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.