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Coaching philosophy 2.0

What is my coaching philosophy all about? The same thing that my life is all about: people. Specifically though, establishing connections and building relationships. Players that play for me are people first, players second. I understand that playing soccer is not something that people can do forever; it’s temporary. Being human though, is permanent. With that in mind, I am devoted to developing better people, not just better soccer players. My coaching will be on developing the individual as a whole, offering them lessons that can be applied to realms outside of the sporting world. Life lessons, if you will.

In order to establish any relationship, trust is paramount. And trust is founded only after safety has been established. And safety is established through a state of non-reaction and non-judgement whilst also taking an active interest in the individual’s life by frequently checking in on them. The environment I will establish on my teams will be one in which individuals feel safe to make mistakes, they feel safe to challenge, question, and confront, and they feel safe to be completely and utterly themselves. In order to help achieve the latter of those statements, I vouch to present myself as humanly human as possible. I will admit my mistakes. I will admit my imperfections. And I will admit my limitations.

Given that I am imperfect and I am not an expert at all things pertaining to soccer, I intend to surround myself around others whom are experts. When these resources are not available however, I will be open to the suggestions of others. I believe in diversifying one’s thinking – ten minds trying to solve a problem is better than one.

I will have favourites. And I will treat all my players differently. Why? Because they are all different and require different things. I might not be able to connect with every player, but I intend to create an environment in which a player feels connected to others, be it teammates or other support staff. Ideally I want to create an environment in which the players become their own coaches, in which players adopt similar philosophies and a similar level of care and concern for one another as what I do for them.

As a coach, I’m not looking for the best player. I’m looking for the player that makes all the other players better. I’m looking for the best teammate, on and off the field. These are the players that determine the culture. I believe the bench players are the most important people on a team, why? Because their attitude determines how united a team is. And their work ethic determines how hard the starting players work. I believe then, in a lateral hierarchy rather than a vertical one. Despite a player’s position on the team, their voice is just as valuable as that of their peers.

I am not taken by glory players, I’m taken by the sacrificial players. The players who make their teammate’s lives easier, whether that’s by dropping an extra 2-3 metres under the ball, making that recovery run to cover a teammate, or communicating – these sacrificial acts are the one percenters that often determine the cohesion within a team. As does the way and manner in which players communicate, on and off the field.

I will not micro-manage nor micro-coach. I believe that all individuals are competent at making their own decisions and I encourage them to be creative, to improvise, and to solve their own problems. I will challenge them with questions, asking them to critically think about their own game and that of the team’s. In essence, I will equip them with the skills to become their own coaches.

I am aware that performance and results are never within anyone’s control. Because of that, I will focus on the process rather than results, and I will focus on the three things that players can control: their attitude, work ethic, and body language. I have always believed that a strong culture will enable a team to experience enduring, predictable success, rather than falling victim to the unpredictability of the regression to the mean. I will also understand that an exceptional performance will be followed by an average performance, for no other reason than statistical normality. It is thus, my role as a coach to improve both an individual’s average performance and the average performance of the team.

I believe that the litmus test of a good coach is, did the players improve? (Performance-based). Do the players want to play for you again next season? (Retention). And how motivated are they to keep playing soccer? (Inspired). Sometimes all a player needs is for a coach to believe in them. A coach’s belief in a player has the ability to completely transform their performance. Often times individuals do not lack significant components within their game, rather they lack psychological components in the form of safety, love and belongingness, value, and belief. And these are the components that will receive the majority of my focus.

Although youth players will be the future of the club, the knowledge of experienced players is invaluable. As such, my team will have a balance between the two. Young players bring with them a zest, a passion, an excitement for the game which can often invigorate those older players who are tired and physically hindered. Experienced players though, offer knowledge which can fast-track a younger player’s development. Because of the differences, I will not coach these players the same, nor will the expectations be the same. But this goes for all players in all positions – the needs of a central defender are not the same as those for a central striker and as such, I hope to individualise trainings to these needs where possible.

As a coach, I will tend to focus on strengthening an individual’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. It is individuals’ strengths that make them unique – working on their weaknesses will only make them average. I hope that I have the open-mindedness to oversee an individual’s weakness if their strength is invaluable to the team. For example, if an individual lacks speed or athleticism, I will look for their cognitive efficiency and ability to anticipate play before making an assessment on their ability. Performance then, will be measured by impact and presence, not by arbitrary physical measures.

I do not believe in having a fine system as doing so undermines the most important ingredient on a team: trust. I believe in looking out for teammates – I want to encourage players to pack an extra pair of shin pads or socks or whatever it is in case one of their teammates accidentally forgets. Mistakes happen. It’s a part of being human. Why punish individuals for being human, when instead we can build a stronger culture by having their backs in the same way we would on the field?

When it comes to youth players, I do not believe in specialisation of positions. I also encourage older players to play positions they have not before played as this gives them an insight and appreciation for what is required of that position. A striker playing defence will learn what a defender hates and can hence, focus on developing that aspect of their game. I also think it’s imperative players of all positions learn basic defensive skills. Defence wins championships. But this is not limited to the back four and goalkeeper. It is the entire team’s defensive efforts. Again, a championship is won from the sacrificial acts of all players, the one percenters that make each teammate’s life a little easier.

The most important advice I can offer any player is the idea of deliberate practice. Individuals will see their most significant growth when the stands are empty – when they are training by themselves. Individual training offers something team trainings cannot – complete and utter focus with the beauty of repetition. It is in these moments where players will achieve significant milestones in their development – learning to juggle, striking a ball, dribbling at pace etc. This idea can also be applied to watching film. Instead of watching for the sake of watching, be intentional about what you’re focusing on – watch a player’s movement; watch what they do when they receive the ball, when they pass the ball, when they don’t have the ball. Being intentional adds purpose and gives meaning to seemingly meaningless tasks.

Having said all of this, I understand that soccer isn’t everything. Neither is winning and losing. But making a difference? That is everything. I hope then to keep this perspective in times of stress and adversity, and to understand when life happens and players need appropriate breaks or extra support. I want to be a role model for these players. I want to be someone they can relate to. Someone who makes them feel less alone by presenting myself as humanly human as possible. I understand the inevitable vicissitudes that occur in life and I hope that through my patience, openness, and vulnerability I can make some of those lower moments a little less low.

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