Self-Awareness pt.1: the MSc Student

 the advice I would give to ‘Me’ – the masters student 

Brunel Graduation

As I sit down with the ‘Me’ the 24yr old MSc Student studying Sports Coaching, along with coaching part time in an academy and working in education. The six bits of advice I would give him is:

1. Visit More to Learn

Take the time to visit more places to learn and develop. Not just in football, but look within other sports, other industries and experience other cultures. This will open your eyes; broaden your knowledge, awareness and appreciation for what else is out there. Ask questions, meet people, try things and by doing this you will learn, develop, and be more interesting to other people. After all, everyone enjoys a story………… so make sure you have a book of them.

2. Avoid Last Minute.com

I know what you are like; you enjoy the pressure of leaving everything to the last minute. Trying to complete an assignment in the last 24hrs with no sleep, after having had 3 months to complete it. It might give you an adrenaline rush, but you wont get a chance to demonstrate you true quality. It is important to use the time you have, to prepare, research, create, and review. It is a good exercise to project plan, work within time scales, set targets for yourself and this will provide you with enough time to ask questions, adjust and give it the full attention it deserves.

3. Presenting Skills

In the position you are in working in education, coaching football and studying for your MSc you are going to be required to speak in public, but in different ways and with different audiences. My advice is that you look into developing your communication skills; how you engage the people you are working with. Consider looking at things like telling stories, drawing reference to your experiences and link them within what you are trying to get across to your audience. Consider the language, the type of detail and feedback you provide. Focus on being simple, effective and engage the people early. Watch, observe, practice, fail, review, learn, practice, fail and review. Ensure you are prepared and enjoy speaking to people. By the way, look out for TED Talks when they come out, they are a very good tool to learn from.

4. Don’t be afraid of failure

You are still learning and developing. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake or fail that is not an identity, but a process. As long as you review and learn you can then move on. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, and make sure you ask for evidence and avoid basing your own reviews on emotions because you will be a lot tougher and unfair on yourself. Remember……..be kind to yourself and be willing to fail because it means you will have tried.

 ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed’ Michael Jordan 

5. Step out your Comfort Zone

You will soon be asked to do something that you don’t feel confident about. You might be asked to coach a session that you have not done before, or work with a more experienced group, maybe present to high learners who might question your work or given the option to leave it on this occasion, and maybe try it later. My advice is don’t ignore, put off or decline the opportunity. Grab it with both hands and run with it. You may have been asked because they believe you deserve it or they see it as part of your progression, or they just have no one else available at that time and you were in the right place at the right time. Therefore, don’t ignore or avoid opportunities. People don’t develop by living in their comfort zone. Risks, opportunities, and uncomfortable situations have to be experienced in order to appreciate what you are capable of, and how you can move forward. After all, if you never test the limits do you really know what you can achieve? Challenge yourself to develop yourself. The environment and the situations you are prepared to put yourself in will determine what you can become.

6. Enjoy the Moments

Make sure you enjoy everything you do and have no regrets. The opportunities that you have created for yourself and the experiences you are having need to be cherished. These are the stepping-stones for you to move forward and work towards your goal. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to appreciate it, work harder for it, learn from it and develop from it. There will be times when things are hard, challenging and even frustrating, but that is part of the journey and you can enjoy these because at the end of it you will have become a better person for it.

‘Normality is a paved road: It’s a comfortable walk, but no flowers grow’  Vincent van Gogh

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.

That’s Football….

I came across this recent quote “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’ “ Rear Admiral Grace Hooper. Which made me think about football, coaching and player development.

How often do we hear people admit defeat by the phrase ‘well that’s football’? This is one comment that bothers me and one that I can’t accept. If we all said that, and accepted that nothing would move forward. Change can only occur if people believe it is possible and are willing to do something about it. Unfortunately, too many people are willing to accept, they don’t wish to upset or want to rock the boat, but for change to happen people need to not accept ‘well that’s football’?

images

Einstein came up with one of the most poignant quotes, which encapsulates such an attitude ‘Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results’. So if you accept that is football then that could constitute insanity. I know, it all sounds extreme but we need to encourage people to look beyond the norm and what tradition has led us to believe. So, has the new generation what can we reflect on and see that requires improvement, development and change. We must be willing to look beyond what we are told and ask questions, critically analyse and then provide a solution. You don’t have to be a maverick to go against tradition.

My thoughts, advice for what it is worth would be to reflect, analyse and consider what could be improved for the development of the player. After all, there is no one right way; there is a way that suits the needs of the players. Don’t leave it to the one who shouts the loudest; rather encourage the ones who know, to also have a voice. From my experiences, I have seen how players have changed, coaching has evolved and practice generally has developed. I still see a lot more that requires change and development, often for things to improve and develop, we as coaches, educators and player developers need to continually look to how we can improve and develop our current programs. The game is continually changing and this will impact on how we work with our players. This includes all levels of the game from the money and demands at the top end to the influences and impact at the grass roots end. We need to be opened minded and be willing to make changes ourselves and not accept that ‘this is football’, because if we are not prepared to makes changes, we will continue to become frustrated with the system or coaching methods or attitudes of people in the game.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking” Albert Einstein

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