Over the past 15 years or so I am sure like many coaches I have journeyed through a similar path when it comes to my own personal development; registering and attending coaching licenses, workshops and seminars – observing other coaches in action – watching as much football as possible both live and on TV to observe team trends – trying develop my own ideas and philosophies with the teams and players I coach – online registrations to coaching materials and forums – joining social media communities to interact and share information with other coaches and the reading of a wide range of literature, documents and biographies to gain a further inside understanding of coaching and football life.
However this weekend during my weekly Game Analysis duties with New York Red Bulls I was hit with a sudden thought…like a bolt of lightning…ARE WE OVER COACHING OUR PLAYERS?
This bolt of lightning was delivered to me by a Coach and players of a U10 Boys Team, observing exactly what he did or more to the point, what he didn’t do for his players.
Is Less More…?
Looking around it could have been a scene from any park in any town in any country around the world: parents dropping of their sons and daughters for their weekly game, coaches setting out cones ready for warm ups, other coaches going through the usual team talks on whiteboards/tactic boards, but there was something different…something ‘outside the norm’…it was this U10 Boys Team that grabbed my attention as soon as they arrived.
The first thing I noticed was the only item of equipment the coach had was a bag of balls. There was no sign of cones, markers, bibs, whiteboards, flipcharts, tactical boards or anything else of the like. The second thing that caught my attention was that they arrived just 15mins before the game was set to start…now like most I will not lie that my first thoughts were how unorganized and shabby this team looked, and I even heard some remarks from coaches and parents around me along the same lines.
However within 1 minute of their arrival they got me thinking…is less more?
After a very quick chat by the coach the players enthusiastically ran out on to the field and starting playing 3v1 keep aways; no cones, no markers and no bibs. The coach stayed off the field and let the players get on with their games which was filled with smiles, tricks and flicks and zero constrains and expectations.
After 5-6mins the coach called the players over and promptly named the starting line up when he then proceeded to send them back out on to the field this time with a ball each to begin juggling for another 2-3mins – it was clear not just how receptive and focused these players were, but just how much they loved the ball and the game.
During the game the input from the coach was just as minimal and outside of getting the referees attention to make rolling changes, I counted just 4 times in the first half and 6 in the second (25mins each way) in which he communicated with his players and gave them very short, sharp and specific feedback; all of them positive, encouraging and reminders to not get their heads down.
Fast forward to the end of the game (which they won 6-1, not that it matters) and after the usual handshakes and applauds for opposing players and the referees I approached the coach and commended him on the great team he has and their performance – in broken English, but mainly in Spanish (he and 90% of the team have origins from South America) he said to me “don’t thank me, thank the players – I have no input in to what they do during the game, I leave them to have fun, work things out for themselves and make sure they love the ball”. Hearing this from a coach regardless of level was very refreshing and it was great to see his total “player centered approach” in action, especially on game day.
How many times have you been guilty as a coach (I know I have) to over complicate things prior to games? Give your players too many instructions and expectations? Over elaborate and lose focus on what the most important outcomes are for young players on game days? Do we as coaches fall into these traps because we think its the norm, and if we are seen to not be “coaching” during a game it means that we are not doing our job? There is no doubt that players need guidance and structure in order to grow and develop, but as coaches are we in danger of getting in the way and making the learning process harder then it should be?
The way this U10 Boys team approached and played the game reminded me that as coaches we can easily loose sight of the FUNdamentals of Football, and perhaps if we begin to expect less from our players during games they might just give you more then you ever expected.
In the modern day game many would agree technology is becoming ever more apparent with more and more teams, players and coaches relying on the ability to access, download, share, save and analyze huge amounts of information at an instant, in tremendous detail. Wether it be an aid for performance, development or learning more and more coaches and players are slowly buying into the concept that the more information we can present to our players the better prepared and focused they will be moving forward to aid their development.
However…are we in danger of getting lost in all the information and resources that are available to us? Is this easy access to a multitude of resources encouraging a new breed of “Copycat” coaches? Is this vast never ending stream of information out in cyber space and social media networks a catalyst for coaches to become lazy and unable to think creatively…?
Going back to my encounter with the U10 Boys Team, it got me thinking…is all this technology and vast source of information getting in the way of our ability to connect naturally with our players? Does it cloud our ability to see exactly what the needs of our own players are? Just because this is what FC Barcelona teach at their Masia training centre, or what the Chelsea Youth Academy team do as part of their technical & tactical approach to development make it right, and is it what my players need?
I guess the reason I pose these questions is that in the wrong hands too much information can be dangerous! I am happy to admit and put my hand up that I am a member of the Twitter Coaching Army, and over the space of the last year I have been blown away with the knowledge, support and resource available to me.There are some wonderful people out there and it is comforting to connect with other coaches with similar philosophies and ideas from all around the globe.
I believe that we are so lucky as a generation of coaches to have the tools and resources so widely and easily available to us through the technology I mention above…but what I believe whole heartedly 100% is that we cannot allow it to rule and dictate the way we coach, and become reliant on it.
If we strip down and think about what makes a quality and successful coach, I believe its the ability to bring your ideas and knowledge to life from the page (or screen!) on to the grass and deliver it in a way that our players feel empowered to run with it and have the freedom to discover, express and enhance their learning through your guidance.
Yes I have an iPad. Yes am an avid member of online digital resources. Yes I am an avid follower of some fantastic coaches and resources through Twitter……but what I do not lose sight of and believe is important, is the ability to use this vast wealth of information and tailor it to the needs of my players and me as a coach.
Communication is king!
Have you ever stopped to think about exactly what your saying to your players and how you communicate with them throughout the duration of a training session or game? Sparked into some creative thinking after my encounter with the U10 Boys Team, I decided to spend the next set of matches my teams were involved in focusing on the language and levels of communication the coaches used, and what effect it had on the players.
To paint the picture for you…I positioned myself between two fields on the half way line which both had games in full swing (3/4 pitches – 9v9 games – U9 & U10 Girls) which enabled me to be between the 4 coaches who were responsible for the teams in action. I then proceeded to capture a 3min audio sample of what I heard around me and share it with yourself.
So before listening to the snippet…I ask you to think about the following:
1. Is the information from the coaches relevant to the game?
2. Are the players able to play with freedom & make their own decisions?
3. What type of atmosphere is being created for the players by the coaches?
To hear the snippet click here
So what did you think…? My initials thoughts are good and the pleasing thing about this 3mins (and majority of the game) was that most of the information, communication and support the coaches gave was all positive to their players.
If we dig a little deeper however there is some food for thought – out of the 4 coaches (3 male & 1 female) two of the coaches spend more then 90% of the time “communicating” with their team and players? Think about the questions above again and answer them for these two coaches?
1. Not much – coaches spent majority of the time “commentating” the game and therefore unable to step back and look at bigger picture of what was actually happening and provide specific feedback to the players.
2. Not really – the majority of the the coaches communication with the players was instruction and command based. Coaches making decisions for players creates low confidence, a fear of making mistakes and the inability to problem solve.
3. Not great – The players feel rushed and over excited and unable to think clearly with all the information and communication being given to them.(this snippet happened to be during a part of both games of low action)
This exercise certainly is an eye opener and if you have never done this before I suggest you give it a go the next time you are watching a game. Another great tool for your development as a coach is to get someone to record you! not just during a game but also during a training session with your players (something I did recently), I was taken back by just how much I “spoke for the sake of it” during training and at times lost track or got distracted away from the outcomes we were trying to achieve.
A great scheme I experienced for the first time over here in the New York Regional Soccer Leagues is “Silent Sunday”. This is a once a season event where one whole weekend of fixtures, at all junior and youth levels must be played in silence. Meaning; both the coaches and parents are only allowed to “communicate” with the players/officials for substitutions/changes and to celebrate and cheer goals or positive actions – it was no surprise when I asked all the players across my 5 teams which is their favorite game of the season to play in 90% of them said “SILENT SUNDAY”!!
Putting the fact that this was a U9 & U10 Junior Game to one side, do we as coaches really need to “coach” during a game, especially with Junior & Youth Players? Why don’t you give the “Silent Sunday” concept a try during one of your games, and perhaps encourage other coaches at your club to try it also. After all game days are about the players, and you just might be pleasantly surprised just how different some of your players perform when they have no pressure, no instructions and no noise to deal with.
Food for thought…
I hope that some of my ideas and thoughts i’ve put forward in this blog help to inflame a few of your own. I believe at times we can get too wrapped up in the WHAT and the HOW of coaching and forget that this beautiful game is to be enjoyed, watched and played.
We as coaches are entrusted by our clubs, teams, managers, coaches, parents, bosses but most importantly the PLAYERS to give them an unforgettable experience and snapshot of this beautiful game, so that they want to come back every week and fall in love with it.
Use the incredible amount of resources available to us, appreciate the hard work people put into assembling these coaching portals and forums, share your own ideas and experiences… but do not get lost in Cyber Space trying to find the magic formula. Instead use this powerful resource to help formulate and shape your thinking as a coach to better connect with your players.
** WORTH A FOLLOW **
People worth a follow when it comes to coaching resources/ideas: @Soccer20_Hodga, @coachingfamily, @DanAbrahams77
A look into the language and communication of coaches (and loads more great stuff!!) by the great @MinistryOfFooty here!
A fellow blogger, close friend, creative thinker & top class coach: @paultemplecoach