How should you coach?

In the sport of football the players are the ones who are making decisions continually within the game. This is different than from other sports like for example baseball where the coach makes the decision and the players go out on the field and execute them to the best of their abilities. Also in American football the play is already decided by the coaches and executed by the players. Although there are certain players on the field that are allowed to make decisions and change plays, it is not everyone that has this freedom. The fact that in the game of football it is the players that have to make decisions and then execute these decisions means that football is a players sport and that for example the game of baseball is more of a coaches sport.

This fact has a clear consequence for how the game of football should be coached. Given that the players are the ones who makes the decision in the game it provides the coach with clear guidelines on how to coach for the most of the time. In general, one could say that the job of the coach is to increase the quality of the players decision making in the game. If the players execute better decision they will have a greater chance of attaining the objective of the game which is winning. Now, the question is how should you coach in order to increase the players decision making?

As previously discussed in the post How do you coach, we looked at three general ways of coaching which was connected to different leadership styles. If you as the coach are telling the players what to do you are leading more like a commander or a drill sergeant. On the other hand, if you as their coach are guiding the players through your training sessions and in your coaching, you are leading like a teacher. The third leadership style that was mentioned was for coaches who might have a very experienced team or installed a culture over time in a club. That coach can take a step back and be more of a facilitator for the players and lead like a manager who is more focused on maintaining the players current level.

These different leadership styles all have their time and place within the context of football training and football coaching. However, one of these styles should per definition be more commonly used than the others. In order to find out which style and why, let’s shortly look at some examples of situations where the different leadership styles might be applied.

Imagine that you as a coach find yourself in a situation that resembles some sort of crisis, for example you might be taking over a slumping team mid-season and asking yourself what leadership style to use. Well, in a crisis situation like this you would probably benefit by taking decision making responsibilities away from the players for a short period of time since they have experienced a lot of pressure from the outside world during this slump. For this situation of crisis it could be a good idea to be more of a commander who tells the players what to do. This way you take the pressure of the players for a period of time and can be extremely clear when implementing your reference for how your are going to do things on and off the pitch.

Now, imagine you are hired as the coach of a team that won the league last season with a big margin. Are you going to start telling them what to do or could it be a good idea to give them more freedom to chose for themselves? In the situation of taking over a successful and experienced group of players it might be a good idea to take a step back and lead more like a manager. Your main job will be to maintain the current level of the players and be a facilitator of their knowledge into good decision making and execution on the pitch.

The above examples are somewhat of abnormalities within the game of football if you look at the big picture. Although they probably happen for all coaches sooner or later and for some maybe even within a season, these different situations are not normal for most coaches in their daily coaching. Given that the game of football is first and foremost a players sport as described in the beginning, there is one leadership style that should be the default for all football coaches, namely the teacher. To improve the players decision making they need to be guided (more or less) and given the opportunity to make decisions that the can execute on their own, something that is not possible if you are for example leading as a commander. This is of course even more important when developing young players and therefore the starting point for all coaches should be to lead like teachers.

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