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

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’?

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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

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.

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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?