What is coaching football?

If you venture online you can find many different resources online about how you can coach football. These resources usually have their starting point in someone else’s subjective application of coaching football and their particular environment. That means that everything is based on someone else’s players and often with an assumption that you as a coach has a certain amount of knowledge. This in itself doesn’t need do be a problem as long as you as the coach who are visiting these resources understand that this is the case. However, you will have a problem if your own subjective application of coaching football takes someone else’s subjective application as the starting point. Subjectivity x Subjectivity = Chaos. In this post, we will look at what coaching football is from a philosophical starting point. This will give you as the coach an objective knowledge reference that you can use as the starting point when you coach in different environments.

The first step in creating this objective reference for coaching football is to clarify that it is something that happens within the context of the game of football. As described earlier, this game has different team functions; attacking, defending and transitioning, with the objective of winning which is done by scoring at least one more goal than the opponent. The team functions have different team tasks, when your team is attacking they are executing the team tasks of building up to create chances and (hopefully) scoring while when defending they are disturbing the build up of the opponent and preventing scoring. Each player on the pitch contributes to the respective team task by executing different football actions, i.e. passing, creating space, pressing, blocking passing options etc. All football actions is communication, decision making and execution of that decision. To summarize, in football it is the players who the decisions on the pitch which is why football is called a players sport and not a coaches sport. 

Just imagine that you as the coach would ignore the context of the game when delivering your training sessions. How would that look? Well, it could for example mean that you have activities where players are kicking the ball around cones, executing kicking the ball patterns (”passing patterns”) without opponents and other, similar activities without the presence or need for communication (verbal and non-verbal) and decision making. Execution for the sake of execution. Does this example sound familiar? Unfortunately there are many coaches all over the world who mistakenly spend most of their training sessions conducting similar circus tricks or different types of track and field exercises like running around the pitch. This is not coaching football, these are examples of coaching circus tricks and coaching track and field. Coaching football is you as the coach helping the players improve their football actions. But how can you improve a football action without any communication and decision making? It is impossible.

As you know, the game of football is played 11 against 11 and in youth football for younger players, the game is simplified with fewer players on each team to make it less complex. This means that it is impossible to improve football by coaching each player individually. As a coach who is coaching football you must take the player’s team-mates, opponents and the context of the game into consideration when coaching. You are only coaching football if you are coaching in the context of the different team functions; attacking, defending and transitioning, team tasks and the opponent. When you are coaching football you are improving the individual players’ football actions to improve the quality of the different team tasks and team functions in order for your team to perform better and increase the chance of winning.

As discussed earlier, a football action is communication, decision making and execution of a decision. When you are coaching football, the relevant communication is there for all players; team-mates, opponents, team function, team task and possibly game specific information (time left,  score, cup or league game etc). You have as a coach made sure that the player has all the relevant information from their surroundings through this communication that it is possible to make a decision and execute it. When you have made sure that the communication from the players’ surroundings are as close to what the player will see in the game as possible you have created the basis for coaching football. Because the surrounding is like the game, the player will start to make decisions that will also happen in the game. These decisions may be good or bad, the execution of these decisions may also be better or worse. This is what you coach. 

When coaching football your players are making decisions and executing them in a game-like environment. Helping the player to make better decisions and execute them better is the job of the football coach (more on this later). Improving players football actions is improving their decision making and execution of decision which is what coaching football is. This can only be done in the context of team-mates, opponents and the different team functions and team tasks.   

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