Who is Coaching the Coach?

I must confess that most of my blogs have been and will continue to be focused around the development of the player. I make strong reference to how important it is to ensure we create a player-centered environment and for me that is essential. However, as we focus on the development of the player, the question I pose is who is helping to develop the coach? Who coaches the coach? After all, if we want to provide the best learning environment then surely we have to ensure the coach is doing his job.

I am sure many people will say that there are coaching courses available, which provide opportunities for CPD and sure enough these opportunities further our understanding and help us pass an exam, giving us the required qualifications. These courses will help us learn from others experiences and present new ideas that we can bring into our own coaching environment, but these opportunities are sporadic; once every few years or once a year if workshops and in-service training are available. These are courses and training days to further our knowledge, but they are not providing us the consistent feedback, the coaching that we require to coach our coaches. Players are coached every time they take part in a session, whether it is the environment the coach creates or the feedback coaching points delivered. So I raise the question again, who is coaching the coach?

A good friend of mine, who I have recently been working with, brought the idea of coaching coaches to my attention and gave me a different prospective in the way in which we should work together as coaches. He is a coach who works with coaches, and coaches the coaches to coach each other. A mouthful, but hopefully you understand where I am coming from. He encourages, for example, us as coaches working together to build a positive working relationship and to consider how we are perceived, how to feedback to one another, reflect together and help each other to improve as coaches, educators and people. This in turn will ensure that we provide the service / program that our players require. In order to achieve this we need to establish a clear philosophy that we as coaches all believe in and are working towards. This requires us to not only work with one another on the planning and delivery, but during the reflection and the review stages.

Without going into too much detail and providing just enough to provoke and encourage food for thought, and of course generate more business for my friend I want to draw reference on my own personal experience. This process has encouraged me to look at things from a different perspective, ask questions that I may not have asked before. It has definitely improved the working relationship I have with my peers. Developing the confidence to feedback and accept feedback because as a coach I want to continue moving forward, developing and becoming the best coach / player developer that I can. Which in turn, will enable me to provide the optimal learning environment and development program for the players. Through this process Ihave been developing and will continue to improve upon a new set of skills. Especially, working with others, building confidence to accept and provide feedback. Ultimately, we are all working towards the same goal and therefore, it is paramount that we build that relationships that enable us to create environments that develop successful coaches thus develop successful players.

I conclude with this, focus on providing a player-centered environment and program, but take time to develop coach-centered program to help progress the coaches. Try to surround yourself with people who have a similar philosophy, ideas and goals. From this, relationships can develop, and coaches can work with coaches. Remember; help develop the coach to help develop the player.

 “The more I learn about myself, the more I understand you.” Kevin Poriot

Can Your Players Manage The Game?

As coaches we are constantly looking to challenge our players. Asking questions of them, working them to the edge of their ability, physically, skillful and with their decision-making. Often this occurs within the type of sessions we deliver, whether it is a possession or a defending or an attacking session. Forcing the players to work through problems, asking them questions that are relevant to the demands of the game, which can eventually be transferred across into their games.

One part of a player’s development that needs to be addressed is game management. The ability to manage the game during various phases of the competition. For example, when a team is 1 – 0 up, playing with only 10 men, with 10 minutes to go and they can’t afford to draw or lose. How do the players manage this situation? What is there approach, who becomes responsible, and how do they work together in order to achieve their desired outcome?

During these various phases of the game the emotions of the player play a big part in their decision-making, especially for example, when the opposition is chasing the game and putting on a lot of pressure on the team. Toward the latter part of the game energy levels can also influence how are team will play. Therefore, players need to learn how to manage these situations within the game. They need to learn how to assess a situation and make rational decisions during key stages and work together to ensure all the players are in the right mindset, all pulling in the same direction and not going off on their own agendas. These situations may occur as a whole team, as a unit or individually. Looking at individual players within the game, they might be up against a very good individual who is getting the better of them; the ball is purposely being played to this player because they are aware of the defenders problems. How does this individual or collection of players manage this part of the game?

These are questions that are continually asked and games can be won or lost in such situations, therefore we as coaches need to prepare our players for this. The game can change in the last 15 minutes and this is a critical part of the game. Therefore, do we prepare our players for these situations? Are we challenging our players for these phases of the game, giving them scenarios that will test their game management? A similar argument for practicing penalty shoot-outs is often topical and arises around this time of year prior to a big tournament, asking the question of do we and should we be practicing them? And more importantly, how can we really recreate the situation for what will be required in a pressured situation? We have to at least give ourselves the best opportunity for any eventuality. Give our players the chance to learn, develop and improve as players with the ever-demanding game of football. We could argue that it is impossible to replicate the exact situation, atmosphere etc, but we can still give our players the chance to practice the skill even if it is not under the same pressures.

Within games we have tried to create scenarios that will challenge players and ask questions of them, and encourage them to work as a team. For example, playing 2 x 6min games, the blue team are 2 – 1 up and all they are required to do is to either draw or win, just not lose, whilst the red team is required to win only. You may give one scenario to one team in the first half, then change for the second half. You are asking players to manage the game, the situation and work together to achieve their desired outcome. It will give them the responsibility to manage situations as a group of players, implementing a strategy or way of playing to achieve their objective. What you see within these kinds of sessions is a realism of emotions, which occur in the game itself on maybe a Saturday or Sunday when such results actually mean something. Being competitive, players will not enjoy losing or failing at their task, and as coaches we need to encourage this by the environment we create. Within these sessions you will see a lot about the character of each of your individual players, how they react to situations of success or adversity. Are they able to work as a team in all parts of the game, which players emerge as leaders and take responsibility? Which players make themselves accountable and can be trusted. After all these are the kind of players that you require when you encounter such situations and the question will be asked, which players can you trust and rely on?The most important part of this process is the stage of reflection, reviewing what we did, how we did it and why did it or did it not work? This process will enable us as players and coaches to learn and draw reference to and prepare us for these situations.

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In our development programs we are working on developing independent players that on the pitch players are able to take responsibility. They cannot be relying on the manager or coach to make all the decisions. That is why it is essential that we design programs and sessions that are player centred where the player is challenged, required to make decisions, with the guidance from the coach. From a holistic developmental approach you can learn a lot about the character and psychological of your players placing them in situations with similar scenarios.

Players are required to manage all situations within the game, whether it is in a 1 v 1 situation or a phase in the game, trying to hold onto a 2 – 1 advantage playing with 10 men in the last 5 minutes of the game. These are features of the game and they need to be managed with emotion, decision-making and ability. Therefore, we as coaches need to ensure that we are preparing our players for these situations. Creating the right environment, in educating our players and transferring these skills into the game where problems for them to solve continually surround them.

Playing With Friends

I recently came across an article that drew reference to a study that had been carried out on the amount of time that children spend playing outside compared to their parents and previous generations. The research found that the parents, as children during the 1970’s and 1980’s were spending no fewer than two hours outside per weekday and no less than nine hours at the weekends regardless of the weather. Whereas today, children are spending on average an hour a day on a weekday and fewer than five hours a day at weekends.

Although this is relevant to children of all ages, children aged between 5 – 12 years are going through some of their most critical stages of development, which are influenced by the environments and activities they are exposed to. Therefore, how are allowing children to spend these critical periods of development in front of a screen as oppose to playing outside where they will be developing their physical, cognitive and social skills. Which will enable to not only become better athletes, but will enable them to carry out every day activities more effectively. When children play they learn to interact, observe movements, be creative, mimic actions, develop motor patterns and improve visual senses to mention just a few, and this is all part of their development. If, however, they spend most of their time sitting down, in front of a 2 dimensional screen then they won’t get the chance to develop the above and therefore are we really providing them with the start they require?

As children develop it is important that they learn to interact and play with friends, within various environments. I want to put forward a case that I believe has helped players develop from the previous generations, the generations where children spent a lot more time outside playing with friends, which gave them the opportunity to develop the required skills to play such sports as football. When children play football or any sport with their friends, they are free to try and express themselves. They are given the platform to implement new skills, work things out, be independent without a coach instructing and placing fear in a player. This environment provides them with the opportunity to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes and willing to fall down, pick themselves up and try again. They will play with friends of all ages, sizes and numbers on a variety of different sized pitches on various surfaces using a range of size balls. All in which will provide them the experiences they require to improve their overall development as a player. They will learn from others, inadvertently coach each others by observing, mimicking, encourage each other to try a new skill. They will have the chance to pretend for that moment to be their favourite athlete, carry themselves in the way that their idol plays, try skills without worrying about being shouted at, celebrate the way their hero does when they score a goal. Within all of this and for me, which is the most important thing, they will have fun, enjoy, practice more, work harder and learn. Therefore, playing with friends is arguable one of the most important, yet withdrawn activities that a successful player should have as part of their program.

From my own childhood I can recall a typical day when at school: I would be getting into school early, first thing in the morning meeting friends to play football, which had been pre-arranged the day before. We would meet in the playground, it would often be with a tennis ball with ‘jumpers for goal posts’ (bags in our case), and this would range anything from 1 v 1 to 5 v 5 or even a 1 v 2 depending on numbers. This would carry on up until the bell rang for the start of school, therefore it was important to get in real early so the game would be longer. Summer months were great because of the light mornings and generally good weather. It was made a little more difficult during the winter with dark, rainy, cold days, but that never stopped us. In those days we had a morning break between classes that lasted 20mins, there was no surprise that this involved football, it would usually be the game continuing from before school and that would carry on throughout the week. Then at lunchtime it was the big game, the game we had planned for, and from what I recall at Junior school (7-11yrs) we were playing international games, Northern Ireland v France. We had even made up programs for the fixture, time of kick off, current league standing and the name of each player we individually would be taking the role of. It would often only involve a small number of players, maybe a 3 v 2 or 3 v 3. I always preferred being on the 2 against 3 because of the challenge. I never enjoyed dominating games, I liked the drama and challenge of being an underdog and having to work hard to win, it felt more of an achievement. There was quite the build up to the game, especially in the mornings, planning during class, discussions about where the game would take place and about getting out as soon as the bell went, often avoiding lunch to ensure we had more time to play. In the afternoon we would have PE, which involved a range of sporting activities that included cricket, rounder’ and athletics. I used to enjoy playing any sports, as long as I was outside. Then in the afternoon we had another 15min break, that would normally involve typical playground games and yes, the lads played hopscotch as well. After school we often played in the playground waiting for parents, or in the park, as parents would walk groups of children home. which we would negotiate with them by suggesting they could talk and have a good catch up. Although, I know my mother did not need an invitation as she always enjoyed chatting with her friends. ‘Another 5 minutes’, which always led to an hour, which was great because it meant I could with my friends. On some days we had either school football training or a game. Other days we would schedule to go round to a friends house, for tea, which usually involved playing football or others sports in the garden.

Therefore I ask this question, are we giving our children the chance, the best possible opportunities to become not only a creative footballer and athlete, but also a creative person? By providing them with opportunities to ‘play’ and to be free in an environment, which is led by them and not by coaches. The environment, that surrounds us by positive peers that can influence, help educate and shape the person we become. If you have ever read the book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed he draws reference to the environment and situations that led him to the career he had in table tennis. We need to do more as parents, educators and coaches to provide our children to best chances to develop some of the required skills that help them perform in the sporting arena and perform in life.

‘I am always ready to learn but I don’t always like being taught’ Winston Churchill

Coaching Goalkeepers to Defend……Why Not?

Do we ever coach Goal keepers how to defend, for example in 1 v 1 situations, not to get beat, force a mistake and even make a tackle?

Over recent years, as the game has changed with the rules, tactics and the type of player, the expectations and demands of a goal keeper has evolved. By this, I am referring to their ability to use their feet and to distribute in order start attacks. They are required to manage back passes, maintain possession of the ball and play as the 11th outfield player. It has become a big part of their training, managing the ball, opening out to change the direction of play, clipping the ball into full backs, travelling with the ball outside of the penalty box to distribute and build from the back.

On many occasions a goalkeeper is required to play outside of their penalty box, for example, clearing a through ball using their feet, body and even their head. On some occasions goalkeepers are caught coming out to close a player down to prevent them from a goal scoring opportunity, without the use of their hands. In fact, this even occurs when a keeper has gone to defend a player inside the penalty box, and the opponent has their back to them. In doing so, they are required to defend the player, holding them up, enabling others player to recover and help defend. However, on numerous occasions they will come out with impulse, placing themselves in a situation which results them going to ground early and potentially catching the opponent and conceding a penalty or a free kick depending where the incident takes play’s, which can often result in a red card.

If this is the case, then why are we not teaching our goalkeepers how to defend, coaching key principles, their approach to the ball, distances, body shape, decision-making when in a 1 v 1 situation? The role of a goalkeeper continues to evolve and the goalkeepers themselves are required add more skills to their game and surely defending is one of them.