Self-Awareness Pt 4: The U21 Coach

the advice I would give ‘Me’ – the u21 coach

The next step in my journey is the position of U21 Coach, which I would hold for the next 3 years. I would have the opportunity work alongside the current Assistant Manager of England, and former 1st Team Manager of Fulham and current Assistant Manager of Wales.

As I continue this reflection process the six pieces of advice I would like to give ‘Me’ the U21 Coach would be:

Embrace the Challenge

The U21’s is a difficult squad to manage due to the inconsistency of the playing staff and the uncertainty of which players you will have in the training group from one day to the next (I will elude to this in another piece of advice). It can often be a challenge when preparing for the games, especially with the last minute additions and withdrawals. Therefore, how you manage the individuals, and the team will have an impact on how they perform within both training and within games. Consider your message, keeping it simple and engaging in order to get effective get your ideas across to your players.

taking-a-risk

Prepare for the Unexpected – Be Adaptable

You will arrive for your session with the intention to work on a specific topic, with a specific number of players. You will come across those managers that prepare in advance and let you know what players they will be giving you and what they will need from you, which will give you time to prepare. On the other hand there will be those other managers that leave it until 10-15mins before training starts, after you have set up and are ready to begin. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about that that is the order of the food chain. Therefore, always be prepared to adapt for changes at the last minute and expect the unexpected. Prepare for the unexpected and always have a contingency plan. This will test not only your creative ability but also your ability as a coach to not allow your emotions to take the lead.

Awareness of the groups within the group

Empathy and awareness for individual players are going to be two keys skill sets required whilst working with this group. Take the time to observe, notice and ask questions. Within this one group you will have many other groups who are at different phases of their career displaying different types of behaviours and emotions. For example, you might have players who have just moved into the U21 squad, players who are not quite good enough for the 1st team squad, players that are not wanted by the 1st team management, players who are looking to get out on loan, players that are returning from injury and players that are coming up from the academy looking to prove themselves. This will challenge your skills of coaching and management of players.

Winning and Development

This is a challenge within any competitive environment, but especially when going into this phase. There has been a change in the structure within the development program of professional football going from reserve team football to U21football. The U21 program is still used in a similar fashion, providing game time for those senior players not in the 1st team squad or those players returning from injury. This can have an affect on managing the desired outcome of the game. Be prepared for that so manage and prepare for a variety of expectations from both a development and a winning standpoint.

Encourage the Players to Take Control

There is a danger that players, especially within the current environments are becoming very dependent on the club and staff. Make sure you encourage players to take responsibility, to take control of their own destiny. Have those conversations with them, guide them, coaching them and support them so they take the lead. After all it is their career, their future and they need to decide what they want to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. They need to be the driving force using their passion, perseverance and desire supported by you as coach to provide them with a program to that will help them work toward their goals. After all, look at how you got to where you did.

Take advantage to learn from the experienced Managers you work alongside

This is going to be a great opportunity for you, working alongside two very good people (who have become friends of yours) with great experience from playing through to coaching and management. They will embrace, encourage you to take a lead, support and guide you along the way. Make sure you take every little bit you can from this. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Notice, observe, ask questions and appreciate such a great opportunity.

 

The 4-Club Golf Challenge (being resourceful, adaptable and creative)

I was recently invited to play in a 9 hole, 4-club golf challenge. It is set up as a fun, social and slightly competitive competition that allows both golfers and non-golfers to play together. Two teams of 4 players set off every 10mins from the 1st tee. Each group plays 9 holes and a medal score is taken at the end of the round and the team with the lowest score wins. Non-golfers receive an overall handicap of 6 shots, which is taken off the final score. All seems fairly straight forward up until the point when you are required to play a shot from the bunker with a putter.

Each member of the team selects a club to play with and this is the only club that they can use for the entire round of golf regardless of where they are required to play the shot from. The shots are taken in an order 1- 4 and this continues from the start of the game until the finish (all 9 holes). For example, I (part-golfer) selected to play with a 4-rescue wood, my Dad (part-golfer) was playing with an 8 iron, my girlfriend (non-golfer) played with a 5 iron and my Mum (non-golfer) was playing with a flat faced pitching club. On the 1st hole I would tee off, followed by my girlfriend, then my Dad and finally my Mum. Depending on who played the final shot on the hole, would determine who would tee off. Therefore, regardless of where and how your shot was lying you had to use the club you had selected.

So for example, the team that we played alongside, one of the people playing had selected to play with a putter. They found themselves having to play a couple of their shots with a putter from the tee box, from the bunker and if my memory serves me well only 1 shot from the green, which presents quite a challenge, but a challenge that forces the person to be creativve, by  adapting to the environment and being resourcesful with what they have available.

golf-ball-in-tree-lg

The reason for me writing this was; it is a great example of a game, activity where people are required to use that divergent thinking, adapt and be creative to achieve an outcome in a range of situations using a single club. Using my experience, during the round I was presented with a number of shots that had I had a choice, I would have selected a different club, an appropriate club, which was best suited for me to play a successful shot from the situation that I had found myself in. Unfortunately, this was not the case for this round. I was challenged with not only playing the ideal shots suited for this club from the tee and on the fairway, but also in the deep rough, behind a tree, playing a short shot into the green, a chip around the green, a bunker around the green with a high lip and putting on the green. Therefore, I had to use my skill to be creative and make this club adapt for each shot.

I often had to be creative whether it was to change my grip, my stance, opening or closing the face, the position of my weight and the length of my swing.  I had to use my ability to manage the indifferent situations, which I faced, and using my creative ability to find a way.  It definitely challenged me, but in most cases I was able to find a way, I was able to be resourceful as oppose to giving up easily. In fact I embraced the opportunity to try something new and from that I was able to learn and develop myself. This is something that many people in life, especially in sport are often faced with. They are required to adapt, improvise, and make the best out of the situation that lies in front of them. My journey as a coach, especially early on often presented me with similar challenges. I had to be resourceful with what I was given, be creative in my approach and delivery, and be willing often adapt either before or during the sessions.  At first I found it very difficult because I wanted the ideal situation, the picture that is often painted, but that isnt the reality and as coaches, educators and players we need to be able to prepare for that, practice and learn.

Therefore, as coaches we need to present and encourage the opportunities for our players to be creative, resourceful and be able to adapt to the many situations that are presented to us in our sport.