We know that as a football coach your role is to improve the quality of your players football actions. This means that the reason for the coach to be in the training session is to improve the communication between players within the different team functions and team tasks by improving the decision making of the individual players. By helping players make better decisions you as the coach are improving the quality of your players football actions and as a result you are improving football.
Imagine taking over a new team before the upcoming season. You start by analyzing the squad and notice that there are a lot of new players that has arrived during the break. What does this mean for you as the new coach of this team with all the new players? Will the level of communication between the players in the team be high or will it be lower than if the team stayed intact during the break? Now, you might be thinking that the level of communication will obviously be lower with new players than if all players from last season would still be there. The question for you as the coach will be; how can you improve the communication between players as soon as possible?
There are two general ways of coaching your players, either you are coaching them explicitly, by more or less telling them what to do, or you are coaching them implicitly, letting the players learn from their own experiences in different situations. When you are coaching your players explicitly you are using different references and explaining for your players what they could do in a given situation. This reference coaching (explicit learning) is an important tool for any coach and hopefully your references have their starting point in the objective characteristics of football and not your subjective feelings or opinions.
When you let your players experience different situations from which they can learn the players have a greater chance of retaining knowledge through implicit learning. This situational coaching is a different way of coaching players that is not easy to do well and demands a lot from you as the coach. For you to be good at situational coaching you will need to plan for certain situations to happen that will make the players learn whatever it is that you have set out as the learning objective.
Let’s get back to you and your new team with all the new players. How should you coach your team in the beginning of the season given the fact that the level of communication is low? Would you use mainly reference coaching or situational coaching? In order to answer this question you need to consider your external factors, such as; what age group are these players, are they professional or amateur, are you expected to win now or develop the team/club? You may have different or additional external factors in your situation that will further complicate the decision of how to improve the communication in your team.
Imagine that the team you are taking over is a professional team. Generally speaking you will have players with a higher level of decision making than if you were coaching an amateur team. How does this effect the way you set out to improve the communication in your team? Since your players are good at making decisions on the pitch, maybe it’s a good idea to use more situational coaching to let them experience situations that they can learn implicitly from in order to improve the communication. This does not mean that you will never use reference coaching of course, since you as the new coach needs to establish your references with the team. However, coaching players with a higher level of decision making could mean that it’s a good idea to use more situational coaching than reference coaching.
Now, if we imagine for a second that the team you are taking over with all these new players are an amateur team, would that change how you set out to improve the communication between players?
At the amateur level you will generally have players with a lower level of decision making than at the professional level. In other words, the amateur players do not have all the tools to make good decisions as the professional player has. This means that you as the coach will need to provide the players with more tools by establishing clear references for them using reference coaching. It does not mean that you should tell the players what to do all the time, but that it might be a good idea to do more reference coaching than situational coaching in the beginning until the communication between players improves.
As you can imagine a good coach needs to be able to do both reference coaching and situational coaching in order to improve players. Analyzing all the external factors in your environment and deciding how to improve the communication between your players is the art of coaching. Knowing about reference coaching and situational coaching will let you as a coach improve your coaching and gives you a higher chance of improving your players.
What is the purpose of the football coach within the game of football? We know what the coach does in training when interacting with the players, we call that coaching football. But why is the football coach present in training and what is it that the person in this role is supposed to do? In order to answer these questions we will take a philosophical approach to the game and see where the football coach fits.
The starting point for coaching football is the objective characteristics of the game. The fact is that football is a game with a set of rules, it is played on a surface that has certain boundaries within a certain time frame. In order to win this game your team needs to score minimum one more goal than the opponent who are also trying to win. The number of players, the size of the surface and the time that you play the game might vary depending on certain external factors as for example the age of the players and your local federation and their adaptations of the rules.
In every game of football when one team has control of the ball they are attacking and the other team is defending. When control of the ball is lost one team is transitioning from attacking to defending while the other team is transitioning from defending to attacking. This is what is called team functions, the whole team is constantly either attacking, defending or transitioning between these team functions during a game. When attacking, your team is either building up in order to create scoring opportunities or trying to convert these chances by scoring. At the same time the opponent is defending by disrupting your build up or disrupting your attempt to score. Together with transitioning to attacking and transitioning to defending these are different team tasks that your team is executing in every game.
Within these different team functions and team tasks your players are constantly interacting with their surrounding. For example, when your team is attacking and building up, your players are interacting with the field, their teammates and their opponents in order to create a chance to score a goal. They do this by executing different football (inter)actions such as passing, creating space, dribbling, shooting etc. However, before your player can pass the ball, the player first communicates with their surrounding in order to know where the ball is, where their teammates and opponents are, and of course where they themselves are positioned on the field. It is only when they have this information, the non-verbal and verbal communication of their surroundings that the player is able to make a decision. If the player decides to pass the ball they execute this decision by kicking the ball in a certain way to a teammate from a certain position, at a certain moment, in a certain direction, at a certain speed. This means that a football (inter)action is communication, decision making and the execution of that decision within the context of the team function and team task.
At a higher level of football the game is played at a higher tempo than at a lower level. The amount of space and time available for the players to make decisions and execute these decisions at a higher level is less than at a lower level. This means that players who play at a higher level needs to execute football actions faster than a player at a lower level. At a lower level, players have more space and time available for executing the same football action than at a higher level. The football actions themselves are the same on all levels of football, for example you press, pass and dribble both at a lower level and a higher level. However, the difference between a lower level and a higher level is the space and time available for each player to make a decision and execute that decision.
In order to go from a lower level to a higher level your players need to make better decisions and execute these decisions better. In other words, the quality of their football actions needs to improve. A higher quality football action is better communication (non-verbal & verbal), better decision making and execution of that decision. When there is less space and less time, the quality of communication between teammates need to be higher as well as the quality of the individual players decision making that also needs to be higher.
The question then becomes, how are your players going to improve the quality of their football actions? And this is where you, in the role as the football coach comes into play. As a football coach your role is to improve the quality of your players football actions. This means that the reason for the coach to be in the training session is to improve the communication between players within the different team functions and team tasks by improving the decision making of the individual players. By helping players make better decisions you as the coach are improving the quality of your players football actions and as a result you are improving football.
When you are coaching at a club you might have a lot of resources at your disposal in the form of coaches and other people who come from outside football. The reason all of the coaches and people from outside football is in your office is because they are supposed to help you and your team. These people from outside football might call themselves different things like ”mental coaches”, ”strength and conditioning coaches”, ”performance analyst” or something else that they invented in a university hall.
It’s important to remember that all of these people are there to help your players improve and perform to increase the chance of winning games. However, this may not be the starting point for these different people from outside football. There is a risk that they step into the football world with their own motives for using their speciality with your team. Without understanding the context of improving players, they may implement ’improving their own speciality’ with your players. Instead of contributing to the improvement of the team and the football player, these people from outside football are improving their own speciality / technique / niche and using the players as tools to reach their own objective. This is a problem since it should be the other way around; the objective is to improve the team and the players, the tools are what this specialist from outside football brings to the table and the football coach is the one who decides which tool to use at what time.
The most intriguing question is how it’s possible that these specialists from outside football can hijack the coaching process and turn players into their tools? Firstly it’s important to understand that these people from outside football may not know the context, they may not understand what football is even if they say that they do. Secondly, these often highly educated people from outside football are experts within their speciality which means that they may not understand their place within the hierarchy of coaching football. This is not their fault since they are not educated in a football context, but an academic context or in some instances, the context of another sport.
What you see is that for some football coaches it is difficult to make these specialists from outside football aware of the context that is improving the team by coaching football. This is often due to the language barrier between the academic world and the football world. These specialists from outside football may use language straight out of the laboratory at the university that the football coach does not understand. This could be intimidating for the football coach and makes it difficult to establish the context. The point of least resistance is to let the academic mumbojumbo specialist do whatever they want in order to reduce the risk of a conflict. This is probably the main reason that makes it possible for these specialists from outside football to hijack the coaching process.
It is your responsibility as the football coach to make sure that the specialists that you bring into the game are made aware of the context and what role they fill within this context of coaching football. In addition it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone on your coaching staff, including the specialists from outside football speak the same language; football language. This language problem is such a big problem that football federations are educating football coaches in academic mumbojumbo so that they have a bigger chance of interpreting what the specialists are talking about. This is of course the world upside down. When these specialists step into our football world, they are the ones that should be educated in ’pressing’, ’passing’ and ’creating space’, not the other way around.
For football coaches who have the possibility to use specialists from outside football it’s important to remember that you are the one who is responsible for making them understand the context. If they are made aware of what their job is they can become a valuable resource with a range of tools that will help your main objective of improving football.
When developing youth players you are helping the players improve their decision making and the executions of these decision in the context of football. Now, for some reason this is not something that everyone seams to understand and as a result there are youth players all over the world doing a lot of strange things besides playing football in training. In this post the subject of training with multiple groups/teams during a single training week will be looked at. In some countries there is a ’quantity discussion’ since they are prioritizing different external interests instead of developing football players that we will shortly discuss before moving on to the non-existing quality discussion.
Imagine going to the gym in the morning to lift weights and then going back to the gym after work repeating the session, will you be 100% recovered from the morning when you start the session after work? Of course not, this is impossible due to the muscle damage (more or less) picked up in the morning. You may feel ’not tired’ when you start your after work session, but you felt more fresh in the morning. For football players, this means that when the players train twice a day, they arrive to the second session without being fully recovered from the morning session. They start the second session fatigued, more or less. When this fatigue accumulates over time, odds are the body of the player will at some time step in and protect the player from its surroundings through injury or illness that gives the player time to rest and recover. It is important to remember that it’s not normal to become injured or ill, even though it seams like too many football coaches think so.
Given these facts it’s obvious that you should only train football once a day, so the burn-out problem in youth players is mostly solved. But let’s zoom out from the now settled ’quantity discussion’ and look at the effects of the quality of football development. What is the consequence for youth players when they train with two or more sets of team-mates (other players) and multiple coaches on different days in the same week? What happens when a player is training one session with one group of players and the next day trains with another group of players? Are these two groups who contain different players using the exact same playing style and therefore the tactical reference is the same in both groups? Or might there be a difference in the tactical reference (the playing style) from one group to the other which means that the job of the player might be vastly different even when playing in the same position in both groups?
This example of potentially different tactical references visualizes the fact that communication between players and their interpretation of the surroundings will be compromised when training with different groups of players one day after the other. Just imagine that you are playing in a central midfield role with one group and developing certain habit patterns and behaviors that make you a very successful player in this surrounding. However, these same habits and behaviors turn out to be counterproductive or even unacceptable in the second group you are training with. If your behavior on game day is the one learnt from the ’wrong’ group you will perform worse than you could’ve done otherwise. As a youth player this poor performance might lead you to think that you are not able to perform at this level and you might end up on the bench as a result. This makes the negative thinking spiral and ’thinking that you can’t do it’ might soon be a common thought in games and trainings. The question you have to ask yourself as a player is if you are only wasting your time in these trainings or if you are actually becoming a worse player?
Now you may be thinking that we have a problem with this picture, and this is before we have covered the fact that all players in these different groups are different individuals who have their own personal non-verbal communication (body language) and decision making. So even if these two groups were to use exactly the same tactical reference, there could be other problems, so let’s look at a couple of examples of what could happen. Imagine being the central midfielder again, in the one group you would have a right winger who comes towards you wanting to receive the ball in the feet. However, when the right winger of the second group comes towards you it is to drag the defender out, turn and get the ball in the space behind. Now imagine a striker in the first group who has a defender on the right side and calls for the ball, wanting to receive it to the left. The striker in the second group, being in the same position with a defender to the right wants to receive the ball in front to use their body to turn the defender away and go the other way. Could this lead to miscommunication between you and your team-mates and as a result some ’bad passes’ in the game on Saturday?
These two groups may be different teams in one club, it could be club and regional team, club and school programs or any other variant with different groups. The problem is the same in each scenario. As a consequence of continually exposing players to different groups during the training week, the decision making of youth players are being underdeveloped. When the surrounding is constantly changing from day to day the level of communication between players is lower and the information required to make good decision is less. When you add things like growth spurt and hormonal changes with the effects on the thinking of youth players into the mix you will probably agree that this practice by adults, constantly changing the surroundings for these youth players, is irresponsible at best.
Creating a safe environment for youth players should be of the highest priority for all coaches. An environment where the player can think about their football actions and improving their decision making instead of thinking about who they will play with, what pitch to train on, what color shirt to wear today and what coach to listen to. This does not mean that a player should never train with a second group to test that level, however constantly changing groups and/or teams from day to day may not be very smart.
What happens when you are in a position of power and notice that someone below you in the hierarchy threatens your position as the proverbial top dog? Back in the old days when the King felt threatened by an underling he simply ordered them killed and the problem was solved. The King knew that if the threat to his position wasn’t removed, nature would run its course and he would eventually be replaced as King. But what does any of this have to do with football in general and coaching in particular?
Well, if we disregard the killing part, and exchange ’King’ with ’Coach’ you might recognize this behavior from clubs or teams where protecting one’s position as head coach is more important than improving players. This protectionist behavior could be a natural response to a string of bad results when a coach becomes fearful of being fired and isolates themselves and their loyal servants from the rest of the world. It is also possible that a protectionist behavior stems from the underdeveloped culture that the coach is working in, club or country, or it could simply be the consequence of a coach with low intelligence and who is lacking knowledge. Usually in bigger leagues, you sometimes see this protectionist behavior arise in clubs that are struggling, a common precursor to a coaching change, which is ironic since the fear of being fired could be one of the major reasons to become protectionist in the first place. However, in smaller countries and lower level leagues this type of behavior could be cultural, meaning that it is represents the normal and not the abnormal way for a head coach to behave. In these countries and leagues, the one eyed is King.
Imagine you are working in a coaching staff for a club that has historically been doing pretty well. Now, despite their relative success, you have identified a range of areas that could be improved in order to achieve better training, better players and increase the chance of promotion. In preseason you sat down with the head coach and talked about the things you identified and explained that if you could implement some changes the quality of the sessions would improve dramatically. When you explained these things your head coach looked somewhat dumbfounded but you were given the go-ahead to implement some of your suggestions in preseason training. The suggestions rejected by the head coach was due to the fact that it was not something the head coach had done before and things had been going quite well anyhow.
You were allowed to implement some of your suggestions early in the preseason when the head coach appeared to be less interested in the sessions. However, a couple of bad results at the end of preseason made the head coach change things around both in games and in the training sessions, guess what things were discarded first? When the season begins and your team starts by losing the first three games, all of the suggestions you implemented in preseason are gone. The head coach stop listening to you and reverts to doing things the way it was done the year before since they didn’t lose the first three games that year. You notice that the directors of the club think that the head coach made a smart decision in reverting to the old ways that worked before, and you might somewhat agree since the team did in fact lose the first three games of the season. This thinking is common in the lands of the ”blind”. However, what is the long term consequence of always doing the same things every season?
When the head coach closes the door on you and the other assistants and revert back to doing things the way they have always been done, the protectionist is in place. Imagine yourself being the head coach in this example. What is the consequence of shutting out your assistant coaches who come with suggestions on how to improve your training sessions and the team? Not only will your training sessions always be at the level they have always been, your players will hardly improve if you as their head coach show them that you’re not interested in improving yourself.
When you as the head coach close the door, or removes the perceived threat, the protectionist culture is in place and your assistant coaches will refrain from coming with future suggestions and ideas that could improve your team. Within a short period of time you also risk building up resentment from those who are supposed to help you which means you’re left with the only option that was available to the ancient kings. Getting rid of those coaches and players who are threatening your position on the throne.
”It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” – Steve Jobs
Now, odds are the losses at the end of preseason and the start of the season had less to do with the improvements in the training session you implemented and more to do with other factors. If it was your improvements that was the problem, shouldn’t they been discarded earlier in the preseason and not after 8 preseason games and the first loss? Your head coach should recognize that continuous improvement is one of the corner stones in good organizational leadership and be thankful for having good assistant coaches. Isolating yourself from the outside world when things are bad and thinking that you can do it all on your own is never the solution.
Imagine a team that is over-performing in the first half of the season to the degree that they are in the top of their league. All of a sudden they start losing every game and towards the end of the season they find themselves on the verge of relegation. What might be the reason for a team that has been over-performing predictions in the first half of the season to suddenly fall into a long losing streak? More importantly, what can you as the coach of such a team do to turn a long losing streak around and save your team from potential relegation?
There may be many different reasons for a team to over-perform in the beginning of a season, ranging from the timing of when you play who and where to the simple, but difficult to comprehend, factor of luck. Nevertheless, the interesting part in our example is not why the team is over-performing but what happens to players and coaches when it does. How is the thinking of players and coaches affected when their team that was predicted to struggle and finish in the lower half of the table over-perform and find themselves in a position to potentially challenge for the title? Are they still thinking actions and tasks or are they thinking how good they are all of a sudden? Imagine yourself being the coach of this team, wouldn’t it be easy to start thinking about the increased attention your team is receiving? Your players who were predicted to be in the lower half of the table all of a sudden find themselves in this new and surprising situation of being touted as a top team. Could this affect the thinking of your players? Is it possible that they may start thinking consequence (positive or negative) instead of thinking actions?
Imagine walking down the sidewalk and looking at your phone while thinking reading article instead of thinking avoiding garbage can. Suddenly you are realizing that your foot hurts after banging into the garbage can that all of a sudden appeared out of nowhere. Now, you know that this pain in your foot is your own fault and the logical consequence of thinking reading article on your phone instead of thinking walking on the sidewalk. Applying this analogy to our example of the over-performing team it makes sense that when players and coaches start thinking about something else than actions and tasks you risk banging your foot on the garbage can all of a sudden. The question is if you as the coach are able to realize that it’s your own fault that you banged the garbage can and have the ability to correct your thinking to be more aware of the sidewalk and as a result increase the chance of avoiding a long losing streak that brings your team on the verge of relegation.
What are some of the common traps coaches fall into when they find themselves in this situation with a sudden losing streak after a successful start of the season? The biggest mistake is of course to ignore the garbage can entirely and only blame the external factors; ”it came out of nowhere”, ”someone else put it there” or ”the pain in my foot comes from something else”. Coaches who ignore the facts and blame the surroundings instead of holding themselves accountable have a greater risk of making the following mistakes. For example, a coach thinking external factors might start to make many changes to the lineup in an attempt to counteract these external factors, real problems or not. In the middle of a losing streak you not only see coaches changing the lineup from game to game but you also see coaches who attempt to change their playing style midseason and introduce new formations from game to game. All this to fight the symptoms of pain instead of fighting the disease of not thinking walking on sidewalk.
What is the consequence for your players when the lineup is changed after each game? What if you introduce new formations and change the playing style midseason? Naturally, the level of communication between the players drops since they are playing with new team-mates from game to game. When introducing a new formation or a new playing style in the middle of the losing streak you also risk that the players decision making take longer since they find themselves in a new surrounding with new directions. In other words, the players are not sure what to think, they are exposed to uncertainty since they don’t know who will play or even how they will play from game to game. Instead of players thinking about their own actions you now have players thinking about the coach’s actions and the consequences these might have for them.
Switching the thinking of your players and coaches back to actions and tasks in the middle of a losing streak is by no means an easy task. The higher the pressure from the outside world is, the harder it is for players to think actions instead of thinking consequences. However, as a coach it is a good idea to not make things worse for yourself by falling into the traps described earlier. This scenario of being in the middle of a losing streak might also be a very good opportunity for a coach who is leading like a teacher or a manager to switch leadership style and start coaching like a commander. Simplifying the decision making process for the players by limiting their options for a period of time will help them to start thinking actions instead of thinking consequences. When you snap the losing streak and return to a situation when your coaches and players are again thinking actions and tasks instead of external factors you can switch back to your earlier leadership style.
This scenario of a team drastically over-performing in the first half of the season only to fall into a long losing streak that puts them on the verge of relegation might seam a bit extreme. However, the main point of this example have been to visualize one of the biggest challenges for coaches and players during a long season; the ability to maintain thinking actions and tasks regardless of the external factors and the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of games. If you are able to maintain thinking actions throughout your season the chance of your team performing more stable increases dramatically.
What do you see when looking around on the internet or when you are at coaching seminars? Do you mostly see objective information about the game and how to improve your knowledge or is it mostly the flavor of the month, a quick fix to be a successful coach and books about drills? You probably recognize that in these environments it’s mostly the quick fix that is bated around for gullible coaches to bite and swallow. Drills and ”methods” that has worked well in someones environment and that is sold as universal even though it is per definition a subjective application based on their external factors, not yours.
It is interesting to think about where this need for a quick fix comes from and why there are so many coaches buying books filled with drills instead of learning about the game. Imagine if your child’s teacher would buy books on the execution of a class-session instead of learning thoroughly about the subject they are teaching at the university. How would that make you feel as a parent, knowing that your child’s teacher doesn’t really know what they are talking about, but only applying someone else’s session and subjective experiences? The teacher would have to hope that something sticks with your child so that they can claim learning has taken place and that they have done their job.
Could it be that this behavior by coaches of looking for drills instead of learning objectively about the game has something to do with what happened at their first coaching course? Think back to when you walked into the room at your first coaching course and reflect on how the structure of the course was and what kind of information was presented. Did the coach educator start with an objective reference of the characteristics of the game or was it straight into subjective application and experiences?
”Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Imagine walking into that room with an urge to learn about football and expecting a coach educator who would teach you about the game in an objective way. Unfortunately, the coach educator probably started by sharing knowledge based on subjectivity, either from the experiences of the coach educator or the information put together by the federation with good intentions, but a poor and subjective chaos as a result. There was probably a nice looking Power Point presentation and a very nice coach educator. However, the presentation had too much information and you probably struggled to make sense of the context and structure. The coach educator gave you some advise that may or may not have been relevant for you and you discussed everyones favorite drills as ll the coaches in the room shared their experiences.
What is wrong with this picture of your official introduction to coaching football? Imagine yourself sitting there during the course and feeling like you were told what to do in terms of drills and coaching methods. Odds are you wouldn’t really understand why that drill was good or why that method was the way to coach because something was missing. It could be that when the coach educator showed you some drills you where happy that there was finally something that you could understand, take note of and bring back home. However, it’s also possible that you recognized this top down style of education from school and your time in the classroom many years ago. You didn’t like it then and you don’t like it now. What do you remember from school anyway?
After finishing your first coaching course you received a certificate that says that you are now a competent coach, even though you didn’t learn anything except some drills. These drills where recommended to you by someone because it worked for them in their environment with their external factors. As a certified coach when someone asks you to describe what football is, you end up using words that you heard last night on TV and respond with non-contextual words like ”feelings”, ”enjoyment” and ”passion” while struggling to keep a straight face. Maybe you are lucky enough to recognize that you don’t really know what you are talking about and think to yourself ”why wasn’t I educated about what football is when I attended my first coaching course?”.
Instead of this subjective top down coach education, the solution for federations worldwide is to first educate coaches about the game in an objective and factual way. When the context of football is clear, coaches can come up with their own drills and subjective methods suited for their external factors. Instead of giving away drills and quick fixes to coaches the federation should provide these coaches with an objective way of thinking about football. ”Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. If coaches are taught objective knowledge about the game they will have the competence to design drills that suits their subjective environment and their playing style for the rest of their career.
In earlier posts we have put things that the football coach does into the context of which the coach operates. For example, we have discussed that the way you coach should be decided by the context, the sport you are coaching and only thereafter the external factors in your specific situation. In this post we will look at the overarching context for everything on this blog, namely the game of football. The purpose of this post is to give you an objective description of the game, a frame of reference for your coaching.
First and foremost football is a game which is defined as a competitive activity played according to rules that are specific to the sport. Moreover, football is a team sport, meaning two or more players working together while competing with another team to win the game. Football is played with 11 players on each team with the consequence of a game that is extremely complex. Due to this complexity the game is simplified for younger players by reducing the number or players on both teams.
As previously noted, the objective of the team game football is to win the game. This is done by, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent. The ’within the rules of the game’ part is important to notice. Imagine that you were allowed to pick up the ball with your hands and run to the other side of the pitch and throw it into the opponents goal to score. It would be much easier to control the ball with your hands than trying to control a spherical object with your feet. However, the rules of the game states that you are not allowed to control the ball with your hands (except for the goalkeeper inside the penalty box) and that is only one rule that makes the game more difficult than it could be. Also, it should be noted that it can sometimes can be of a higher order for a team to not lose a game instead of winning if this point will help the team reaching a greater objective of winning the league or staying up at a certain level.
To summarize, the objective of football is not to ”play well”, ”keep possession” or ”have fun” even though these are common answers from coaches all over the world when asked what the objective of football is. No, the objective of football is to, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent and as a consequence win the game. Does this mean that the players shouldn’t have fun? Of course not. Playing a game and competing against others are what is fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s football or chess, the competitiveness of these different games and your autonomy as a player to execute decisions are what makes it fun. Imagine you are playing chess and you’re constantly getting told by the chess coach what move to execute next, would you want to keep playing over time? What if you where not allowed to play chess to win, but the way you moved the pieces was regarded as more important. Would you keep playing or would you eventually throw the chess board up in the air and walk away?
So players have fun if they are allowed to play the game without someone telling them what to do all the time, but they should ”keep possession” all the time, right? No. First it’s important to understand that keeping possession is not an objective by itself and that scoring one more goal than the opponent is of a higher order. When you score a goal you actually give away possession since the other team will start with the ball after you score. Therefore if you say that your highest objective is to keep possession, you are saying that you do not want to score a goal. Secondly, you cannot score a goal (by yourself, the other team can score an own goal) unless you are in possession so it is important to regain possession after you lost possession. Keeping possession for the sake of keeping possession makes no sense and is not football. However there are moments during the game where keeping possession might be very important, for example when you are 1-0 up and it’s 5 minutes left of the game and you can win by not giving the ball away.
Ok, the objective of the game of football is to, within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent. But it’s equally important to ”play well”, right? What is ’playing well’? When you and you friend are watching a game you might think that team A is playing well but your friend doesn’t think so and says that team B is playing much better. Who is right, you or your friend? Both are of course right since ’playing well’ is a subjective interpretation by whoever is observing the game. What you as a coach might think is ’playing well’, your board might not agree with and as a consequence you have a problem. To ”play well” is a subjective interpretation of how the different team functions are being executed by your team and therefore of a lower order than the objective characteristics of the game.
Now you might be thinking ’what do you mean by team functions’? Well, in football there are three team functions; attacking, transition and defending which all have different objectives that are connected to the main objective of ’within the rules of the game, score at least one more goal than the opponent’.
When a player on your team has the ball under control (in possession) your team is per definition attacking. This means that all of your players are attacking when someone on your team has the ball. When the striker has the ball, your goalkeeper is also attacking and the other way around. The objective of attacking is to create opportunities to score that can be converted into goals by scoring. This is done by the team tasks of building up and scoring.
When your team is regaining or losing possession there is a short moment when you are in transition from the team function of defending to attacking or from attacking to defending. This short moment of a few seconds is when the defending team is unorganized.
When a player on the opposing team has the ball in possession your team is per definition defending. This means that all of your players are defending, not only the players that are closest to your goal. The objective of defending is to prevent the opponent to create scoring opportunities and above all prevent the opponent from scoring. This is done through the team tasks of disturbing the build up of the opponent and prevent scoring.
Within these team functions there is constant communication between team-mates (non-verbal and verbal) and opponents (non-verbal). Players have to make decisions based on their game insight to execute football actions within the different team functions. This is the context of football that you as a coach are working within to develop your players and improving your team.
In todays post we will have a look at personal development, what it is in the context of football coaches and also give some practical tips you can use to improve and become a better coach. Personal development for football coaches usually means going to coaching courses, reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, practicing your coaching on the pitch and maybe using a mentor to receive quality feedback. However, what could be a problem for many coaches is if they go to these courses and read books without a clear frame of reference for the what that is their why, namely coaching football. Personal development as a coach means that you want to execute better coaching actions and improve your way of coaching football.
Imagine that you’re moving into a big house that has a beautiful bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. When moving in you go over the house to fix some small stuff and you realize you have to clean your jacuzzi before using it. But how does one clean a jacuzzi and how does it actually work? Since you want to avoid a flooded bathroom and expensive water damage, you start by finding the manual or instruction booklet for the jacuzzi before unplugging drains and hoses and risking chaos. You first learn about the mechanics of the jacuzzi and thereafter you learn about how it works in general and the specifics of cleaning in the context of the jacuzzi. This way you make sure you don’t flood the bathroom in your new house or break your jacuzzi. For other things around the house the procedure is the same; first you learn about what it is, then how it works and only thereafter you start tampering with it. You are creating a frame of reference before you start to learn about how it works and only after this you start focusing on how you are going to change it.
Using our metaphor with the jacuzzi, what you see coaches who are looking for personal development doing, is running into the bathroom without knowing what to do and unplugging the hose from the jacuzzi and flooding the bathroom. Instead of learning about the jacuzzi and how it works first, they start by unplugging the hoses and the result is chaos in the bathroom. Your personal development is about you executing better coaching actions and improving how you are coaching. Therefore it could be a good idea to first establish a frame of reference for the what, in this case the sport, namely football. That means learning about the game from objective facts and philosophical principles instead of subjective opinions and someone else’s application of coaching.
The style of your coaching is determined by the leadership style that you use when interacting with your players. Maybe you are telling your players what to do in which case you are coaching like a commander. Or, you are focusing at maintaining the current level of the players so you take a step back and coach like a manager. However, if you take the game as the starting point the chance is that you are guiding the players and helping them develop their decision making when you coach like a teacher. In your personal development you want to keep improving these different leadership styles while also learning to master them all and not only the one. Depending on your external factors you might need to use all three leadership styles in your coaching which is why you should also practice switching between them.
Regardless of what in your personal development process you are focusing on, the reference with it’s philosophical principles or the application of these principles, you probably want to maximize your learning effect. Think back to when you attended a coaching course the last time and check with yourself if you remember the different topics that were discussed. And what was that thing you said you learned from that amazing book you read last year? Do you remember that situation after training last month when you said to yourself that you had to learn and not make the same mistake again? If you don’t remember, how do you know that you’ve learned and improved as a coach?
Personal development means finding your own way of improving as a coach and there are different ways to learn. However, your chance of retaining information and learning increases substantially if you write it down. Therefore a smart move could be to keep a journal and it’s something that can be done in many different ways, so you have to find a method that suits your personal development process. If you journal regularly that will give you the opportunity to revisit your learning situations which will increase the learning effect for you. Imagine that before you go to bed, right before you turn the lights out, you reflect upon the situations of the day and summarize objective and subjective learning points in your journal. What did you learn today that will improve the quality of your verbal and non-verbal communication? What have you learned today that will improve your decision making tomorrow? How did your staff and players respond to the execution of your coaching actions today?
When you reflect on these questions and write them down in a general summary or more specific learning points, you increase the chance for personal development. The added benefit of journalling is that you can revisit earlier situations and learning points to make sure that you’ve actually learned from them. Why not spend an hour or two every other month to go back and read through your journal, visualize the situations and what you learned instead of going to the pub. After the season it could be a good idea to go through your journal to reflect on the situations that has happened during the year and what you’ve actually learned from them. This way you can summarize the whole year and make sure that you will take the next step in your personal development.
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