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.


8 comments on “Coaching Philosophy : Own It.

  1. what a great piece and i have and still going through the points you listed gave me lots of thoughts and confidence now thank scotty goodchild

  2. Great article couldn’t read power point would have liked to, I have been coaching 8 years and have just started to believe in sticking to certain sessions , before it was trying different 1 every week but towards the end of last season started getting benefits from this approach .
    I have a new older team next season and hope to carry this into new season

  3. Hey Paul, great article and definitely thought provoking. I fall into the over-analysing and trying to impress category I think and have only just recently also fallen back to a set few core themes and model each session around those. Definitely seen a difference in the girls I coach. Thanks for a great article.

  4. Great article Temps. It definitely helps being equipped with players who already have skill/knowledge of the game. I think coaches get stuck by trying to play a certain system, when they don’t have the right players, but like you said, having a philosophy that you can trust yourself is more important in the long run. Your 2008 u17’s campaign was amazing, and looking forward to following your success in the future!!

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