Imagine you are coaching a game and your team is losing 2-0 after two giveaways by your centre back. He is normally one of the best players on the team and this performance is very uncharacteristic. The centre back rarely makes any mistakes, but in this game he’s made several and two of them has ended up in your net. You cannot believe it, this rock of a player that you have depended upon for so many games and who always has been a leader on the pitch now looks like he’s tanking the game voluntary. A lot of different thoughts start going through your head while you are watching this debacle that is unveiling before your eyes.
After the game you sit down with your coaching staff and try to make sense of this mess of a game that has just happened. There are a lot of comments from the other coaches about how bad certain players where today and they come up with different explanations of what may have been the reason for this loss. After a while the focus from the coaches in the room turn to the centre back who made the mistakes that cost you the game. The consensus from the coaches is that if he didn’t make these mistakes, you would at least salvaged a point from this game. ”It looked like he didn’t care” says one coach, another says ”I think he’s been bribed, because he never makes those kinds of mistakes”, ”maybe he’s working against us to get us fired” is another comment in the room. All these comments in themselves make sense to you after watching the performance of your centre back, but you can’t quite believe it.
Assumptions like this are made after every game by disappointed supporters and all to often also by football coaches who are searching for explanations after a poor performance. However there is one big problem with these assumptions, and that is that your players are human beings and not robots. You do not know what the player was thinking when he played the game or how he was feeling and why. The only way to find out why certain things happen in training or in the game is to get to know you players. You have to communicate one-on-one with them and maybe not only about what happens on the pitch. As a leader you should also get to know how their family situation is, know about what they like doing outside of the football environment, what kind of culture they come from and if there is anything you can do to help them focus on football.
Now imagine that before the game that you lost 2-0 after the two horrible mistakes by your centre back he had just found out that his father was in the hospital in critical condition treated for a heart attack. Where do you think his thinking was in that game? And if you as the leader have not been able to create a culture where it is natural for the players to come to you when things happen outside of the pitch and inform you, who’s fault is it that these mistakes happened? If you have never shown interest in the players personal life or their general wellbeing, is it the centre backs fault that you lost the game or could you as a leader have prevented it?
Remember that your players are human beings that go through a lot of different things outside of football that can have consequences for how they perform in the game of football. Everyone of your players are different and you have to communicate with them accordingly. As the leader of these human beings, is it not your responsibility to get to know your players and build a relationship that let you know how to?