As a player, I was fortunate enough to be coached by someone who would later become a mentor and a close friend. His name is Mike Critchell, a coach who was and is still ahead of his time in his thinking, knowledge and the education of players. I have now known Mike for the last 19yrs, and he has been a massive influence on my education in the world of coaching and, specifically in the field of player development. He would provide me with both the theoretical and practical knowledge behind his thinking. He would and to this day continues to challenge me with ideas and questions. Guiding me in the right direction to satisfy my curiosity in developing my understanding. To this day we are very good friends and between us we continue to evolve the field of player development through the sharing and developing of new ideas that are currently being implemented within a premiership club. However, I wouldn’t be the coach I am now, if Mike didn’t choose to educate me as a player into the why’s and how’s of his coaching methods and how that was going to impact me as a player.
My journey with Mike began when at the age of 18yrs old I was playing for a Conference League Club and he was leading all the coaching and fitness. I was a very driven person with my football and enjoyed training, but he took it to a different level to what I had been used to, and that includes having spent time playing for a professional school of excellence club. His methods were so advanced and challenged the players not just physically, but skill and cognitively. Within his philosophy he would come up with a variety of sessions, which would even capture the imagination of senior ex-professional players.
What caught my attention about Mike as a coach, and what separated him from my previous coaches was his role as an educator. He did not just turn up for sessions, deliver and then allow us to go home and forget the session. He was there to provide an education for us, an experience, which developed us not only as a players, but players who were becoming more aware of what we had to do to improve, but more importantly why we had to do it. For most players it went through one ear and out the other, but for me, I would embrace the opportunity to learn me and further my development. Before each session would explain the content and then during rest periods would explain the why’s and even encouraged feedback from players, which was unheard of. In summary he would explain, why am I delivering this to you and why is it important for you’re development and how will this develop you as a player? A stern character, but one with passion, ambition and a pioneering coach, creating a player centered environment.
With this, the first thing I would do after training would be to write down the session and provide the theory to explain the reasoning behind it. This would take place after every session, then once I became more confident I would stay behind after training to ask further question, then I would begin to arrive early to find out what was in store for the next session and also tap into his knowledge in order to improve mine. This eventually led me to call Mike if I was not entirely sure on parts of the sessions and ask further questions. Mike would start to provide me with additional references in order to further my understanding. This then led me to imparting his knowledge with the youth players that I was coaching on Saturday morning. I too would then explain the reasons behind parts of the session, even with the players at U9’s I was working with and I would even get parents asking me questions, which was a good start.
The next stage, which I consider to be the most important, was my ability to then look at Mike’s sessions and start to create my own, developing and using his original work. 19yrs later I am managing to repay the knowledge and ideas, but that early stage of my coaching education came from being educated as a player in the how’s and why’s. It has taken me to where I am within the various environments and with the range of players I have worked from (grass roots, within education, academy players all the way through to premier league / international players).
The education of players within the session should be at the forefront of our work, allow them to understand the why’s and how’s. Look to explain more than just the session and making the relevant coaching points. Look to educate the players in the understanding and the reasoning. From my experiences if you can educate, justify, explain, however you wish to phrase it, you will get the players to buy in, which inevitably will lead to good application from players within the session. Humans are naturally curious beings and wanted to be stimulated and learn. If given the chance players will ask questions, in order to aid their own development and we need to encourage this. Too many coaches fear being questioned and believe it is a question of their ability, knowledge as a coach, but most of the time it will be the player wanting to know and understand more. This will eventually encourage players to become independent and take responsibility for their own development. Give players the chance to understand.
I know there are a number of other players at all levels and coaches who have come from a similar fraternity who have had the fortune to learn from Mike. For my own experience I am forever grateful to Mike for providing me with the knowledge and insight into his coaching ideas cause it has taken me to where I am now. I hope I can continue to share the message and evolve his philosophy even further. To a good friend, thanks Mike for everything so far but I am sure there are more to come.
Mike Critchell has written a number of papers, delivered a number of in-service sessions, but I draw your attention to the books that he has written, which are a must read. Please see below for further information.
- Soccer: Play to Learn and Learn to Play
- Game Vision in Soccer
- Warm Up for Soccer: A Dynamic Approach