Sir Alex Ferguson – “Every coach should have his own philosophy, but I always think that the best coaches are the ones with imagination. You have to have a good imagination to be a top coach”
In football, the focus for kids, until now, has been almost entirely on the players. What position do I want to play? Who is my favourite player? The list goes on. However, now what we are finding in football is that there is a new generation coming through. Youngsters don’t just want to grow up to be football players, but also managers and coaches. The insights and intricacies of coaching that the likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are communicating to Sky’s Monday night football audience is starting to act as a bridge between the world of coaching and regular football fans however British coaching is still a long way off the level of our continental counterparts. There is no doubt that people wanting to get into coaching and being a top coach is a great thing, and that there is enthusiasm to do so, as the FA will testify, but the gap between our UEFA B, A and Pro license badge holders is a million miles behind our European neighbours.
With the FA so focused on people becoming coaches at the initial stage and progressing through the badges, the consequence is that current coaching crop are being neglected. For me, this has to be addressed.
There is also a new era of ‘social network coaches’ all of whom are sharing their opinions, some educated, some not, but nevertheless opinions, on the progression of our youth development in England. Social network is a great tool for coaches at any stage of their coaching career. Social networks, and in particular twitter, allows one to gauge those opinions and understand the different methodologies that other coaches use, whilst also giving coaches the opportunity to share information, especially session plans. However that gets me wondering (and worrying)…With coaches encouraging our players to be inventive, are we being inventive ourselves?
Not everyone is creative and inventive, however good coaches, as leaders, will generally fall into the inventive character due to their experiences combined with a passion for football and a particular style they wish to promote. However the irony of it is, is that we are actually neglecting the inventive side of our coaching due to sharing information on social network feeds.
Sharing information is a vital tool for coaches as it allows us to use the best practices given by our peers. The issue I have seen from a coaching point of view is that it is actually giving us an insight to our own downfall as a footballing nation. Our problem is that we perhaps become too involved and begin to lose the ability to look at coaching session objectively, thus restricting our creative minds from innovating.
A key problem with what you could call a ‘copy and paste’ session (copy off the internet, deliver on the field), is that coaches tend to have problems, with firstly, understanding the session, secondly how to help players identify the problems of the session and finally how to adapt the players to that session dependent on many levels including technical level, age etc. The last point actually creates another problem – Barca-syndrome. Where coaches believe that if Barcelona (or in this case a session they’ve found on the internet) can do it then so can their team, which is clearly not the case (e.g. seeing 8 year olds do a 4 vs. 2 Rondo with one touch passing when the players haven’t quiet reached the ability to use 1 touch passing within a 5 and 10 yard distance). Coaches should be asking several key questions before delivering a session, such as:
· What are the key development areas of the players at that time?
· What do I want to achieve in this session?
· How can I get there? What problems may occur in the session?
· How will the players interrupt the game?
· What obstacles can we give to progress the session?
Instead, we would rather go on twitter and say ‘has anyone got a session on passing and moving?’ This is an inherent problem, which is becoming more and more evident on a daily basis.
Though the sessions offered on the internet/social network should be associated with these questions for coaches, ‘copy and paste’ sessions are a quick fix, thus making coaches complacent and prone to repeating and regurgitating the same sessions. Coaches, like players, need to use their brains when designing sessions about addressing key aspects of the game. Yes, let them play, do a freestyle session and coach on the point, but you also need to do a case of preparation, and not duel on coaching material from others.
If we breakdown the word inventive, its definition can be related clearly to what good coaches should wish to achieve in their sessions:
1. (Of a person) having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally.
In this case would be the player and how they interpret the problem, rectifying it thus producing a solution in game based activities; i.e. SSG to bring out the creative side and also problem solving skills.
2. (Of a product, process, action, etc.) Showing creativity or original thought.
This could be the view point of the coach, working on the process of the session, concurring with how and where you want to lead the session to give a complete process and purpose, while creating the obstacles for players to overcome.
And so, the approach:
A coach should always think about how they approach the game and what you would like to say on the field, while allowing the players to take responsibility in identifying their problems and coming up with the solutions on their own. With that in mind a coach must think of a philosophy. So ask yourself the question – how do you want the game to be played? Philosophy is a massive key to open the door of what environment you can create for your players. When we think about the word philosophy we immediately think of Barcelona, which can then transpires to your coaching methods ‘lets follow Barca, they do it this way’, This is another case of Barca-syndrome. It is impossible to do so as Barca have honed their coaching techniques over years and you cant just ‘copy’ what they do. It is important for football educators to take clear indications of the ideas about football and adapt them to the philosophy which is what is being coached on a daily bases.
Realism in games is also a key factor of coaching, as game management doesn’t always translate to the training field. Copying a session, could lead you to miss key aspects of a problem, which could hinder guidance. Sitting down and thinking of a situation your team encounters week in week out or the general development of the players, would then lead to building a platform for your session giving a clear idea of how you would like the session to go and anticipate problems that could arise. Thus helping players with game management skills as they have encountered this once already.
Delivering a session you have designed has an immense effect on your sense of personal achievement. This is the creation of the coach, allowing you to feel a sense of responsibility and the ‘my baby’/creation factor, which empowers the coaches and inspires them to lead on, and encourage the player to fulfill his creation. However more importantly it enables you to understand how the session is developing, adapt, and understand how and when you should step in and help, as opposed to a ‘copy and paste’ session that may render a coach obsolete (which is sometimes a great thing, but not all the time). Self-developed practices can also provide great self-assessment tools, as they can be dissected and analysed from your perspective rather than another coaches. Giving you full 360-degree view of what happened, what could have been done better, and what to change and take to the next session.
Sharing sessions and practices is one of the joys of coaching, and it should never be stopped. Gaining more information and other points of view is what is vital for the natural progression of the youth development in England. However, coaches need to identify that copying and using other people’s sessions all the time can have a detrimental affect on your own learning curve as a coach. One must take the time to understand other sessions available but also use your own imagination and create your own sessions, develop your own style, and learn how to become flexible and adaptable.
So remember, ‘the best coaches are the imaginative ones’, and for me, the most imaginative ones are the ones with the ability to take responsibility for themselves, thus creating their OWN style and philosophy.