You will have a lot more fun if you find a better coach/life balance at home and if you have everyone working in the same direction within the team.

I urge you to try and grow your support network, by open and honest in your communication and be willing to except help no matter how big or small.  If you have any good tips or examples to share then post a comment.  Coaching is hard enough as it is, don’t make it any harder!

Coaching: The Hidden Part

Most coaches are always looking for avenues to up skill and develop, the main way of doing this is through coaching courses or workshops.  These are fantastic to learn about different aspects of coaching, especially the process of coaching, how players learn and developing your ideals around the game, how it should be played and how you’re going to implement that coaching philosophy with your teams.  I for one really enjoy the coaching courses because not only do you keep learning new things you also get to network with other coaches and pick up just as many ideas from fellow candidates.

However experience counts for a lot when you’re coaching, it’s not quite as simple as picking up a manual and following it, coaching isn’t an exact science, in fact it’s probably more an art.  It’s not until I was running a junior level2 course a few weeks ago and I was covering ‘questioning to use in coaching’ that I realised how difficult using questioning effectively is.  It really is an art to be good at using effective questioning in your coaching and a lot of practice is needed.

During a camp with my youth international group I was walking around the pitch observing the players in the session, my two assistants were each taking a group of players and so I got to cast my eye over the players while they were training hard.  I think I spent more time talking to players than I would have if I was actually running the session, on reflection it hit home to me that the hidden part of coaching is what could be termed ‘player management’.  You don’t often get taught about this during coaching courses but it’s such an important part of coaching.  If you listen to Harry Redknapp it’s the most important thing, more than tactics and strategy.  Getting into players ears, caressing an ego, small bits of advice, asking a question to fuel thinking, inspiring or just making someone smile and relax, these are all skills a coach needs to develop.  This hidden part of coaching is not just essential put hugely influential.

It will contribute to your environment and culture too, if players see more to your coaching than just drills, exercises and clipboards you will open up a whole new world of trust, respect and comfort.  I’ve talked before in my previous blogs about how easy it can be to go through sessions and games without talking to players especially as the majority of coaches are not full time, train twice a week and the players go home after training.  Finding time to just talk about them and their game can be tough.  Add in the time it takes to set up your session before training, clean up afterwards, load up the car and maybe explain to parents about this weekends game and finding that time becomes all that more harder.

I have an advantage in that I have assistant coaches who can run the sessions while I find time to manage the players and talk to them but not everyone has assistants to free up this time, so it’s probably good practice to schedule a monthly ‘no coaching session’.  In this session you can organise lots of activities that are self manageable or just small sided games where you don’t need to actually coach, instead just go around and talk to your players.  No doubt you’ve been waiting for weeks to discuss how you want your wide player to cut inside more, well here is your chance.  If it’s as simple as just telling them how well they are training, what a great game they had at the weekend or inspiring them with some golden nuggets of information.

By having these sessions or by making time to manage your players during training you’ll get to know them better and understand how there brains work.  In every team I’ve coached there is always a few who need things keep more simple than others, they might over complicate things in their minds and so understanding that and simplifying things to suit them could get another 50% from them.

I spoke with one of my players and felt they were a bit down so I told them “I love it when you take players on, it’s exciting and great to watch, I’d pay to watch you do that”.  In an instant their mood changed and they started taking players on again.  I’m not sure I would have got the same outcome if I had of told her in a session to take players on more.  It just interests me that every player is a different model and the hidden art of coaching is being able to know the nuances and differences between them.  It’s something I trying really hard to master at the moment.

I think honesty and openness is really important when you are going through this process of ‘player management’.  At same stage in the season or team cycle every player will have a drop in form, young players always do so it’s inevitable you will either have to discuss this and try to correct it or maybe even take them out of the starting line up because someone else is player better.  If all the way through you have been honest and open with those players the hard part of dropping them or having a hard conversation become slightly more comfortable but more importantly there is a mutual respect that enables decisions to be taken better.  If you lie to players or lead them on they are going to be a lot less likely to agree or take your decisions lightly and this can lead to erosion of your culture.  Honesty and openness leads to mutual respect between players and coach no matter who agrees or disagrees.

So just like you will practice your questioning when coaching, or analyse your detail when planning you should also allow yourself time to manage your players, make it informal, nobody wants awkward conversations where players are more concerned about getting out of the chat than listening to what you are saying.  Keep it casual, relaxed and comfortable, be yourself and let your players see you actually care, show them your empathy and show them you appreciate them as players.  If you come home everyday and your wife, girlfriend or dog ignore you as you walk through the door after a while you’d start to feel insecure and doubt yourself, if they greet you with a smile and show you some love then everyone is happy.  Coaching is the same, show your players a smile and show them you care and everyone will be a lot happier.

The hidden art to coaching is informal chat with your players, don’t underestimate how important it can be.

 

What’s in Winning?

It is without question the most discussed subject in junior & youth coaching.  Winning vs development or long term potential vs. short term gain.  In every country, in every region, in every club around the globe coaches will provide their opinions; many of which are varied and complex.  This in itself presents a magnitude of barriers in our game and then just to add fuel to the fire more often than not the parents of the players in the team will throw in their opinions too.  Add all these into the melting pot and you’ve got opinions, thoughts and facts swirling around colliding and often meeting head to head.  Quite simply it’s a nightmare for a coach to deal with and it’s the biggest common problem in football.

The issue goes deeper than just what someone’s opinion is too, you have to take into account history (what has been done before or what worked in the past), you have to consider culture (the countries overall view on this matter) and mentality (what your head says compared to what your heart says).

Now I consider myself a youth development coach right now, I coach an International U17 Women’s Team so I’m lucky to be working with elite players but in my other job as Football Development Officer I go into clubs at grassroots level and help them develop their structures so I get to see a broad range of the game.  I also have aspirations to one day make it into the top professional leagues and into the ‘results business’ so this article is really my take, my perspective and opinion.  You may disagree with me, you may love what I have to say but either way the more discussion around this topic means the more coaches think, question and then re-evaluate.  That in itself is a good thing.

First of all before coaches start thinking I’m going to spout a load of ‘development’ jargon I do believe that winning is an important part of football.  It has to be when in simple teams, two teams compete in a match.  This match is either won, drawn or lost and so therefore the facts state winning is an key element in the game itself.  I do also believe that you can be a development coach, focused on developing players and still be able to win.  If you are sensible winning and development can go hand in hand.  The secret here is that winning doesn’t govern your philosophy or approach.  Winning should be the by product of what you produce not the focus on what you’re are producing.

There is also the matter of what I’m going to term the ‘half way house coach’.  This is the coach who says they are focused on development above winning and most of the time act in that way but when the pressure comes on they revert to taking an easy way out.  It is quite easy to become a half way house coach without noticing it.  I’ll share with you a story from a U10 coach I talked to recently who said he’d spent all his pre-season and first part of the season teaching kids to play out from the keeper, try and learn to pass the ball up the pitch and maintain possession (as best you can at 10).  The first 8 weeks they got beat every week by teams who would be more direct, play kick and chase football with a vocal parental support behind them.  After a few months a few of the parents in the team were asking questions “why don’t we play like that and win some games?” and  “is this really good for our boys getting beat each week?”; you get the picture.  At that point the coach could have quite easily become a half way house coach and for the sake of satisfying parents and the kids morale, reverted to a different way and maybe won a few games.  But he stuck to his guns, explained to the parents what he was trying to achieve and pursued with what they were doing.  Two weeks afterwards the team won a game playing some great football, the next week the scoreline was even better and now that team are winning games by big score lines and in fine style.  Now the winning bit is not what interests me, what I think is just fantastic is the coaches philosophy to stick to his guns and put the players long term development first over anything else.  When I asked him why he didn’t buckle his response was “well in 5 years who is going to remember what happens at U10s and if we win the league or not? nobody!”.  This coach deserves a medal in my opinion.

When I started with my national U17 squad 18 months ago, I did a presentation to all the players and parents at the first training camp we had.  In that presentation I outlined my philosophy and approach to winning.  I made it very clear that winning would not govern our approach with the group, we would try to develop players to become professionals or senior internationals.  That was the main priority not winning games but we would endeavor to win as many games as possible along the way if we could.  This is where a lot of confusion is created I believe, at the junction when coaches explain they are ‘developing players’.  Perception then becomes they don’t care about winning.  I can’t understand this..

Ask me would I rather win or lose a match at any level? I’d rather win.  Ask any player who understands, would you like to win or lose this game?  They will all reply ‘win’ with out any hesitation.  What is the question players ask their mates from other teams when they see them.  “How did you get on today?  Did you win?”  You very rarely hear coaches or players ask their peers “How did you play today?” before they find out the result.  And if they did ask then the reply is usually the result before the performance.  How often do you hear two coaches have this discussion in youth club football.. How did you play today? Yeah we were really great in possession, I was delighted..So improvement on last week?..Yeah very much so..Oh what was the score by the way?

My point here is that winning is innate, everyone wants to win.  Nobody goes onto the pitch to lose the game.  This in itself will provide players and teams with motivation, desire and passion.  You don’t have to convince players to want to win, they already do!

I can honestly tell you that in my previous 8 International matches in the last 18 months I have not once stood in front of my team and harped on about winning and how important it is we win the game, not even in world cup qualifying matches!  I don’t need to tell the players about winning, they all want to win whether it’s a training small sided game or an International World Cup qualifying game.  I see my job to give them the ‘development’ tools to produce performances worthy of ‘winning’ games by playing an attractive brand of football.

There is also another element coaches need to take into account, you can’t control if you win games or not.  You can’t control the opposition, you can influence them but not control them and so regardless of how good your team plays or performs, if the opposition are better, have better players or play better football you will more often than not lose the game.  There are anomalies to this, that is why football is the most loved game on the planet but stats will show you the majority of the time the best team wins and you can’t control if the opposition is better than you!  So my approach is to be the best you can be, if that is good enough to win then great, if not then hold your hands up, admit the opposition were better and do what you can to close the gap next time around.

I can control my team and their performances, so most of my attention goes on this and that in essence is developing the players to be the best footballers they can be in the future, giving them the tools to make it in modern day football and you are not going to make it if all you can do is kick and chase.  You don’t have to be a expert to see you have to be technically excellent, quick and be able make good decisions.  So what those players do throughout their footballing lifespan will determine how well they can achieve success later on.

So if you are a junior or youth coach and have a group of young players here are some simple facts for you to remember:

  • Nobody really cares or will remember if you win the league or not this season.  It’s nice but it doesn’t matter at all (sorry).
  • You have a moral obligation to help your players learn and develop so do it
  • What you do with your team will shape their future

So when does winning become more important than development?  I think the answer is pretty simple really. When it becomes a results business.  Development never stops of course, Leo Messi is still developing and getting better (scary isn’t it!) but he plays in a team where results are everything and so thats when coaches can put more focus on winning games than developing players.  Until that point coaches should be trying to develop players more than win games and tournaments.

What is the solution to the problem of coaches, parents and clubs adopting the opposite to a ‘development’ philosophy?  Well in all honesty is it ever going to completely change? Probably not.  Football is a game of opinions, thats what makes it great and interesting so there will always be difference in opinion.  Not everyone is the world is going to become ‘development’ coaches anytime soon but changes can be made for the better to help and create a new culture.  The more teams like Spain win world championships and european championships the better, they openly admit they don’t care about winning until the first team.  Jose Mourinho has famously said they (Spain) teach players the game not teach them to win, there is a difference!

So measure your success on ‘style of play’ what ever that may be, how many players stay in the game and how many players go onto a higher level rather than measured on how many games or trophies were won.  If you are strong in your belief in developing players then challenge people who think otherwise.  Be cleaver and creative in selling your message to players and parents.

In the big wide world of football, coaches (like my U10 coach I talked about earlier) are often missed or overlooked but if you can look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of how you coach young players than that is enough, you may not get the recognition you deserve but you are keeping the beautiful game beautiful, that matters and if you can inspire a group of young people to get better everyday then you are setting them up for life.  Now that is coaching and why it is great.

Coaching Communication

Communication is key to coaching.

Every coach communicates with their players in lots of different forms but is your coaching communication natural, thought out, pre planned or just off the cuff?  Do you have a communication strategy?  It’s another over looked coaching topic because we can often take for granted that we communicate with our players and that ticks the box but if we were to dig a little deeper what would we find?  You might surprise yourself.

Lets break down communication into three main areas.  What you say (verbal), what your actions say (body language/signals) and how you take feedback (listening).  I’m sure communication experts would be able to break it down even more but to keep this simple we’ll just focus on these factors for now.

I did a presentation to a group of coaches recently and emphasized that “Everything you do and say communicates a message”.  As a coach you are constantly communicating messages to your players whether you know it or not, whether they are planned or not those messages still get sent.  Think of it like a text message.  If you text somebody you write (or plan) what you want to say, you even consider how it sounds as it’s in written form and then you send it when you’re happy.  So you’re consciously communicating a message to someone.  Have you ever written a text and then thought, oh that doesn’t sound very good, deleted it and started again?  What if someone sent that message before you deleted it?  How would you feel knowing someone received it and it wasn’t quite right?  Well that happens in coaching, everything you do and say gets communicated and received whether you’ve had time to think about it or not.

This creates a few questions when you think about it.  Do I say the right things?  Do I act in a respectable way with my players at training or during games? Do I talk too much?  Do I talk enough?  Is it better to say nothing?

Here is a scenario in coaching.. Your team is playing a match, one of your players has just made a mistake, maybe even cost the team a goal and the coach will shout something like “Come on son, you got to get rid of it quicker!” or “You can’t let that happen again” or “What did I say about square passes, see what I mean?”.  Do you think the player knows they have made a mistake?  Yes they do.  Do you think it helps them if the coach points out that mistake so everyone else can hear it? I would say no it doesn’t.  So why do coaches say anything?  The simple answer is because they don’t think before they speak.

Here is the same scenario but using body language.. Your team is playing a match and your player makes a mistake, maybe even costs the team a goal.  What is one of the first the player does?  Well straight after thinking about the mistake they have just made, they look over at the coach.  What might they see?  The coach with their head in their hands looking at the floor or in the extreme case their coach kicking a water bottle in anger.  What message does that communicate to that player?  Pretty much the same message as above maybe even worse.  That player wants to see what you think of them at that moment so what message do you want to give them?

Now of course in professional premier league football or in World Cups at Senior Level you can understand coaches feeling the emotions and the players are probably big enough to handle it but when we relate these situations to youth players and kids learning the game it’s a different situation.

At the moment I’m doing some PD by completing some coaching papers at university and one of the topics I’ve been learning more about it how people listen.  There are different stages of listening and the ultimate way to listen is referred to as ‘active listening’.  The rule for active listening is STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, RESPOND.  It’s simple but when you think about whether you actually look and listen there is usually room for improvement.  Have you ever had someone texting while you’re trying to talk to them?  Pretty annoying isn’t it.  Well if you don’t look at the person who is talking to you you’re sending a similar message that you don’t really care.

A coach asked me a while ago did I have any favorites in my team?  I thought about it a lot and it suddenly made me think “Do I talk to certain players more than others?” “What message would that send?” So I decided to test myself.  I asked my GK Coach to listen to how I communicated during a match.  I got him to take some stats over 90 minutes, recording how many times I communicated to each player in the pitch and was what I said positive, negative or neutral.  It’s a pretty simple thing for someone to tally while the game is going on.  I was really surprised with the results.  I was amazed there was a player on the pitch I never spoke to throughout the whole game, I then thought back and realized I never spoke to them individually before the game either.  So this player didn’t get a single word from me for the whole match, how must that make them feel?  That exercise made me so much more self aware of my communication to my players.  I now get someone to do this for me every game and I check in every 10 mins to see how I’m tracking.  I thought it was important I communicated to everyone in the team and my sideline verbal comments needed to be positive.

When I started my current campaign with the NZ U17 Women’s Team I also decided to create a communication strategy which would make me a better communicator.  I didn’t need it to be overly complicated so I started slowly with some simple pointers and I discussed this with the team.  These were my promises:

  • I will never criticize a technical mistake/error when you are trying your best
  • I will only ever give you negative feedback if I don’t feel you are giving your best
  • I will be open and honest with you at all times

That was it.  Plain and simple.  I also made a big effort to be approachable, happy and talkative off the field and more clear, precise and effective on the pitch.  Bearing in mind my previous example of how often I talked to players in games, I also made an effort to say something (even just hello) to each player at training and games.  Only my players and staff would be able to tell you if they think I’m a good communicator but like anything I’d like to think I’m getting better but I know there is always room to improve.

What and how we communicate to our players is so important but I believe it’s also very easy to take communication for granted and focus our coaching attention on other things.  It’s not easy but the best coaches are great communicators.

If you were to ask your players a few questions what would their answers be?

  • I am a good communicator?
  • Does my passion for football come across in my coaching?
  • Would you describe me as a calm coach?
  • Would you say I talk to you a lot?
  • Do you feel I’m interested in you?

I’ve focused my attention in this blog on types of communication.  There is a whole other aspect to communication which is how effective it is.  Do your messages get across to your players?  Do they understand what you coach? This is a whole separate discussion topic but I think thats part II in coaching communication, first and foremost we could all think more about how and what types of communication we use with our players.

I would encourage all coaches to record their communication in games and see what results it brings up, it might give you some excellent feedback on your communication qualities.  Even just thinking about it or writing up a communication strategy is a step in a positive direction.  Players want to feel special, feel valued and feel loved and this can only be felt through communication.  If you can continually improve how you verbally communicate (more often, more positive and more thought), what messages you give through your actions (positive body language, enthusiasm and composure) and how effectively you listen to players (stop, look & really listen) then you will be improving as a coach and your players will love you for it.

It’s a topic worth communicating I reckon.

The Half Time Break

The allocated fifteen minutes between whistles is without a doubt an extremely important time during a football match but as coaches how much time do we spend working on our half time actions?  If you break it down simply there is 45 minutes of football with 15 minutes break with a further 45 minutes of play.  We put all our coaching resources, effort and expertise to making the 90 minutes of football the best it can be but half time accounts of nearly 15% of the time the team spends between starting a match and finishing a match. Do we spend 15% of our preparation time for games thinking about half time?  I know I don’t.

Now there are some important factors to consider here, most importantly teams can’t score or concede goals at half time (so the actual match is more important) and to a certain extent you can’t predict how the first half will turn out and so you can’t completely plan what you are going to say at half time.  These are two valuable and appropriate factors but I have a feeling there is much more that can be done to make half time more effective.

I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject and had some good discussions with coaches on it, I also feel I’ve tried quite a lot of different half time approaches as well.  In my opinion it’s a very interesting subject and one that a lot of coaches I speak to don’t really think a lot about.  When I ask the question to coaches “How do you approach your half time team talk?” the normal response I get is “Well it depends on how the team plays in the first half!”.  As i’ve mentioned previously, this is a fair comment and totally acceptable but what about these factors to consider:

  • How much information can players take on at half time?
  • Do players need time to reflect on performances?
  • Is it just the head coaches opinion that influences half time?
  • Do you have access to stats and if so are they appropriate?
  • Can you address the whole performance of the first 45 minutes?
  • How do you decide what are the most important issues to address?
  • Does the scoreline influence what you are trying to achieve long term?
Are any of these factors reliant solely on the performance of the team in the first half? NO. Are they still relevant? YES.

These are just a few testing questions to coaches without even contemplating the manner of the half time talk, as coach how do you conduct yourself at HT.  Is it the same each game? Does the infamous hairdryer treatment feature? Are you calm? Are you accurate?  Are you overly emotional?  Are you positive and energetic?

I have just about opened the box here, can you imagine how many questions can be asked of coaches when considering half time?  When you break it down in simple sections:

  • Timings
  • Detail or Information
  • Feedback (Positive or Negative)
  • Coaches Manner
  • Players Physiological Factors

There are a lot of factors, questions and thoughts to consider.  And thats essentially the point, as coaches have we been through the exercise of actually getting into some serious thinking and detail around half time?  As with many things in coaching there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer and I certainly don’t have a magic formula either.

These are the areas I would explore in more detail when considering my approach to half time.

1.Using an empowerment approach with the players.

Ask my players what they find most useful at half time? What do they remember most about half time talks?  What do they need most from me as a coach?   How can they be at their best in the second half?   How do they want me to approach the half time period as a whole?  What approach do the respond best to?

2. Consult the coaching team before I speak.

Often as a coach you can get emotionally involved in the game, you want to kick every ball especially if you have made the move from playing to coaching.  It’s even worse if you have conceded or scored a goal right before the whistle.  Those goals could change what you were going to say (because now you’re annoyed) or even mask some issues (because you’re winning all of a sudden).  It’s almost law that commentators on live games say after a late goal is scored “Well that changes the coaches half time talk.” Well should it?  If you have additional staff then use them before you say anything to the players.

I have started getting into the habit of evaluating everyone’s opinion before I speak at HT.  I asked my captain and vice captains to run to each other at the whistle and while they are walking in, discuss the biggest issue from the first time, then as they walk into the dressing room they tell me what it is they feel needs to be addressed.  I also make sure I walk slowly with my assistant coaches to the dressing room and ask them “What are the most important areas to address?”.  Then finally after getting the thoughts of my coaches and leaders I meet my technical analyst outside the dressing room, look at the stats and ask them on their opinions.  They have been in the stands and away from the emotions of the touchline, it’s quite interesting how their opinion differs from mine.

I then give the players 2-3 minutes to relax, get a drink, sort out any issues with the physio and just let off steam.  I find a private space and decide what things I’m going to talk about having been given all the information I needed from my staff and players.

3. Save the best until last.

Players will remember the last point you make the most so make that one the most important thing you want to take with them back onto the pitch.  I’ve done this before, but so many coaches will go into HT, say their piece and then casually look over to their assistant coach and say “Anything to add” at which point the assistant coach or manager has their say.  So basically by the time the players go back out they have probably forgotten what you said and are now ready to implement your assistants off the cuff comments.  Comments which you probably didn’t discuss, might not agree with and which have been made up so not to sound the same as what you said just before!

4. Positive Sandwich.

I have tried to get into the habit of starting off on a positive note, perhaps what the team did best in the first half, then i’ll discuss the areas we need to fix or address and get their attention focused on this.  To finish with i’ll say something positive again, so they don’t go out thinking about negative feedback.  It could be as simple as some positive assurances, maybe even something detailed that we have done really well so far or a reflection on what we know we are capable of and remind them how good they are.

5. K.I.S.S

Keep It Simple Stupid.  I’ve tried to make my points as simple to understand as possible, I don’t like getting into real technical detail with the team at half time.  It needs to be really easy to digest because they are tired, they are eating and drinking, thinking about what just happened and visualizing the second half.  In my experiences if it is too complicated the eyes will glaze over and everything goes in one ear and straight out the other.

6. Team Focused

It sounds crazy but I’ve tried to make points that relate to the performance of the team rather than focusing on an individual.  If it doesn’t relate to them specifically then again, they are likely to switch off.  If I want to get some specific messages to individuals then either I talk to them separately, get the assistant coach to talk to them or grab them on the way out of the dressing rooms before they restart.

Conclusion

It’s a fascinating area for discussion and so much influences how your half time talk takes place.  It’s an area in my own coaching I’d like to develop to become more effective.  Finding the time is a major factor as there seems so much more important things to coach first and foremost but HT happens every game regardless and you can’t keep ignoring it because it might make a massive difference to the performance of your team.

The whole point of this article is to trigger your own thinking around this area for future development.  It’s such a personal thing because everyone is different in their approach, everyone has different players and we all have different circumstances to contend with but if every coach at least gets into some more detail and thinks hard about how to improve their HT talks then we’ll see some outstanding second half performances from this moment forward.  Good luck.

Coaching Philosophy : Own It.

Coaches quite often talk about their philosophy or their playing model.  Some advanced coaching licenses they even get coaches to formulate a playing model as part of their personal development tasks associated with the course.  When coaches have a team for a season or for a certain period of time it’s common practice to get that team playing how you ideally want them to play.  I recently saw a coaches playing model that was more than 60 pages long.  In professional environments head coaches will even sign players to fit into their style of play.  But the vast majority of us coaches are not at professional clubs and don’t have a scouting team recruiting the best up and coming prospects so we have a group of players in which to impart our coaching philosophy on, so what is it really and how do you do it?  That is the ultimate question.

I’ve been coaching teams since I was 18 so that makes it 12 years of experience for want of a better word and it has only been recently with my international age group team that I feel I have really started to understand myself as a coach, how I’d like my teams to play the game (with adequate detail) and how philosophically I coach my players in my teams.  So I guess the first thing I’ve found out about coaching models and philosophies is it takes time to figure it out.  I’m very much for having both a written philosophy and playing model because it takes you through good processes to find out what exactly you want and how you achieve it.

I’d love to be able to tell coaches there is a secret formula or I knew exactly what I was doing from the start but the reality is there needs to be a process of trial and error.   You formulate ideas and ideals, coach them and then realize they don’t quite work how you planned it (i’m sure we have all been there).  You might tweak a few things and get it right, or you might go back to the drawing board and start again with a particular part of the game.  I’ve always been a coach that wanted to play nice attractive football, I’m pretty sure most coaches feel the same way but again it’s not that easy.  You might not have the players to be able to do it or it’s a lot harder to create those types of players than you think.

So after a lot of trying different ideas, different systems of play, different training methods and different approaches I’ve settled on a coaching philosophy and as I say it took me a while!  I think it’s worthwhile mentioning I have also settled on a playing model that goes hand in hand but the tactical side of things is another discussion topic completely.  What has made the biggest difference lately has been the way I’ve philosophically approached working with my players.

I decided to eradicate my preconceptions about a number of factors to do with my coaching.

These were things like:

  • How nice does my session look?
  • Do I keep it fresh and coach new things?
  • Am I getting success with these drills/exercises/sessions?
  • What will my boss think if he see’s this?

Again I’m pretty certain a number of coaches go through these types of questions in their heads prior to or reflecting on coaching sessions.  I felt it was holding me back to a certain extent and so I made more of an effort and conscious choice to feel more comfortable about what and how I coached, I guess to feel more comfortable in my own skin as a coach on the training pitch and in the classroom.  When you’re trying to develop and grow as a coach there are so many things you read, get told and witness in others.  You are fed messages all the time, use question and answer coaching style, be player centered, use empowerment techniques, let the game be the teacher etc.  Again trying to comprehend all this at once felt like it was holding me back in a way.  I was over thinking everything.  I sat down and thought; you know what, I do all those things and I agree with all those concepts, I’m not doing the opposite and I’m not a bad coach but I am making this overly complicated and I am too concerned about how my sessions look to others, I guess I was trying too hard to impress.

So I stripped it all back to basis surrounding me and my philosophical approach to how I coach my team.  I relaxed a lot more, took the pressure off myself and trusted myself that I was doing the right things.  I sat and wrote down some really important things that mattered to me, this became the basis of my approach (surrounding standards I expected and wanted to see in players, fitness levels I wanted in players to be able to play the way I would like etc).  I then decided I wanted nothing too much more than being known as a coach who played nice attractive football, whose teams passed the ball well and who was considered a nice bloke.  That was it in a nutshell.

So I got to work, I presented this to my team of players and staff so they knew exactly what they could expect from me.  My firm but fair approach off the pitch seemed to go down well because I was relaxed about it and naturally gave the players the responsibility for their own actions, I wasn’t going to chase players up about things all they time.  I also started working on the pitch with the players around the style and brand of play.  I gave them complete freedom to make mistakes, gave them all the time they needed to get things working well and stuck to a simple rule; I would never have a go at any player if they were trying to do the right things, I would only say something strong if I didn’t feel they were putting in the effort.

I also forgot about changing things all the time and trying to cover a broad range of techniques or skills.  I focused on just four themes that I felt where the most important in my ideal style of play and I just coached them over and over and over again.  I even repeated the same sessions 2-3 times in a row, I wanted to be able to give the players the time they needed to practice and improve in the areas that were most important.  I’ve since read that Jose Mourinho only has 31 sessions he does with his teams and repeats them.  I guess what I’m getting at is there is a perception to be a good youth coach you need to have new, fresh, exciting and vibrant sessions each week for your players.  I don’t think I agree with that, I’m pretty sure if you watched me coach or my team train you’d say there was a happy, positive and energetic vibe to the sessions but you can still get that and work on the same themes constantly can’t you?  Food for thought….

As with my previous blogs I’m not pretending I know the answers or I’m right and you’re wrong.  I don’t have a gospel to preach about coaching but I do see a lot of coaches going through the same philosophical process I did.  I just felt it was important to try and get the message out that it isn’t really about what others think or say you should do.  To have the perfect coaching philosophy and playing model, it has to fit with you as a coach and most importantly it has to be yours and you have to feel really good coaching it.

Good mood equals good work right?  So unless you feel really happy doing it your way you’re probably not doing it the right way just yet. But all good things take time.

Naming the Team

When it comes to naming the team to play each game, how do you do it?

I’ve had quite a few conversations with my fellow coaches about this subject over the past few months and one thing I do know is that everyone does it differently.  Each coach likes to name the team in their own way according to their style but is there more to it?  How important is it?  What impact can it have on your environment and on your players?

Is there a right way to announce your selections to the players?  I would say no there isn’t, if there was every coach across the globe would be doing it the same way. Does Sir Alex announce his name the same way as Arsene Wenger or Harry Redknapp.  I don’t know but I’m sure there are probably differences.  It’s a fascinating subject for me because I love looking into the impact it has psychologically on players, it’s intriguing and isn’t very often discussed.

Lets look at a few options on how to name the team…

  • You can decide on who is starting and who will be on the bench, write it up on a piece of paper and pin it up on the dressing room wall.
  • You can gather all your players around after a training session and announce the squad for the weekend, then once the players arrive in the dressing room you can announce the team to start.
  • You can talk to every player individually before the game and tell them if they are starting or not in the next game.

There are also probably many subtle differences or changes to the examples above and it probably depends a lot on how much access and time you have to your team and the players.

If you are a part-time group who just train Tuesday and Thursday night and play Saturday’s then time is a constraint.  If you have access to the players in a training camp environment where players are staying in a hotel then you have more time and opportunity to discuss things 1on1.

This is my way of announcing the team before a game, and take into account when I have my team together for International games we are staying as a team in a hotel or training camp environment, it’s live in and so I have complete access to everyone at any time.

Firstly, of course my technical staff and I will discuss the selections of every position and go through all our options until we reach a conclusion that we are all happy with and I am totally confident in.  Then the evening before the game we will have personal 1on1 meetings with each player.  My assistant coach and I usually split the team in half and spend 5-10 mins with each player.  In these meetings we will inform the player if they are starting the game the next day or not.  If they are starting we give them some information on what we want to see from them personally.

We set them a script: http://powerpointcoaching.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/sticking-to-script).

If the player isn’t starting we give them the reasons why not and some feedback on what they need to do to get their chance to start at a later date, we also discuss the importance of their potential impact on the game from the bench.

Once all the personal meetings are done and everyone knows their individual situation we have dinner as a team and allow a bit of time for players to digest the information given to them.  Then later that night we have a team meeting and formally announce the team using a PowerPoint template we have designed (see picture above).  We then present our set play routines, who has what responsibilities etc and then leave them with 3 key points to focus on in possession and 3 key points out of possession.

The players then get to sleep on it and wake up the next morning knowing exactly where they stand and what their role is that day for the team.  You might be thinking I’m being a bit extreme or over the top but it has worked well for me this method and I’m happy with the responses I get from the players.  It can be quite time consuming as well but the effort is worth it in my opinion because it’s all about the players.  I’ll explain a bit my rationale behind my process.

I believe the players need to know where they stand the night before the game, everyone wants to play and start the game so you’re always going to have disappointed players in the squad on a match day but it’s about managing that process to get the most effective outcome.  With young female players I also believe it’s better to be open and honest with them, teenagers are clever, they know when they are being taken for a ride and if you try taking your players for a ride and feed them lies, you will get found out and in an instant lose any respect you might have had so I always try and earn their respect (or keep it) by being truthful and open about my selections.  So the staff will tell them face to face if they are playing or not in a private setting, we do this by having another female member of staff present and away from their team mates.  This gives them the chance to ask questions if they don’t understand anything and it also allows them to show emotions if they want to.  It also allows me as a coach to connect with them on different levels, I want the players to understand what I like about them as players, what I want them to improve on and that we will work on it all together to make them better.  So for me it’s important to have a chat with each of them before we play.

I then also believe once decisions have been made and communicated the team needs to come together again and be as one, re-focus on the task ahead and be given some simple detail to think about before they go to bed.  When everyone wakes up game day morning there is now no awkward silences or issues, everyone has slept on their emotions (high or low) and there is a more even emotional charge in the environment, players have all come to terms with their roles (if they agree or not) and the atmosphere is good.  The other advantage of announcing the team the night before is if there are any big problems you can sort them out there and then rather than anything arising on game day when the starters are trying to focus.  You don’t want negative distractions on game day if you can help it.

In my humble opinion how a coach names the team is hugely important.  It’s the most important decision you have to make and so time and consideration of how it should be done are equally as important.  If you name your team aloud in the dressing room before the game and one player isn’t happy and that creates a negative vibe or that player doesn’t give 100% then that could be the difference between winning or losing, between playing well or not.  So why risk it?  I personally want all my players knowing where they stand and a pleasant vibe in the changing room before the game.

If you put yourself in the players shoes they want to know some simple things before a game.  Am I playing? If I am then what do you want from me?  If not, why not? If not, what do I have to do to play?  The chances are if you can answer all these questions openly and honestly for all your players in the squad you’ll have a team that respects you as a coach and also knows where they stand.  That will in turn lead to them being happier and more accepting of your decisions.  I’m not convinced that reading the team out and your reasoning for leaving a player out is “it’s my decision, accept it”.  The modern player and modern game have moved on, coaches need to have sound reasoning for decisions they make and if you have sound rationale the players get the truth and the coach has a much easier time explaining it.  Coaches can win players over or lose players trust and respect in they way they handle these types of things so it’s important to put lots of thought into what suits your team best.  How can you do it most effectively in your situation and in your environment.

You may agree or disagree but the way you name your team each week might just be one of the most important things you do as a coach.