“Mental Toughness”

Read this statement that was made of a football coach ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending. You won’t find a mentally tough team who don’t defend well”. The question you need to ask yourself after reading this statement is if you think it makes sense, because if you think it does, you need to think again. Now, for those who don’t think this statement makes sense or for those who is intrigued to find out why it doesn’t make sense we will analyze this tweet in this blog post. I want to make clear that this analysis and what follows is only an example of a bigger and more general problem in the football world and not directed specifically at the author of this particular tweet.

Let’s start by taking a look at the first part of the statement ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending.” At first glance maybe you are thinking ”That makes sense” in which case you are mistaken. The only reason for this statement to be even close to making sense is the fact that tv-pundits all over the world use the same non-contextual words and statements to fill time on tv when they don’t know what to say. This means that you may have heard the statement many times, but as you know, that doesn’t make it true. In our analysis of this statement we first need to understand what ”mental toughness” is and what it could refer to in the context of football. In order to do that we need to split the two words and see if we can find out what they mean individually before putting them together.

What does ”mental” actually mean? We hear the word everywhere but there doesn’t seam to be all that many that can explain what it is. Without going into a deep philosophical analysis about the theory by Descartes of Body and Mind that was coined in the 17th century and how and why he was wrong, let’s summarize it quickly. In his theory of Body and Mind, Descartes said that the Mind, whatever that is, was something else than the body. However, when you ask people where this ”mind” thing is, they usually point to their head. That means that the ”mind” seams to be located roughly in the same place as your brain. So when people say that you have a ”mental” problem, that is a problem with this ”mind” thing of yours that is located in your head, probably in the area where your brain is. The funny thing is that when you have a really big ”mental” problem, for example depression (negative thinking), you get subscribed anti-depressants that help balance your hormonal levels which leads to less negative thinking and less depression. But that must mean that the ”mind” and this ”mental” problem is a body problem? How else could a correction in hormonal levels effect your thinking? We now know that the process of thinking takes place in this very complex thing called the brain and even though there is a lot that we don’t know about this body-part, we do know that it’s inside the body. So, in general when people use the non-contextual word ”mental”, they are talking about a body issue and actually mean to say ”thinking” in most cases. In other words, you do not have a ”mental” problem that is for example ”lack of confidence”, you have a thinking problem that is you thinking that you cannot execute the action.

Back to the statement where we now can exchange the non-contextual word ”mental” with the correct word thinking. The consequence is that the statement becomes ”thinking toughness”. Now, that doesn’t make much more sense than it did before. We have a second problem with a non-contextual word, namely ”toughness” and need to find out what this word means. From the Cambridge dictionary we can read that ”Toughness” is an American word that means ”the quality of being strong and determined”. Put that into the context of the statement and it would read ”Thinking being strong and determined”, but isn’t determination or, being determined a thinking process in itself? And what is strong in the context of football and defending?

If we zoom out and look at the complete first sentence in the statement ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending.” and insert the correct words it would look like this ”There is a direct correlation between thinking being strong and determined and defending”. Now, you could argue that the coach is correct about the correlation between thinking and defending. If you cannot think, you can hardly execute the team function of defending, or walk to the pitch, dress yourself or get out of bed for that matter. But when it comes specifically to thinking being strong and determined, does this really have a direct correlation to defending? Or would the correlation be higher if the players are thinking about executing defending actions instead of thinking that they are strong?

To summarize we’ll look at the whole statement again ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending. You won’t find a mentally tough team who don’t defend well”. As you might notice, in the second sentence the specification of the quality of defending (well) is added to the mix. It seams highly unlikely that teams where players are thinking being strong and determined instead of thinking execute defending actions would be defending very well. That raises the question of what kind of study or scientific research the coach has performed to come to the conclusion that there is a direct correlation between the two. No proof of the claim that there is a direct correlation is given which is hardly surprising since we now know that the statement in itself makes no sense. In short this statement is a collection of non-contextual and arbitrary words that are saying nothing.

Unfortunately these kinds of false statements that use non-contextual language and arbitrary words are common from football coaches all over the world. Mostly this is because of a lack of knowledge and poor coach education and should not be blamed on the coach who is seldom aware of his shortcomings. Perhaps by pointing out that these types of statements are false and makes no sense, we can help these coaches become aware of their shortcomings so that they get the opportunity to improve. Wake up your critical thinking before you retweet and share these kind of statements on social media that contain non-football words! Ask the coach what they really mean and why the statement is supposedly true. If they can’t answer in 140 characters or less, they probably don’t know what they are talking about…

How should you coach?

In the sport of football the players are the ones who are making decisions continually within the game. This is different than from other sports like for example baseball where the coach makes the decision and the players go out on the field and execute them to the best of their abilities. Also in American football the play is already decided by the coaches and executed by the players. Although there are certain players on the field that are allowed to make decisions and change plays, it is not everyone that has this freedom. The fact that in the game of football it is the players that have to make decisions and then execute these decisions means that football is a players sport and that for example the game of baseball is more of a coaches sport.

This fact has a clear consequence for how the game of football should be coached. Given that the players are the ones who makes the decision in the game it provides the coach with clear guidelines on how to coach for the most of the time. In general, one could say that the job of the coach is to increase the quality of the players decision making in the game. If the players execute better decision they will have a greater chance of attaining the objective of the game which is winning. Now, the question is how should you coach in order to increase the players decision making?

As previously discussed in the post How do you coach, we looked at three general ways of coaching which was connected to different leadership styles. If you as the coach are telling the players what to do you are leading more like a commander or a drill sergeant. On the other hand, if you as their coach are guiding the players through your training sessions and in your coaching, you are leading like a teacher. The third leadership style that was mentioned was for coaches who might have a very experienced team or installed a culture over time in a club. That coach can take a step back and be more of a facilitator for the players and lead like a manager who is more focused on maintaining the players current level.

These different leadership styles all have their time and place within the context of football training and football coaching. However, one of these styles should per definition be more commonly used than the others. In order to find out which style and why, let’s shortly look at some examples of situations where the different leadership styles might be applied.

Imagine that you as a coach find yourself in a situation that resembles some sort of crisis, for example you might be taking over a slumping team mid-season and asking yourself what leadership style to use. Well, in a crisis situation like this you would probably benefit by taking decision making responsibilities away from the players for a short period of time since they have experienced a lot of pressure from the outside world during this slump. For this situation of crisis it could be a good idea to be more of a commander who tells the players what to do. This way you take the pressure of the players for a period of time and can be extremely clear when implementing your reference for how your are going to do things on and off the pitch.

Now, imagine you are hired as the coach of a team that won the league last season with a big margin. Are you going to start telling them what to do or could it be a good idea to give them more freedom to chose for themselves? In the situation of taking over a successful and experienced group of players it might be a good idea to take a step back and lead more like a manager. Your main job will be to maintain the current level of the players and be a facilitator of their knowledge into good decision making and execution on the pitch.

The above examples are somewhat of abnormalities within the game of football if you look at the big picture. Although they probably happen for all coaches sooner or later and for some maybe even within a season, these different situations are not normal for most coaches in their daily coaching. Given that the game of football is first and foremost a players sport as described in the beginning, there is one leadership style that should be the default for all football coaches, namely the teacher. To improve the players decision making they need to be guided (more or less) and given the opportunity to make decisions that the can execute on their own, something that is not possible if you are for example leading as a commander. This is of course even more important when developing young players and therefore the starting point for all coaches should be to lead like teachers.

How do you coach?

When you are coaching your players you probably do that in different ways depending on certain things, and as we saw in the posts What influences your coaching – Part 1 and Part 2 the influences are your personality and your context. Leading is how you coach which is influenced by your leadership style as mentioned in the post Coaching vs Leading. Let’s have a look at the different leadership styles that influence how you coach your players.

Are you telling your players what to do all the time? Maybe you find it hard to not have control and you end up telling both your players and your staff exactly what to do and when to do it. This way of leading can be effective in some short moments when there is some sort of crisis, but in general you might want to think about changing your ways. Imagine that you are a player and your coach is always telling you where to play the ball and when to go forward, sideways or back. Do you as a player increase your level of decision making? No, because there is no need for you to make a decision, the coach has already made it for you. In the game of football the players are the ones making decisions and executing them on the pitch, not the coach. Therefore telling your players what to do all the time will not be a successful way of coaching in the long run. When you are telling your players what to do you are coaching like a commander (or a dictator) and that is not an effective leadership style for coaching players since they are not allowed to make their own decisions.

Maybe you are guiding your players to find the answers themselves when you are coaching? You use a range of open to closed questions and set up the training sessions as a part of the greater curriculum that is guiding your players from one level to the next in their development. You are coaching like a teacher, the only difference is that the classroom is most often outside on the green grass and it’s football instead of for example maths. Imagine yourself being a player under a coach that is a good teacher of the game. Do you think that your decision making would evolve and that your level of executing decisions in the game would increase over time? That means that coaching as a teacher, by guiding your players through the process of learning the game and your style of play, is an effective leadership style to develop players.

What if you are asking your players what the best strategy for winning the next game is? That’s a different way of coaching, letting the players decide themselves and being there as a coach only to facilitate the process. Imagine being an older player that has played the game for 10-15 years at a good level and won a couple of trophies, you most certainly have some knowledge of the game and a lot of experience right? Do you want the coach to tell you what to do, teach you what you already know or would you rather have a coach that understands how to use your knowledge and experience? As a coach for a more experienced group of players it could be wise to coach as a manager by asking the players more and focusing on maintaining the current level of the players. If you want to maintain the level of your players the most effective leadership style is to be a manager when you coach.

These different ways of coaching, by telling, guiding or asking your players are a result of the influence by different leadership styles. If you are telling your players what to do you are a commander, if you are guiding the process you are a teacher and if you are asking them you are a manager. As a coach you may be using all three leadership styles in your coaching from time to time. In one session you might go from teacher to commander and finish off as a manager even though one of these leadership styles are probably more natural for you. Now the question is if you are aware of which of these leadership styles you use the most and why?

What influences your coaching – Part 2

In What influences your coaching – Part 1 we saw how your personality influences your coaching actions. There where examples of how your personality traits, values, beliefs and habits that are part of your personality might influence your coaching actions. As a coach you are continuously executing coaching actions, communicating verbally and non-verbally, making decisions and executing these decisions. Your coaching actions are influenced by your leadership style as discussed in the post Coaching vs Leading. If you want to improve your coaching you also need to improve the quality of leading and your leadership style. In order to do this you need self-awareness in order to see what it is you need to improve or change to become a better leader and coach. But what is it that you have to become self-aware about except your personality? Or in other words, what else influences your coaching actions? Feel free to leave a comment with what you think influences your coaching actions.

Hopefully the starting point for your coaching is the sport that you are coaching. The characteristics of the sport should decide the content of your coaching and not your past experiences for example. When you let the characteristics of the football game be the main influence on your coaching you will not make your players run laps around the pitch. If you are coaching people that are running laps around a pitch you are hopefully an athletics coach.

Imagine you are the assistant coach of a team that you are coaching. One day you are promoted to the role of head coach. Will your coaching stay the same or will it change more or less from when you where assistant? Odds are that your behavior and as a consequence your coaching will be slightly different as head coach. This means that the coaching role you have within a staff will influence your coaching to some degree.

Now, think of a scenario where you are an academy coach of a small club. You are coaching both the U16 team and the U10 team. Will you coach both teams the same or will you coach them differently? Hopefully you will approach the U10 differently from the U16 since they are at different stages of their human development. The task of coaching younger players influence your coaching in a different way than when you are coaching older players and vice versa. So apparently the age of the players is something that also might influence your coaching.

As the coach for a team you will experience a number of external factors that can influence your coaching. Imagine starting the season with three straight losses when everyone expected you to be a top team, will that influence your coaching? Or what if you have planned a session and it’s the hottest (or coldest) day of the century, will you coach the same way as you normally would? Maybe you normally have 20 players in the training sessions but this one session only 11 turned up, will that influence your coaching?

The different examples above including characteristics of the sport, coaching role, age group and external factors are all part of your context as a coach. This means that your context will influence how you execute your coaching actions. The sport you are coaching, your role within the staff, the age of the players and other external factors will influence how you communicate to your players and staff both verbally and non-verbally. When making decisions you will be influenced by your context even though you might not be aware of it. If you want to improve your leadership style and the influence on your coaching actions you will need to analyze your context and become self-aware of the influence it has on your coaching.

What influences your coaching? – Part 1

As a coach you are continuously executing coaching actions, communicating verbally and non-verbally, making decisions and executing these decisions. Your coaching actions are influenced by your leadership style as discussed in the post Coaching vs Leading. If you want to improve your coaching you also need to improve the quality of leading and your leadership style. In order to do this you need self-awareness in order to see what it is you need to improve or change to become a better leader and coach. But what is it that you have to become self-aware about? Or in other words, what influences your coaching actions? This post is part 1, so don’t worry if you don’t find everything that you think influence your coaching actions, it may turn up in part 2. However, feel free to leave a comment with what you think influences your coaching actions.

Now, imagine that you are coaching a game and there’s a throw-in for the opposing team at their bench. You look over to your side and notice the opposition coach waving his arms and talking to all the players that are close to him before turning around and seemingly exchanging words with everyone on the bench in the seconds after the throw-in has been taken. While you are executing your coaching actions calmly with clear instructions through verbal and non-verbal communication the opposing coach continues with the bigger gestures and talking to ’everyone’. What is it that makes the two of you who are doing the same job and both executing coaching actions with the same objective of winning the game, behave so differently?

Maybe you have the trait of an introvert personality while the opposing coach is an extrovert. Where the extrovert may be continuously talking to ’everyone’, using bigger gestures and enjoying the spotlight these things are less natural for an introvert. Whatever you might think of the opposing coach who is waving his arms and always talking, if this coach is also an extrovert the fact is that this behavior will energize the coach and possibly influence his coaching actions in a positive way. However, if the coach is an introvert and only acting like an extrovert the opposite will be true with a decreasing energy level and most probably a negative effect on the quality of coaching actions.

The difference between you and the opposing coach could also be because of your cultural differences. During your childhood and upbringing you are influenced by the values and beliefs of the people around you. This cultural influence will help form you into the person and coach you are today. Perhaps the opposing coach is from a culture where the big gestures and emotional behavior have been learned and maybe even expected. On the other hand you may have been raised in a more reserved culture where the values and beliefs have formed you into a coach who behaves in a different way. Regardless of what your values and beliefs are, they will influence your coaching actions.

Thinking back to the throw-in when you noticed the opposing coach waving his arms, are you certain that it was a deliberate action? What if the coach is unaware of this big gesturing and is only doing it because it’s a habit his former coach had when he was a player? The opposing coach might only be carrying on the habits of his former coach without even knowing it. You on the other hand may have different habits that with or without you knowing it influences your coaching actions every day.

The different examples above of personality traits, values, beliefs and habits are all part of your personality. This means that your personality will influence how you execute your coaching actions. Your underlying traits, values, beliefs and habits will influence how you communicate to your players and staff both verbally and non-verbally. When making decisions you will be influenced by your personality even though you might not be aware of it. If you want to improve your leadership style and the influence on your coaching actions, start by becoming self-aware of your own personality.

Coaching vs Leading

What is Leading in Football and where does it come in to play in relation to coaching? Being a coach in football means that you are in the overarching role, or profession, of the football coach. It does not matter if you are working full-time, part-time or if you are coaching a team without receiving any compensation, you are per definition a football coach. Every football coach is leading players and some are also leading other coaches. Some coaches are leading more often and more people than other coaches and some are better leaders than others, but everyone is leading. Every football coach is coaching and their leading, or leadership style, will influence how they coach.

The leadership style of the coach is often strongly related to their underlying personality, the person who is in the role of the coach. Think back to when you where playing and how you perceived the leading and coaching of your coaches. Don’t worry if you find it easier to come up with more examples of poor leading and coaching than good. You might have experienced a coach that ordered you around on and off the pitch and always told you what to do. Maybe you have spent hour after hour running in the woods and in the gym to become ’fit’ instead of being on the pitch training football. If that is the case you have been coached based on the personality of the coach instead of the context and characteristics of the game.

Being coached based on the personality of the coach is a problem because the context should always be the starting point. In football you have to train players to make decisions since the influence of the coach when the game starts is relatively small. As a coach in football it’s impossible to make all the decisions for your players which is why football is a players sport and not a coach sport as for example baseball. Therefore football players must be trained like artists with freedom to make decisions and not like soldiers following orders. Coaching based on personality becomes even worse if coaches do not know themselves. If that is the case their coaching is influenced by their unknown personality that carries unknown consequences.

For coaches that are leading based on their personality instead of the context and characteristics of the game the solution is simple. The starting point of your coaching and leading should always be the characteristics of football since this is the context which you and your players are within. However, many coaches that are leading based on their personality lack self-awareness which means that they are not aware of how their coaching and leading is negatively influenced by their negative traits and habits. Naturally this problem is difficult for these coaches to discover and they may be in need of assistance to see themselves and their (negative) traits and habits.

To improve your quality of leading and your leadership style you need to attain a level of self-awareness that make you aware of your current traits and habits. When the quality of your leading improves, the how of your coaching will do the same and you will become a better coach.

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Track your development

When you are a coach you are constantly looking to improve yourself to become a better leader and coach. You want to execute better leading when interacting with your staff and players every day so that you can improve football together and increase the chance of winning games. Better leading means that your verbal and non-verbal communication, your decision making and your execution of these leading actions improve. When the quality of your communication with the surroundings go up you are executing better leading. The same is true for when your decisions is of a higher quality, the consequence will be that your leading improves and you are executing better leading actions. To improve as a leader you need to execute better leading actions which in turn means that you need to improve the quality of your communication, decision making and execution.

There are different ways of improving the quality of your communication, decision making and execution of leading. For example you attend coaching courses that hopefully give you more theoretical knowledge that you can apply when communicating with your players and making decisions both on and off the pitch. You spend several days together with other coaches and exchange ideas and experiences that can be of great use for your application of leading and coaching at your club. Maybe you spend time reading books and blogs on different topics with the aim of improving the quality of your communication and decision making. And most importantly you are probably out on the pitch, in the dressing room, at the office and practicing the execution of leading actions every day. All of these activities will contribute to you executing better leading, but are you improving the quality as much as possible or could you actually improve the quality even more?

In your personal development process of going to courses, reading books and practicing your leading every day, are you sure that you are maximizing the learning effect? Perhaps it could be a good idea to implement a quality control system that helps you track your development and make sure you maximize your learning. Think back to when you did your last coaching course, do you remember all the different topics that were discussed? What was that thing you said you learned from that book you read last year? Remember that situation after training last month that you said to yourself you had to learn from and not make the same mistake again? No? It’s not easy to remember and if you don’t well, then you probably haven’t really learned.

One way of implementing a quality control system that will help you track your development is to start journalling. Keeping a journal can be done in many different ways and you have to find a method that suits you. The most important thing is to do it with some regularity since that gives you the opportunity to revisit the events that you have encountered which in turn will increase the learning effect. Imagine that before you go to bed you think back and reflect upon the events that has happened during the day and write down the learning points in your journal. What did you learn today that will improve the quality of your verbal and non-verbal communication? What have you learned today that will improve your decision making tomorrow? How did your staff and players react to the execution of your leading actions today?

Whatever way you chose to journal, if it’s by structuring different learning points in categories or writing down a general summary of the day, you decide and chose the method that suits you best. What’s important is to revisit your old entries to make sure that you’ve actually learned. For example you could spend an hour or two every other month to go back and read your entries from the last period, visualize the situations and what you learned. Maybe you can take more time once every quarter to both re-read and visualize situations in addition to summarizing the period in overlying learning points. When the season ends you can spend a day of looking through your journal, reflecting on the situations and what you’ve learned from them. You then have a possibility to summarize the year in great detail and make sure that you can take the next step in you development as a leader and coach. Every time you bring the situations back to life through visualization your learning effect increases and as a bonus you track your development and see all the things that you have learned.

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Improving verbal communication

One of the major components of leading in football is communication. If you as a coach have a clear reference for your communication and take the game and the action that takes place within it as a starting point, the chance that everyone understands you increases. In the posts Being a role model and Leading by example the importance of what your body language, behavior and actions communicate to your players and staff was highlighted with some examples. The importance of verbal communication to players and staff where highlighted in the posts How do you communicate with your players and How do you communicate with your staff. In these posts some suggestions for practical application like  using a common (football) language and defining words and the terminology that is used are made. Doing this together with the players and staff regularly will increase the chance that everyone understands what you are talking about. However, even though you have done this there might still be room to improve your communication.

When you want to improve as a coach and execute better leading, one integral part is to increase the quality of your verbal communication with your surroundings. Imagine that you come to the office and are leading your staff through a short meeting. When you leave you do so with a feeling of certainty that everyone on your staff knows what to do next. Even better, when some of your staff leaves the meeting you overhear a comment that confirms that they really got it and feel motivated to work. One of the consequences of a higher quality in verbal communication is that your time spent in meetings will decrease. However, it can of course also improve your relationship with your staff, players and external stakeholders in an array of different ways. But how do you improve the quality of your verbal communication?

The first step is to increase your level of your self-awareness of verbal communication, meaning that you have to get an idea of the what and how of your current level of verbal communication. The What being the knowledge and content that you are communicating and the How being your application of your knowledge verbally. Maybe your theoretical knowledge of verbal communication and your content is very good and it’s your application that need improving. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, that you need to acquire the theoretical knowledge or improve the content that you are delivering verbally. But how do you know what it is you need to improve, or in different words, how do you increase your self-awareness of verbal communication?

There are several different ways to reach a higher level of self-awareness when it comes to your verbal communication. One is to reflect on what you say, how you say it and what the response of the person or persons your are communicating with is. You do this by taking notes of your verbal interactions during the day and take time to reflect and summarize your reflections into learning points and/or action points before going to bed. You can also ask the people that you are verbally interacting with to give you feedback in different ways. Maybe you have a mentor or someone you trust in the club or on your staff that you ask for immediate feedback after for example a team meeting or press conference. Another way of receiving feedback from the people you interact with is to use a questionnaire that can easily be distributed and answered anonymously online. Both of these methods have their advantages and will help you raise your self-awareness of your verbal communication. However, there is a third method that is probably the most effective one of them all.

You should, if practically possible, film your verbal interactions as often as possible to review yourself afterwards. Ideally you should also have two angles, one of yourself and one of the person(s) you are interacting with. That way it is possible for you to see the effect of your words on the receivers of your communication in realtime. Now, this ideal situation is of course very difficult for most to achieve, but something almost everyone can arrange is filming of a lecture, press conference, team meeting, staff meeting and even one on ones with staff and players. Maybe you are thinking that it’s a crazy  idea to film a ’personal conversation’ with a staff member or player. However, if you explain the reason for doing so, most staff and players would probably say yes given that the nature of the conversation is not perceived as a threatening or difficult for the participant.

Seeing yourself on video is as real as you can get it and something that will raise your level of self-awareness to another level. Use your newly found knowledge about yourself to identify what it is you need to improve and act on it.

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How do you know you’re doing a good job?

When you’re in the everyday of your coaching you are working hard and doing everything you can to help your players improve and your team to win games day in and day out. Sometimes it’s difficult to judge the quality of your efforts objectively and you know that if your team wins on Sunday ’everyone’ is happy anyway. You get pats on the back from fans and people surrounding the club that serves as a recognition of a job well done. That might feel good at the moment, but imagine that you know that the only reason you won on Sunday was luck. Your opponent weren’t able to score on their ten chances and you scored on the wrongly appointed penalty shot. Now, on your way home from the game you might ask yourself the question ’am I really doing a good job or am I just lucky?’. By the way, if you are asking yourself this question, congratulations, it means that you are reflecting upon your practice as a coach which in turn means that you probably are or have the chance to develop into, a good coach and leader.

You know that you keep a high standard for yourself when it comes to the coaching and leading of your team. Your standards are probably higher than the ones for everyone else around you, at least that might be your perception. However, in your daily work it may be difficult to know if you are really keeping yourself to your own high standards all the time. But that not the worst thing, there is actually one thing that is worse than not knowing how you are doing. It could be that the other coaches you are working with don’t regard your perceived high standards as high standards for them. That seams strange right? High standards are high standards right? Not necessarily.

The expectations from those you lead, and their standards, might differ from yours for different reasons. Maybe the club culture has installed a certain set of standards for coaching and leading that the coaches in your staff has become accustomed to and follow. It could also be that since the coaches you are leading have a different personal background they may interpret things in a different way. That can make what you think of as a high standard be something that they don’t understand or it may be so uncomfortably different for them that it doesn’t register on their scales of standards. Regardless of the reason for a perceived difference in standards, you need to know that there are differences and that your high standards may need a revision. Now the question becomes, how can you find out what the other coaches standards are and if you as a leader are doing a good job?

Ask them. Sit down with your coaches and ask them if you are performing up to their standards in different areas of your leading and coaching. Are their expectations of you as their leader in different areas being met? Don’t panic if there are differences in perception, think of it as a good thing that you get to know what they expect from you and how they perceive your actions in correlation to your high standards. A difference in perception is the perfect opportunity for a learning experience for both parties. For you as their leader you get to see yourself from the outside through their eyes and you get a chance to explain and educate your coaches on the what, why and how of your leading and coaching.

Instead of counting the pats on the back after the victory and take them as a measure of the quality of your job as a leaders, ask the people you lead if you are living up to their (and your) standards and expectations.

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Get to know your players

Imagine you are coaching a game and your team is losing 2-0 after two giveaways by your centre back. He is normally one of the best players on the team and this performance is very uncharacteristic. The centre back rarely makes any mistakes, but in this game he’s made several and two of them has ended up in your net. You cannot believe it, this rock of a player that you have depended upon for so many games and who always has been a leader on the pitch now looks like he’s tanking the game voluntary. A lot of different thoughts start going through your head while you are watching this debacle that is unveiling before your eyes.

After the game you sit down with your coaching staff and try to make sense of this mess of a game that has just happened. There are a lot of comments from the other coaches about how bad certain players where today and they come up with different explanations of what may have been the reason for this loss. After a while the focus from the coaches in the room turn to the centre back who made the mistakes that cost you the game. The consensus from the coaches is that if he didn’t make these mistakes, you would at least salvaged a point from this game. ”It looked like he didn’t care” says one coach, another says ”I think he’s been bribed, because he never makes those kinds of mistakes”, ”maybe he’s working against us to get us fired” is another comment in the room. All these comments in themselves make sense to you after watching the performance of your centre back, but you can’t quite believe it.

Assumptions like this are made after every game by disappointed supporters and all to often also by football coaches who are searching for explanations after a poor performance. However there is one big problem with these assumptions, and that is that your players are human beings and not robots. You do not know what the player was thinking when he played the game or how he was feeling and why. The only way to find out why certain things happen in training or in the game is to get to know you players. You have to communicate one-on-one with them and maybe not only about what happens on the pitch. As a leader you should also get to know how their family situation is, know about what they like doing outside of the football environment, what kind of culture they come from and if there is anything you can do to help them focus on football.

Now imagine that before the game that you lost 2-0 after the two horrible mistakes by your centre back he had just found out that his father was in the hospital in critical condition treated for a heart attack. Where do you think his thinking was in that game? And if you as the leader have not been able to create a culture where it is natural for the players to come to you when things happen outside of the pitch and inform you, who’s fault is it that these mistakes happened? If you have never shown interest in the players personal life or their general wellbeing, is it the centre backs fault that you lost the game or could you as a leader have prevented it?

Remember that your players are human beings that go through a lot of different things outside of football that can have consequences for how they perform in the game of football. Everyone of your players are different and you have to communicate with them accordingly. As the leader of these human beings, is it not your responsibility to get to know your players and build a relationship that let you know how to?

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