The Commander

As a football coach you are every day executing coaching (inter)actions with your players and staff in the context of the football game. These coaching actions can be executed in a lot of different ways which is what is called leading, the way in that you coach. We have earlier described in general, three different leadership styles that you as a coach use when leading; the commander who tells players what to do, the teacher who guides the players and the manager who takes a step back and let the players guide the process. In todays blog post we will zoom in on one of the leadership styles and look at what the benefits and challenges could be for a coach that is constantly leading like a commander.

Let’s use a general example to describe a situation where a coach leading like a commander is somewhat common in todays football. Imagine you have a team that are playing pretty well esthetically but not scoring a lot while conceding too many goals with the natural consequence of few points added behind their name in the league table. They are losing a lot of games even though they are having a lot of possession and playing what people refer to as ’nicely’. In the beginning of the season there is patience and everyone hopes that things will turn around. They hope that this ’beautiful’ playing style, even though it’s clearly quite naive since they are conceding more goals than they are scoring, will one day lead to better results and more points. However, the results never come and the team eventually becomes involved in the relegation battle. The board members start to get nervous and make the decision to fire the head coach with 1/3 of the season left to play. You can probably think of a couple of cases like this example, so let’s use this as our starting point.

What type of leader do you think the board will hire in this scenario? You guessed it, the likelihood is high of a commander walking through the doors at the club telling the players where the goal is and in what direction to kick the ball. And with the team being in complete crisis mode, it could be very smart by the coach to lead like a commander in order to take some pressure away from the players. This leadership style lets the players think less about what actions to execute and think more about executing the actions that the coach commands. This thinking about executing actions could leeds to what some call ”increased confidence”, namely that players are thinking ’execute action’ instead of thinking ’possible consequences of next action’. Now, note that there is nothing in our example that states that the previous coach could not, or would not, change leadership styles and start leading like a commander. However, there is little doubt that in this scenario of a team in crisis, a coach who leads like a commander is welcomed.

Imagine that the new coach is able to save the team from relegation after commanding the players for the last third of the season. There will probably be a lot of pats on the back for the board members for making the right decision and brining in a commander to coach the team. But what happens when the new season starts and if the new coach is still leading like a commander? There is no longer a crisis, the club stayed up and everyone is back to thinking they will challenge for the top places in the league. As you know, football is a players sport where it is the players that have to make decisions on the pitch, and the job of the coach is to improve this decision making in order to improve the team. Is that possible when you are constantly commanding players what to do? Or do you need to guide the players more like a teacher in order to improver their decision making?

Needless to say, if the new coach is unable to change leadership styles from commander to teacher there will again be a problem. This time with an underperforming team that may be clear of the relegation battle, but nowhere near fulfilling it’s potential. Perhaps the board again becomes nervous and decide to change coaches after only half a season to bring in a new coach who leads like a teacher. It is not uncommon to see coaches performing well in crisis mode only to perform less when things are back to normal. There are some coaches who have been able to save teams from relegation more than once by leading as a commander, which is very impressive, and they are sometimes viewed as ’specialists’ for doing this. But if they are only able to lead as a commander and not able to use any other leadership style, they should be viewed as ’limited’ coaches. Leading as a commander is very smart in a crisis situation as described in the example above, however when the crisis is over another leadership style is necessary. As a coach you should practice these different leadership styles and your ability to switch between them, because you never know when you are in a situation that requires the one or the other.

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