Maintaining Good Coaching

When you are coaching football you are interacting with your players and coaches within the context of football. Your players are executing football actions when they are on the pitch and as the coach, you are executing coaching actions. In order to improve as a coach you want to execute better coaching actions which means that you are increasing the quality of your coaching by disregarding your own personality and taking the game (situation) as a starting point while using the correct leadership style when coaching. In this post we will look at maintaining the quality of your coaching actions over time with examples and suggestions on how you can maintain good coaching actions.

When you are coaching your team, do you want your players to pass with the same quality at the end of the game as in the beginning of the game? Do you expect your midfielders to create space with the same quality at the end of the session as they did in the beginning? You probably answered these questions with a big yes, you expect your players to maintain the same quality of their football actions throughout the session and for the full 90 minutes of the game. Maybe you are also training your players in a way that will help them maintain good football actions throughout the game.

Now, as a coach you should only demand of others what you are willing to do yourself. That means that as the coach of these players whom you expect to keep their quality throughout the session and the game, you should also maintain your own quality throughout the game and training session. In other words, you should maintain good coaching actions for the full 90 minutes of the game and throughout the training session. However, this does not appear to always be the case and sometimes you see coaches that are coaching really good in the beginning of the session or game but for some strange reason, the quality of their coaching drops after some time.

Imagine that you, in the beginning of the session are able to notice all the details around you, make good decisions based on that information and executing your coaching actions with top quality. But for some reason, when the end of the session is coming closer you are suddenly struggling to notice everything that’s going on around you and you are not able to make good decisions anymore. As a result, the quality of your coaching actions has deteriorated and is now lower than in the beginning of the session. You have become a worse coach than you were in the beginning of the training session.

If this happens, it means that your players have a coach in the beginning of the sessions who is of a certain quality, but at the end of the session their coach has become one of a lower quality. Now, think of how you would handle this situation if we were talking about a player instead of a coach. Imagine one of your players passing the ball with a certain quality in the beginning of the session, but at the end of the session the passing is of a low quality. What would you do? Take that example and think of it in a game situation where your player is not able to maintain good passing in the second half and the result would probably be that you substitute the player. Hopefully you as the coach have not been substituted by your club for not maintaining good coaching actions.

Now, the question is; how can you maintain the quality of your coaching actions throughout sessions and games? In order to answer this question we need to understand what is happening and why the quality of your coaching actions drops throughout a session or a game. Imagine yourself coaching a session at your club and the session is nearing the end. What can you think of that might cause the quality of your coaching actions to go down? External factors like; the weather, your assistant coach, the directors, players problems, win/loss record and fans could be causing you some headaches. Or maybe you are tired, hungry, have family problems or feel frustrated for some reason you can’t explain and this is affecting the quality of your coaching, making you unable to maintain good coaching actions.

Let’s have a look and see if these examples listed above of external factors and your personality is a problem? Sure, in itself all of these different external factors and your personality issues could be a problem for you. However, in the context of coaching football and the football training, should they be a problem? The answer to this question is no, your players does not deserver a lower quality coach because of some external factors or the personality of their coach. What is the real problem and the reason for the quality of your coaching actions to drop during the session and the game?

The problem is not the different external factors or your personality issues. The problem is that you are unable to control your thinking and maintaining thinking coaching actions. Now, some of these external factors might contribute to you struggling to control your thinking and as a consequence the quality of your coaching actions is lower. Will it be more difficult to maintain thinking coaching actions if you are tired? Will it be more difficult to maintain good coaching actions if you are hungry? To increase the chance of maintaining thinking coaching actions throughout the session and as a result maintaining good coaching, you as a coach need a recovery strategy.

As coaches, we focus a lot on the recovery for players between training sessions and games, but there is not so much talk about the recovery for the coach. As the coach, you also need to recover between games and trainings in order to start training fresh so that you give your players the quality of coaching that they deserve. If you as the coach are unable to maintain good coaching actions during the session, you are under-developing your players and in essence doing a poor job.

Take care of your recovery and practice to control your thinking in the face of the different external factors and your own personality issues that can arise during a season. This way you will give yourself a greater chance of maintaining good coaching actions throughout every training session and game. As a result you will be a better coach for your players, a coach that will be there for them during the entire game, not only the first half.

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Way of Coaching

In the sport of football it is the players who are continually executing their own decisions within the context of the game. This is different than from other sports, i.e. baseball were the coach makes the decision and the players go out on the field and execute the coach’s decision to the best of their abilities. The same can be said about American football since the play, the positioning of the players, is already decided by the coaches and the players try to execute this play. When comparing these sports we see that baseball and american football can be called a ’coach sport’, since it is the coach who make the main decisions within the game. However, when we look at the characteristics of football, we see that it is the players who are making the decisions on the pitch that they execute themselves. This fact means that football is a ’players sport’ since they are the ones making the decisions and not a ’coach sport’.

Knowing and understanding that football is a ’players sport’ and not a ’coach sport’ is the first step for football coaches who want to learn how to coach football. Since the job of the coach is to improve the players, an understanding of the characteristics of football is necessary. If the players are executing better decisions on the pitch, they have a greater chance of reaching the objective of the game; scoring minimum one more goal than the opponent. Hence, the job of the coach is to improve the players by helping them to improve the quality of their decision making on the pitch. Given this fact, the question becomes; what is the best way of coaching to promote improved decision making in the players? Or in other words, how should you coach your players in order for them to improve their decision making?

In football there are three general leadership styles that coaches use when coaching their players. You have seen coaches using variations of these leadership styles many times to a varying degree of success. In alphabetical order these leadership styles are; the commander, the manager and the teacher. The coach who is coaching like a commander is the coach who is telling the players what to do, what decision that should be made and executed by the player. The manager however is a coach who is on the opposite side of the commander and approaches coaching the players in a more laissez-faire way. Coaches who are using the leadership style of the teacher are guiding the players through the process of learning football. All of these leadership styles have their time and place within the context of improving football and coaching football in training and in games. However, based on the characteristics of the game, football being a ’players sport’, there is one leadership style that per definition should be the starting point for how you coach your players. Let’s use some examples to see if we can find out what the (right) way of coaching should be.

Imagine that you are coaching a team that is in a situation that resembles some sort of crisis. Think of a scenario where you have taken over a slumping team in the middle of the season and before your first session you are reflecting upon what leadership style to use. In a crisis situation like this, the players are probably experiencing a lot of pressure from the outside which leads to them overthinking everything they do. In order to relieve this pressure that the players are experiencing, it could be a smart move by you as the coach to make the decisions for them, if only for a short period of time. Using the leadership style of the commander in your coaching reduces the decision making that is required by your players and helps them relieve the pressure they are experiencing. It also gives you a chance to implement an extremely clear reference for how things are going to be done on and off the pitch from now on. Telling the players what to do when taking over a team in the middle of the season helps you to hit the ground running and to implement your reference for football.

Now, imagine you are brought in to coach the team that won the league last season with a big margin. This team have a lot of experienced players that have been successful in different places over time. For you as the coach, the question is if you are going to start by telling them what to do or if it could be a good idea to give these players more freedom to make decisions? Taking over a successful team with experienced players and start telling them to do things your way might not be a very good idea. Perhaps it could be smart to use the experience of the group, take a step back and coach more like a manager. In this scenario your main job is to maintain the current level of the players and try not to interfere in a negative way. That means instead of being a commander or a teacher, you want to be a manager who facilitates the players existing knowledge and good decision making into good execution on the pitch.

After reading these two examples of scenarios you can ask yourself if they represent most of the situations that you as a coach encounter or if using the leadership style of the commander and the manager are more an exception to the rule. Given the fact that football is a ’players sport’ and that the job of the coach is to improve players by helping them improve their decision making, the question is what leadership style is best suited? You have probably already concluded that being a commander or a manager is not the best way of improving your players decision making and that this leaves only one answer.

When you are coaching like a teacher you are guiding the players through the process of learning football. That means that instead of telling players what to do, the coach guides the players by asking different questions that are more or less open and/or leading to help the players improve their decision making. These question does not need to be verbal questions, they could also be questions that are asked by the coach through manipulation of game situations in the training session. The leadership style of the teacher is therefore the best way of improving the players decision making in football and as a result, the best way of improving players. To answer the question that we started with; what way of coaching promotes improved decision making in the players the best? – Coaching like a teacher.

Coach Educators

In this post we will look at the role of the coach educator in the context of observing coaches on the pitch in training sessions. As a part of mentoring coaches and when consulting clubs there has been observation of sessions with direct feedback to coaches with a written report afterwards. These experiences and the comments from the coaches observed is the background for this post and it’s content.

Think back to when you did your last coaching course and where on the pitch delivering a session. When you received feedback afterwards, how was that feedback delivered and what did it consist of? Most of the coaches observed this year noted that their previous experiences from coaching courses was that the feedback often consisted of opinions from the coach educator. For example; ”I think that…”, ”Maybe you should’ve…”, ”In my opinion that was…” and so on. There was usually not any objective feedback that they felt was really helpful. This of course doesn’t mean that the feedback from the coach educator was useless, all coaches reported getting some valuable tips that helped them in their execution of coaching actions. But they also noted that they expected more from the course and the feedback.

What is the problem with experienced coach educators basing their feedback to young and inexperienced coaches on their opinion when giving feedback? These coach educators are often coaches with a lot of experience, isn’t learning from them and their experience exclusively a good thing? Well, of course it’s good to learn from other coaches experiences, the problem however is that these experiences are from a football situation that had specific external factors that the young coaches does not have in their specific football situations. If coach educators teach coaches by giving feedback based on their own opinions and personality they are teaching the coaches to subjectively apply someone else’s subjectivity. Chaos!

When observing a session as a coach educator it’s easy to fall into the trap of either comparing the coaching actions to those of other coaches or noticing certain actions that you think are good/bad and give feedback to the coach based on your subjective opinion. However, when observing a session all coaching actions should be evaluated within the context of the game and the characteristics of coaching football. This way the feedback to the coach will be objective in the context of football and not subjective in the context of the coach educator’s opinion.

So, how can you as a coach educator make sure that your observation and feedback is based on objectivity and your subjective opinions? The first step is to make sure that you observe the actual coaching actions executed by the coach and not make assumptions of the coach’s intentions or thoughts. It’s impossible to know what someone else is thinking but it’s very possible to observe their actions. The next step is to check if the session or activity the coach is executing has all the characteristics of football present in order to make sure that there is actual coaching of football and not coaching of something else. After these first two steps you observe the coaching actions of the coach. What is being coached and how, i.e. which leadership style is used when coaching the what.

When following these steps you as the coach educator have an objective starting point for giving the coach feedback based on football. In keeping your opinions and your personality out of the equation the quality of your feedback will increase. If coach educators teach coaches by giving feedback based on the game and coaching football they are teaching the coaches to subjectively apply an objective reference. Football!

National team observation

Today’s post is an analysis of real life football coaching taken from three different youth-national teams. After observing these teams train and play games against each other we will theorize what was observed and see if there is something for you as a coach to take away and learn from. This post will first look at the structure of the tournament before a short description of the training sessions for each of the observed national teams. Thereafter the leadership of the coaches, how they coached in the sessions is discussed before looking at the games to see what the transfer from the training sessions were. Lastly there will be a summary and a list of potential take aways for coaches.

Somewhere in the world there is a tournament with four youth-national teams from countries with similar population, social and economic status. Let’s simplify it by calling them National team A, B, C and D. The teams observed in training was National team A, B and C and the games played the day after these trainings was; National team A versus National team D, National team B versus National team C. Prediction for the games after observing the training sessions was that team D would beat team A in a game where A have more possession but struggle to score and D scoring on the counter attack, teams B and C would play a close game where B would win, probably by scoring a late goal.

Two of the three teams observed trained in the 2 days leading up to the game and the third team arrived on, and only trained on the day before the game. National team A training was filled with a lot of different themes and concepts within the two sessions. They practiced defending, attacking and set pieces in different ways, switching in between the themes and mostly doing unopposed or low grade opposition (sticks, passive opponents, coaches as opponents). A lot of information for the players to take in during a relatively short time with many water breaks (minimum 5). There was little or no maximum football actions observed during these trainings, low tempo football with low quality execution of actions. There was also very little coaching football, mostly coaching of something that looks a little bit like football. The goalkeepers hardly interacted with the other players during these sessions. In two sessions there was a total of 20 minutes that was actual football training, the rest of the time was artificially constructed situations where the intention was probably to mimic the game in some degree.

National team B was a refreshing experience to observe after seeing national team A train. There was coaching of football from the start, after the warm-up and activation of players. In the session there was a gradual build-up of the players football actions the first 25 minutes and after this point every football action seamed to be executed at 100% of the players ability with the consequence being high tempo football with high quality execution of football actions. There were two themes in the session, the coaches started with defending opposition build-up before coaching transitioning to attack. There was no sticks and a limited amount of foreign objects on the pitch and the progression within the session was fluent. This was a quality football training session.

National team C arrived the day before the game and started off by allowing a handful of players shooting on goal for 10 minutes before the warm-up while the medical staff was engaged in some sort of game with the rest of the coaching staff except the head coach and assistant coach. After practicing running around the pitch for one lap, the warm-up continued for 45 minutes with non-contextual drills and activation of the lower and central part of the body. After these 45 minutes national team C begun with passing exercise that progressed into a possession game before ending with a short tactical game. There was two main themes during the last 45 minutes (none in the first 45 mins) of the session; attacking build-up and defending opponent build-up. Hardly any foreign objets on the pitch, only a few cones and regular goals. The last 45 minutes was coaching football with high quality execution of football actions and high tempo football.

Now, let’s have a look at how the coaches coached in these session, what leadership styles they used when executing coaching actions. We will try to analyze all of the coaches in the staff, although that is not entirely possible since some coaches never interacted with the players in the sessions observed. There will not be any opinions regarding the quality of the coaching actions, only the observed leadership style.

For national team A it was very clear that the head coach was using the leadership style of the teacher with both his players and his staff. In addition it was noted that the head coach was coaching like a very ambitious teacher, trying to cover many subjects for the class in one school session. Something that was very interesting was that even though the head coach was a teacher, the assistant coaches used the leadership style of the commander when executing their coaching actions with the players. They never explained why something should be done in a certain way and from our vantage point never asked questions to the players, only telling. A surprising fact given the leadership style of the head coach and something that did not to appear to be a conscious decision.

The head coach of national team B appeared to coach more like a manager, taking a step back and observing his players while allowing the assistant coaches run the bulk of the session. The assistant coaches were undoubtably teachers who guided the players through the tactical themes of the session in a very clear way, allowing for some discussion before quickly reaching consensus. When only observing one session it’s impossible to say if the head coach always uses the leadership style of the manager or if this was a conscious decision for only this session, the first of the week and two days before the game.

Watching national team C train it was interesting to observe the staff and what they did, or more precise, what they didn’t do. There where throughout the session, minimum four staff members standing around with no apparent responsibilities except fetching balls and filling up one team for a short part of the tactical session. The head coach and his assistant (not included in the four) where both using the leadership style of the teacher when they where coaching the players. Interestingly, there was almost no interaction between the head coach and the rest of his staff, the four onlookers who did a good job of supporting the posts of the goal on the sideline.

To summarize the leadership style of the coaches for these three national teams we were able to observe, there were as expected, mostly teachers. That we also saw the leadership style of the manager was not shocking but more of a pleasant surprise while noticing the two assistant coaches for national team A coaching like commanders actually was a shock. (Why were we surprised? Read this post: How should you coach?)

The two games where played on the same day after each other. First up was national team B against national team C. The prediction after watching the training sessions was for team B to win in a relatively close game where B would finish off C the last 15 minutes. How did this prediction stand up to the game? The game started evenly the first 20 minutes with some beautiful goals from both teams. The score after 20 minutes was 2-1 for national team B. In the last 20 minutes of the first half however, team B was dominant and added 2 goals to make it 4-1 at half time. In the second half, national team C started well and dominated the first 20 minutes and scoring one goal to make it 4-2. They pushed on for 10 more minutes until the 75th minute from which point team B could easily control the last 15 minutes and winning 4-2. To summarize, the game was not played as evenly as predicted but it was by no means a one sided game and national team B did get the predicted win. Even though they didn’t win the game by scoring the last goal at the end of the game, team C did not create one scoring chance the last 15 minutes while national team B had full control of the game.

In the game between D and A there was early signals that the prediction for the game would be wrong. This in itself was not very surprising given that the biggest X-factor in the prediction was the team that we did not see train and knew nothing about, national team D. However, it started as predicted with National team A having more possession the first 15 minutes and team D countering before team D took over and had more possession the last 20 minutes of the first half where they also scored the first goal of the game after a beautiful attack in the last minute of the half. There where a lot of corners in the first half, where 5 of team A’s 7 being bundled together in a sequence of 5 minutes. This sequence was a good argumentation for why football should never implement effective playing time. In the second half, the game was evenly played with team A having some possession without creating a single scoring opportunity before the 80th minute mark and team D having numerous counter attacks where they created 4-5 quality chances to score their second goal in the game. At the 80 minute mark, team A shifted some players (they substituted a total of 8 players throughout the second half) and changed their approach to attacking by implementing long balls to the physically superior players positioned as strikers. This shift in strategy was smart since team D had smaller players than team A and it consequently led to the creation of two scoring opportunities and a handful of situations that could have led to chances in the last 10 minutes. When the second opportunity arose in stoppage time on a set piece the equalizing goal was scored and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. This meant that the game was finished with penalty kicks that national team D won 5-4. The prediction of which team would win turned out to be right, even though the way it would happened was not entirely as predicted.

To summarize and draw some conclusions from this limited observational exercise, we will compare the training sessions with what happened in the games. For national team A it was apparent in their attacking that they had not practiced football in training and the time spent doing unopposed ”attacking training” was a waste of time. However, they did get a lot of set pieces which they spent a great deal of time practicing and they also did practice the penalty kicks, although they ultimately lost the game this way. The head coach of team A should receive much praise for having, and practicing an alternative strategy for 10 minutes in training since that led to the goal and the chance to win the game at the end.

National team B was the training session where the coaches was coaching football throughout which also showed in their game against team C. Team B played high tempo football and had a higher level of communication within their team in all of the team functions than their opponent. There was also a clear correlation to what was practiced in training and what was executed on the pitch in the game. For national team C there was some limited transfer of the attacking training to the game. However, team C always was a step behind team B and did not look like they had played together before when defending. This could be a result of the fact that they arrived the day before the game and had a long session with 45 minutes of warm-up before 45 minutes of football training.

What are the possible take aways for coaches in watching and comparing these different approaches of training before the game?

  1. Coaching football in training is the best way of creating a learning effect and transfer to the game. (Don’t know what this is? Read the post coaching football.)
  2. Choose one or two subjects / themes to coach and stick to it.
  3. Use as few foreign objects as possible in training.
  4. As a head coach, make sure you decide how you and your staff coach the players, what leadership style you use and don’t let the personality of the coaches decide.
  5. Delegate responsibilities to all of your coaching staff to avoid staff members only ”hanging around”.

Coaching Actions

When you are coaching football you are interacting with your players and coaches within the context of football. Your players are executing football actions when they are on the pitch and as the coach, you are executing coaching actions.

Imagine a beautiful day at your training facilities when you walk out onto the pitch to start training session. What is the first things that you do? You are looking around, taking in the information your surroundings are communicating to you. You notice how many players that are on the pitch, if the sun is shining or if it’s still cloudy, and you notice which way the wind blows today. Based on this information you might make a decision to change your plans for todays session slightly by moving the pitch a couple of meters. Thereafter you execute this decision by moving the pitch or asking one of the other coaches to do it for you.

After the session you have scheduled a team meeting with your players. You are in the dressing room and your assistant is showing videoclips and talking to the players while you are observing the players. Imagine you notice a couple of players that are playing with their phones while your assistant is talking. What are you going to do? Based on this information your players have inadvertently communicated to you, there is a decision to make. Will you ask these players about their motivation to improve since they are obviously not paying full attention to what your assistant is saying? Or do you decide to let it go since they are not disturbing the rest of the group and talk to them individually? Whether your decision is to address these players in front of the group or individually, you will execute this decision with a certain tone of voice and body language appropriate to get your point across.

Both of these situations are examples of coaching actions within the context of coaching football even though it’s not happening during a game or a session on the pitch. Think about when you are on the pitch and coaching in a session and you realize that you are repeatedly executing coaching actions. Imagine one of your players, a midfielder who is looking to receive the ball from a team mate in the center of the pitch just below the circle when building up. You see that the midfielder, before receiving the ball is only looking towards the player with the ball and can’t see the opponent coming from behind and as a result, the pass is intercepted.

You decide that you want to make your midfielder aware of this mistake immediately since this is not the first time is has happened. Therefore you decide to freeze the play and address the situation by asking the midfielder what happened and what options are available for the next time a similar situation arises. And of course, if you decide to not address this situation immediately by freezing the play, possibly because you want to coach the player in a different way, that is also a coaching action. The decision of ’not doing anything’ is also a coaching action as long as you as the coach have seen the football problem and decided that inaction is the best action.

Whether you are coaching in a training session or in a game you are executing more than just one coaching action. And just as the players want to improve their football actions, you as a coach want to improve your coaching actions. You want to become a better coach, which means that you want to improve your communication, decision making and execution of these decisions within the context of coaching football. If you are able to shorten the time between your coaching actions you could increase the level of your influence on your players by executing more coaching actions.

Sometimes you see in games coaches who are very active at the start of the game by executing many coaching actions as long as their team is ahead. However, when the opponent scores you see the coach turning around and finding a place to sit on the bench and for some reason the coach seams to stop coaching. When do your players need you more, when you are winning 3-0 or when you are losing 3-0? In the same way as you want your players to maintain good football actions and many football actions at the end of the game and regardless of the score, you as a coach also need to maintain good coaching actions and maintain many coaching action throughout games and training sessions.

Better Coaching

In the post coaching football we took a philosophical look at what it is that the coach does in football. To summarize, coaching football is enabling players to execute better decisions (football actions) in the game of football. This is done by helping the players improve their football actions together with their team-mates in the context of attacking, transitioning and defending against an opponent. Thereafter, in the post How should you coach we saw what the starting point for all coaches should be. The next question for coaches who want to improve is what better coaching means, so let’s have a look at that today.

When coaching football the starting point for all coaches should of course be the characteristics of the game. However, what you see sometimes is that coaches take their own personality as the starting point and that things like their current mood dictates how they coach. This is a problem since the coaching of these coaches who use their personality as a starting point is arbitrary and non-contextual. As a result you end up with a team of players that are under-developed since they have not been coached from the starting point of the game. Football is a players sport which means that it’s up to the players to make and execute decision in the game. Therefore the job of the coach is to help the players improve their decision making regardless of the current mood or personality of the coach.

Now, when you as a coach take the game as the starting point in your coaching and are able to disregard your personality, the next step is to identify what external factors and football situations that require which leadership style. When coaching with the game as the starting point the leadership style of the teacher will be how you coach by default. However there are external factors and different situations that sometimes require a different leadership style. There are situations where you as the coach have to be more of a commander or a manager than a teacher. Identifying these situations and external factors is a prerequisite for being able to chose the correct leadership style.

If you are able to identify the external factors and situations that require a certain leadership style you as the coach has two options. Either you only choose situations (jobs) that require the leadership style that you know – or, you learn to use all leadership styles and become a better coach. However, it will probably be difficult to find situations that will only require one leadership style for a longer period of time, but maybe it could be possible for a shorter time period. Learning to use all three of the leadership styles, the teacher, the commander and the manager gives you the best opportunity to become successful in your coaching.

 

As you know and have probably experienced, there are good and bad teachers, good and bad commanders and good and bad managers everywhere in the world. Even though you know how to use these different leadership styles, that does not necessarily mean that you are coaching like a good teacher. Increasing the quality of your teaching, commanding and managing will lead to better coaching. This means that given the fact that you are able to; take the characteristics of the game as the starting point (and not your personality), identifying different situations and use all three leadership styles when you are coaching you can increase the quality of your teaching, commanding and managing.

Better coaching means that you are increasing the quality of your coaching by disregarding your own personality and taking the game (situation) as a starting point while using the correct leadership style when coaching.

The Manager

When you are coaching football you are in essence executing (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 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. Now, let’s zoom in on the remaining leadership style, the manager, and take a look at when it could be a good idea to use this leadership style in your coaching.

Imagine that you take over a team that has been very successful over quite some time with a group of players that all have a lot of experience. These older players are used to success from earlier clubs or have been in this team for quite some time. Would it be a good idea as a coach to lead this group of experienced players as a commander and tell them how to do things from now on? Or do you think spending time teaching these players who’ve had success for many years will be the most effective way to get them performing at their best? Maybe it would be wise to use the experience of these and the success that these players you’ve inherited has had? When you take over such an experienced and successful group isn’t your objective to maintain the current level of the players? Instead of coaching like a commander or a teacher you can increase your chance of maintaining the current level of your new players if you choose to coach them like a manager.

Something of a similar situation can arise if you have been coaching the same team for a number of years and taught your players how you want things to be done, or as it is also called; ’installed your culture’ in the team. If you have successfully taught your players to coach each other in accordance to your standards, the culture that you have created could lead to you choosing the leadership style of the manager as the best option. This process will probably take quite some time and it’s not a certainty that this culture is possible to achieve.

Now, what if you’re coaching a team that are filled with young talents instead of older, experienced players? Could that be a scenario where coaching like a manager is a good fit? Well, the characteristics of the leadership style for the manager is to ’take a step back’ and facilitate the processes instead of guiding them as the teacher or instructing them like a commander. When you are coaching younger players they are in need of guidance to develop since they have not yet accumulated the knowledge and experience needed. Therefore coaching young players like a manager is not a very good idea. When the manager is ’taking a step back’ it does not mean that you let the players run the show on their own. It means that your starting point when coaching changes from developing players (as a teacher) to maintaining the current level of your experienced players like a manager.

As we’ve described earlier, due to the characteristics of the game of football, your starting point as a coach is to lead like a teacher and guide your players to develop better decision making. Since football is a players sport and it’s up to the players to execute the decisions they make on the pitch in the game, you as a coach should help them improve these decisions. However, when you are working with a very experienced group of players with a high level of decision making, the best way of helping the players to execute good decisions could be to coach them like a manager.

The Teacher

Last week we zoomed in and had a closer look at one of the three main leadership styles that football coaches use when leading their players, the commander. When you are coaching and executing your coaching (inter)actions, it’s how you do that, the way you coach that differentiates you from another coach. In general, there are three leadership styles coaches 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 this blog post we will zoom in on one of the two remaining leadership styles and take a look at the teacher.

Now, as you probably know, football is a players sport where it’s the players who make decisions on the pitch and execute these decisions within the context of the football game. That means that when a player is in a game situation, for example attacking, it’s up to the player to execute good decisions with or without the ball based on the communication of team-mates and the opponents. Regardless of which team function (attacking, transitioning or defending), where on the pitch or when in the game, it’s up to the player to make the decisions and not the coach. Due to the short time that is available for the player on the pitch to make a decision in the game it’s impossible for the coach to shout a decision from the bench, even though you might still do it sometimes. At best your shouted decision of ”shoot” or ”pass to the left” arrives just in time to confuse the player and disturb the decision making process. In professional football players usually can’t hear the coach because of the fans, but in youth football and at a lower level your shouting might lead to the player choosing to execute your decision instead their own.

What is the problem with this picture of a coach shouting decisions to a player as in the example above? Who did we say is making the decisions in the game of football, the player or the coach? If you are coaching young kids or at a lower level you might be able to shout some of your decisions to the players which they have the time to execute. Maybe that leads to some good results in that particular game and you are thinking ’why shouldn’t I keep doing this?’. Sure, in the short time, this leadership style of being the commander and telling your players what to do might be working and in some situations it might be needed. However, when developing players or a playing style over time it will be counter productive since the players are not making the decisions themselves and therefore can’t learn from their own mistakes. If the players make mistakes in the game when you as the coach have told them which decision to make, they are actually executing your mistakes.

Based on the characteristics of the game, the job of the coach is to improve the decision making of the players and not make the decisions for them. The leadership style that is best for improving players decision making is the teacher. A teacher is someone who guides the students (players) in the subject (football) that is being taught. Using different methods a coach that leads like a teacher is guiding the players in training sessions to help them improve their decision making. That means that instead of telling players what to do, the coach guides the players by asking different questions that are more or less open and/or leading to help the players improve their decision making. These question does not need to be verbal questions, they could also be questions that are asked by the coach through manipulation of game situations in the training session.

Given the fact that football is a players sport, you as the coach need to guide your players as a teacher in order to improve the quality of their decision making. However, sometimes you find yourself in a situation with external factors that might influence you to choose a different leadership style, and rightly so at times. That said, if you are coaching football your starting point when leading your players is always the leadership style of the teacher.

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.

Coaching Football

There are a lot of resources online about how you can coach football. These resources usually have their starting point in someone else’s subjective application of coaching football in their particular environment. This in itself is not a problem as long as you as the coach who are visiting these resources understand that this is the case. However, the problem arises when your own subjective application of coaching football takes someone else’s subjective application as the starting point. In this post, let’s look at what coaching football is from a philosophical viewpoint to give you as the coach an objective starting point for your subjective application on the pitch.

First, we need to understand that coaching football is something that happens within the context of the game of football. This game contains of the team functions; attacking, transitioning and defending, with the objective of winning which is done by scoring minimum 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 lanes etc. A football action is communication, decision making and execution of that decision. In football, the players are the ones that make the decisions on the pitch which is why we call football a players sport and not a coaches sport (as for example baseball).

Now, imagine that you as the coach of your team would ignore the context of the game in your training sessions. How would that look? It could for example mean that you have activities where players are kicking the ball around cones, executing ”passing patterns” without opponents and other, similar activities without the need for (verbal and non-verbal) communication and decision making. Execution for the sake of execution. Does this example sound familiar? Coaching football means that you as the coach help the players improve their football actions. But how can you improve a football action without any communication and decision making?

Since the game of football is played 11 against 11 (in youth football the game is simplified with fewer players on each team) it is not enough to coach each player individually without taking their team-mates, opponents and the context of the game into consideration. Therefore, coaching football is done in the context of the different team-functions; attacking, transitioning and defending with the appropriate team-task and opponents. In addition to improving the individual players football actions, coaching football also means improving the quality of the different team-functions in order to help your team perform better and increase the chance of winning.

To summarize, coaching football is enabling players to execute better decisions (football actions) in the game of football. This is done by helping the players improve their football actions together with their team-mates in the context of attacking, transitioning and defending against an opponent. How you help the players, or how you coach, is your subjective application, or style of coaching football.

If you are interested in more football philosophy, I strongly recommend the book Football Theory by Jan W.I. Tamboer that you can buy here