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.