More than just an English Word

As my girlfriend prepares for the start of the new academic year, in her 8th year as a teacher, she goes into her school during the summer to prepare her classroom for her new students. On a couple of occasion’s she has asked for me to come and help maneuver some of the furniture as she shapes her learning environment.

She is about to inherit 25 new students who are all unique. They come from different backgrounds, with different skills sets, they are at varies stages in their learning displaying both strengths and weaknesses. She has done her homework, she has taken the time to speak with the teacher about the individual students, she has read their reports, met the children themselves and is prepared for what lies ahead, but she also has the ability to adapt her teaching / educating to suit the needs of her children. I am sure that this is the case for many other teachers, but there is something else that she has that can impact on not only a child’s development but also a member of staff, and I was witness to this.

As we were about to leave after we had spent a few hours organizing her classroom, we bumped into one of the cleaners in the school. When he saw her, his eyes lit up and there was a smile from ear to ear. She started to converse with him in Spanish. He spoke very limited English, if any at all, but when she started to speak with him in his native language he was able to engage and the conversation flowed. In the school she is the point of call for any conversations that might be required in Spanish with a staff member and any parents.

Previously she had mentioned to me about a student she had in her class, who spoke very little English and as a result this challenged his learning, She was able to work with him not only on his education but also his ability to speak English. This gave great comfort to his parents who also found the language a stumbling block, and her skill set gave them hope and trust with their child’s education.

The reason I mention this is because I look back at my own education I feel I missed out on the opportunity to learn a new language, appreciate and understand another culture. I once worked with an international player from South America who was a top professional and a good player. We had a number of 1 on 1 session’s coaching him back to fitness, but he didn’t speak a word of English. Initial translations would occur through one of the therapists who was Spanish and they spoke English, but on the grass it was just me and him. We worked through this by using demonstrations, hand gestures, diagrams etc but had I known the language that connection could have been better. We worked well together but I just look back and think I wish I had taken the opportunity when I was being educated to take learning an additional language a little more seriously. I guess hindsight is always a easy thing, but had a I known then what I knew know that working with a multicultural industry learning and additional language would have provided me with further opportunities. I am not saying it is too late now, but if is obviously a little more difficult.

My girlfriend speaks 5 languages and she is fluent in all of them. She not only has the ability to converse and translate but she has the ability to empathize, build relations, share an emotion, develop trust and ultimately help develop an individual.

Give The Players A Chance To Understand

board2As 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

Just Short of The Line

How many times do you see it when athletes are required to do some running or physical activity they turn just short of the line or don’t go the full range with an exercise. If you add that over the number of runs or reps they do in a session, then add that over a number of sessions in a week, month and a year and possible even more. Not only do they add in a numerical value, but show a representation in the personality of the athlete themselves and what they are willing to do in order to achieve their goal.


What are people willing to do to get to the top? Are they prepared to do more that what is required? Are they willing to go to the next level / beyond the next line? If athletes are to give themselves the best chance of achieving their goal / dream they need to avoid shortening the distance to success and make sure they go all the way. This is what will define the personality of an athlete.

Why do I draw attention to this topic? There is a growing concern where athletes believe that their natural ability will get them to the top, they believe that they don’t need to work hard because they are naturally gifted (a fixed mindset). This is reinforced with the environment and the type of feedback that is provided to these athletes by parents, teachers and coaches. For the long-term effect the environment and feedback is a critical in the mindset of these young athletes. If an athlete is consistently told how good they are, without associating any success to hard work, why is there a need for them to go all the way to the line?

Develop the Person to Develop the Player

The title of this piece sums itself up in its entirety. As clubs, managers, coaches and so forth we need to focus on making sure that the environment we create, from the philosophies we work within, to how we feedback to the player are developing the person to develop the player. Therefore, making sure the learning environment we create is a player centered and we are aware of the both benefits and the consequences of our actions. For example, the feedback we provide a player can encourage two very different mindsets, one of which wishes to work hard and feels like they need to work hard to develop and the other which can lead to complacency and a false impression of there own development.

Success comes from knowing that you did your best

to become the best that you are capable of becoming

John Wooden

In order to manage this it is essential there is understanding and consistency from bottom through to top. Coaches, parents and players are educated in the philosophy and objective of the club. This is reinforced on and off the pitch, developing more independent rather dependent players.

If this is carried out correctly, the result, players become more self aware of what is required of them, where they are in their development, what and how they are going to improve. We will inevitably create independent people who take responsibility for their development. Instead of having to be told, they ask, they request. An example I use, after training we should be telling the players to go in after wanting to stay out and practice, and not to have to be telling them to stay out to practice on their areas that require development. It is a player centred environment, driven by players, educated by coaches.

There are many people who fail to achieve their potential, not because of a lack of ability, but because of a lack of good character and personality. Ability can only flourish if an athlete is willing to apply themselves and work hard. Therefore, as coaches it is imperative that we create the right environment to encourage development of the person to help develop the player.