What factors determine the approach, attitude & principles a coach should adopt when working with a group of players or team?
Every coach that works within soccer and association football will have established their own opinions regarding how a coach should structure a session and communicate ideas so that players are to experience the best learning environment possible. This line of thought will be based upon knowledge and wisdom that they have gained throughout their own playing and coaching, both positive and negative, experiences. These experiences have led to some coaches wanting to learn more so that they can ensure their players’ experiences are as good as possible. These coaches are the ones who undertake coaching courses, observe masters of the profession in their natural habitat of a training ground and spend hours reading and researching texts so they become as well informed as possible, thus improving their own coaching ability. Unfortunately, this is not the approach adopted by many of the coaches. There are many who already believe they posses the answers to all the possible questions that can be asked and therefore are not open minded enough to learn and improve. The result of this short sightedness is that poor information and practice is being continually passed down from generation to generation, to players of all standards, such a misguided approach will only restrain and restrict the development of players and the potential levels they can reach.
There are four main variables that can change from one set-up to another, which can hugely affect the coaches’ approach and principles. These variables include:
The age of the participants is a huge factor in how a session should be structured and what content it should include. It is too often the case that coaches view younger players as undersized adults and coordinate sessions that represent this manner of thinking. Not only are the majority of the players not biologically or technically equipped for such sessions, they are also not psychologically prepared to perform such tasks. There is a major difference between what a young player seeks to gain from a session compared to that of an adult. Coaches should accept this and as a result structure the session accordingly. The time line below highlights how players’ aims and their process of thinking develops through the years, therefore establishing what the coaches’ main emphasis should be during sessions;
Up to 9 years old: Training for FUN – The participants engage in football for enjoyment and many just wish to kick a ball, they are uninterested in their role as a holding player in a midfield unit or how they can interact with another striker.
9 to 13 years old: Training to LEARN – Players have now established a love for the sport and look to build on the fun aspects by learning new techniques that will allow them to progress onto the next stage. Session satisfaction is obtained through learning to do something new. Commonly regarded as the ‘golden age of learning’ for children.
13 to 16 years old: Training to IMPROVE – Players wish to improve on the basis that already have and find greater satisfaction out of sessions that they feel they have improved their ability during.
16 upwards: Training to COMPETE – Players now wish to win within a competitive setting. Therefore training is based around this success and players enjoy sessions that lead to the feeling of potential or actual victory.
These variables are not independent of each other (for example a player may not be able to compete effectively if they do not learn a new concept or technique or improve upon a present one) and a player will not jump from one to the other just because their age has increased. For many players fun will always remain the foundations of their participation, they will incorporate the other elements as well but they will provide less significance for them. Other players may naturally, or forcibly, accelerate through the stages before players of a similar age. This could be down to technical ability or pressure from peers and family, that they find themselves in a win or lose environment before they should be. It is the job of a coach to recognise that this individual is still a young player and not a ticket to a league title or cup success. After all the worst-case-scenario is that the talented player forgets why football was fun and quits before their full potential is realised.
Performance Vs Participation
Above the concept of the players needs were briefly touched upon. This variable is focussed purely on why (at any age) players become involved in football and therefore require a coach.
Within the performance orientated environment the effectiveness of the coach is measured through the team’s ability to perform within a competitive setting. This can either be as simple as the result (win or lose) or upon the teams and individuals’ performance (deterioration or improvement). This leads to the coach requiring a systematic approach to sessions and ensure that the sessions revolve around best preparing the players for their next fixture. These sessions include technical and positional drills to improve the way the players perform as individuals, units and as a team. Within a participation orientated set-up the players are there for enjoyment and sociable reasons. This can be in the form of an after school club or a Sunday league team who do not want to win the national championship but just enjoy a kick about and a social gathering at the weekend. The need for structured and disciplined approach is reduced as sessions do not have to fit into any long term goal; their main outcome is to ensure players improve through enjoyment.
So when this variable is combined with the previous one (age) the picture becomes a little clearer for the coach as to how the session should be approached and the attitude they should adopt; for example an under – 17 team based on performance and an adult team based on participation will have differing goals, intentions and needs. The under-17 will require improvement through a series of structured and informative sessions so that they can achieve as much as possible, while the adult side will prefer to have a more relaxed, sociable learning experience.
Goals of Individual Players
Some players will not undertake playing football to just win games, trophies and perform well but to also wish to reach the top as a professional. Other players will not harbour these desires and be content with the level they are at. A coach may experience both of these mind-sets within one team, at any age and not just between performance and participation orientated players. The percentage of players that reach the professional game is very small but the chance does exist that a future professional could be playing within a side that you coach. If there is a player that possesses the potential to succeed then they should be encouraged and aided at all the levels possible. Coaches should not block the players’ natural progression to a better side or opportunity just so they can clutch onto a star player. Likewise sessions should reflect the desires and goals of the players. If they are gifted and they wish to advance to the highest level they can, shooting at goal and 5-a-side matches will not provide them with all the information and skills necessary to compete. The task of assisting these players becomes easier when there is more than one in the team but the coach can adopt a pro active approach and provide them with a new team that can allow them to flourish if present side is starting to restrict them or even assign them some extra ideas and drills they can practice in their spare time.
Goals of the Coach
The final variable that can decide the approach and attitude of the coach is their own personal desires and goals. The range of reasons of why individuals coach vary all the way from wanting to become a champions league winning coach to just overseeing a local Sunday morning side because no one else can do it. These extreme states of minds will result in differing personal objectives and therefore differing approaches to their roles. The coaches’ aspirations should coincide with that of the teams as much as possible or a mutual satisfaction will never be achieved. For example a coach who just wants to turn up and put on a session for the players to get on with and just watch will not extract all the potential from a performance orientated team. Likewise a coach with desires of involvement in the professional game will not improve sufficiently by coaching a Sunday league under-8’s team where fun is the basis of the sessions.
It is essential that the coach understands and appreciates the needs and requirements of the group of players they are working with. As this will aid them in planning and delivering sessions so that they are beneficial and appropriate to all involved. Ideally a coach should be employed with the same intentions and desires as the players involved and has the sufficient level of expertise to achieve the goals of that group