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.



3 comments on “Coaching: The Hidden Part

  1. Quite interesting and I agree with the idea. But, maybe for cultural reasons, or because most of us are not full-time coaches (unfortunately), the approach is very different. For us (or mostly of us), a session inlcudes all this. That means, even if you have assistant coaches, you can talk with your players, get emotions, etc. It’s not necessary that you are doing it as a “non coaching session”. You can do all the same time

  2. I Totally agree with you.
    In my coaching experience I learned to do something very similar and after many years I am still learning every time, however I have a file with all my players personal information ( it s a player information form filled by each players at the begin of the season about their families, hobbies etc.)

    For few weeks after each game and training at the begin of the season I spend few minutes with each player talking at personal level mixing football with it trying to sense if everything is going well with the player, then I record in my files the outcome. I do this sort of informal chats at the begin, in the middle and at the end of the season to keep track of players development and monitor results through the data I have collected.

    There are 2 key moments in the season which is the Mid-season meeting and the End of the season meeting with each individual (or if juniors parent /player ) for at least 30 minutes where it s an “open book” conversation, it enables me to share my thoughts and more important to listen what the players have to share with me, knowing the “behind the scene” of what happens away from football it s very important in order to apply the correct coaching psychology to each individual.

    More information about each player I have more often I use them to work positively their minds in order to make them feel stimulated, respected and confident while in the football environment.

    I do all of the above by myself as I been brought up with this coaching culture in Spain therefore I understand exactly the importance of psychology applied to football, I ve seen players becoming superstar after years in the shadow just by having chat with them more often to understand where they come from and how to help them to get their best qualities shine on the pitch.

    I hope you find my thoughts useful.


  3. Great observations – especially for coaching young players- confidence is everything for the young talented player – too often coaches program behaviour and the joy is sucked out of players – I loved this posting – thanks

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