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Updated: Jun 24

As the reality of my retirement looms nearer and my transition into coaching becomes imminent, I’ve begun to heavily reflect on how I want to manage players that I coach. Over the past 20 years, I’ve had an array of experiences with coaches and their management of players – some brilliant, some average, and some plain ugly. Below is a reflection on these experiences.

 

Attendance

This falls under expectations and standards – what is acceptable within a team? As a coach, it’s important to communicate your stance on this – if a player misses training, will they still play? Does it depend on their reason? What if a player consistently misses training but is in your leadership group? Or is your only goalkeeper? What precedence does this set for the rest of the team? A recent conversation with a coach stated that his stance was simple – it comes down to a matter of priorities. Humans opt for the path of least resistance – so if they can have their cake and eat it too, they will. But remember, whatever you don’t ‘punish’, you’re inadvertently reinforcing – you’re constantly communicating what is okay based on what you allow as a coach. Having a clear coaching philosophy can guide you when making difficult decisions – are you more concerned with short-term results or long-term development? What’s the cost of accepting this behaviour and what’s the gain? How will your decision affect team culture and morale?

 

Transparency

Following on from attendance, I had a manager who would always communicate with the group where players were (if they missed a session). This level of transparency stopped the questioning – a lack of communication leaves too much room for the imagination. During this time, one of the starting players went on placement for 6 weeks which meant she wasn’t able to train with the team – but because it was communicated to the team, the team was okay with it. They were also okay with it because this player 1) had perfect attendance prior to her placement and 2) still trained – but with the reserves. Being transparent also allows for the acknowledgement that sometimes life happens and things come up.

 

The other thing this manager was transparent about was session plans. Before we would start training, there would be a laminated sheet of paper detailing the day’s session plan. Along with this were the specific roles and responsibilities of the playing group with regards to equipment e.g. defenders were on goals, midfielders on bibs and balls, and attackers on water. Assigning roles ensures there’s accountability and the same players aren’t always responsible for the equipment.

 

One other element of transparency I wanted to touch on is being human and vulnerable. In the same way that we want players to communicate with coaches if they’re not doing okay, I think it’s also important for coaches to communicate to players if they’re struggling for any particular reason. Vulnerability doesn’t mean disclosure – it just means acknowledging you’re human too and sometimes you might be struggling with life outside of football.

 

Self-awareness

Something I want to encourage more of with players I coach is their ability to self-reflect. One way to do this is through individual development plans (IDPs). The premise of these plans is to get players to identify 1) what is their superpower? What is one thing they bring to the game that no one else does? 2) What are the areas of their game that need attention? And 3) how do they think they can go about improving these areas? The role of the coach is not to give players these answers, but to instead facilitate the discussion for the players to identify these answers themselves. It also encourages players to be honest with themselves and their abilities. Often the responsibility is on the coach to provide these solutions, but I think more responsibility can be shared with players for their development.

 

Another way to encourage players to self-reflect is to send out surveys after games asking players to rate their performance on a few key areas e.g. technical, tactical, physical, and mental. This further encourages players to watch their games, again putting some ownership back on the player for their development. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Coaching is no different – a coach can have all the tools to make a player brilliant, but at the end of the day, the player has to do the work.

 

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I never cared much for this when I was in the US in college, but since coming back to Australia, and admittedly getting older, this topic has become more and more relevant. It’s also something some people have absolutely no idea about. The coach I had in 2021 did this brilliantly – he managed player’s loads excellently throughout the season aided by the use of RPEs (rated perceived exertion) after each training. He had a plan for the physical output he wanted during each session (distance covered) and usually hit those markers. For players struggling with niggles, he managed their load by either making them a neutral player or pulling them out of training early. For players not in his starting line-up, he made sure they played reserves – specifying the minutes they needed. How can substitutes be game-fit if they aren’t playing games? A lot of the onus is on a coach to manage players’ readiness (specifically match fitness) for games, but some of it falls on the individual too. At what point does a player need to take responsibility for their fitness and ask to play in the second team, just to ensure their body is staying conditioned and primed for first-team football?

 

The team in the UK also did this well with substitutes – instead of running without a ball, all conditioning and ‘top ups’ were game-related; 3v3s or 4v4s depending on the number of players who didn’t play. Running without a ball will not make you a better player. It won’t even make you a fitter footballer – but it will make you great at straight line running. Game-specific conditioning is imperative for player development.

 

Conditioning sessions in the UK were also held on a Wednesday with a game on Sunday – allowing plenty of time for recovery. For coaches who don’t know much about conditioning (I am certainly not claiming to be an expert), it takes 48 hours to recover from a hard, heavy session. So doing a conditioning session on a Wednesday with a game on a Friday is a recipe for both fatigue and injury. Structuring your week is important to maximise your players’ optimal output.

 

Some ‘old school’ coaches that I’ve had in the past believe in the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, especially with regards to pre-season. They believe in slaughtering players early to get them fitter quicker. But all this does is break them quicker. Players need to be eased back into trainings, especially after lengthy breaks – whether this is from the end of the season or from an injury; their loads need to be managed. There’s a brilliant article on this with regards to players training at a higher level too and how to ease them into that environment https://www.fcevolution.com/less-fit-players-have-to-train-less/ .

 

Strength and Conditioning

Throughout my life, many coaches seem to think that having an S&C coach or doing gym sessions is synonymous with a professional environment. It’s almost like a pre-requisite. Admittedly my opinion on S&C is likely to be unpopular, but please note that it comes from personal adversity. One of my biggest pet peeves is generic programs for players in the gym and on the field. What if instead of assuming we (as coaches or S&C staff) know what’s best for an individual, based on research, we instead ask the player what has worked for them. Especially senior players. In the same way that everyone eats different foods before a game, why is it so hard to believe that players might need different S&C work to prepare their bodies for a game? For me, I’ve found boxing to be the most effective form of exercise to prevent injury. Over 10 years in the gym and I had 3 acls, countless ankle sprains, soft tissue injuries etc. After taking up boxing, the longest I was sidelined for was 1 week to rest a calf issue (and that was more likely associated with over-loading). The gym isn’t for everyone. I challenge coaches to look for alternative methods to maximise players’ potentials. Perhaps a player might benefit from Pilates. Perhaps swimming suits them. Or perhaps that time might be better spent with a ball at their feet. One of my biggest regrets in my 20s is the time I spent in the gym and running beep tests in my free time – did any of that ever make me a better footballer? No. What did? Ball mastery.

 

Individual feedback

This is something I am actively working on as a coach – giving player’s individual feedback as things happen in both trainings and games. Over the past few years, my focus has been on the macro – on the team and ensuring trainings are at a high standard. After my time in the UK however, I realise that everything comes back to technical detail and individual feedback. The more I practice giving this feedback, the quicker I’ll be able to identify technical issues with players. One thing that can aid a player’s development is setting them individual challenges – whether that’s in training, or in games. For example, for a player struggling to score in games, you might set them the challenge in training to shoot every time they get the ball. More shots will invariably lead to more goals. More goals invariably leads to more confidence.

 

Confidence

When I think about players who have improved the most, both as a footballer and with their confidence, one key factor has stood out to me – investment from a coach. In 2019, my coach did this for me. She explained how she wanted me to play and encouraged me to take every opportunity to try it both in trainings and games. She wanted me to play in a way which made my game bigger, better, more dominant rather than limiting my game. In 2011, my college coach did the opposite – he told me I was a 2-3 touch footballer and that was it. Touch and play. Don’t do anything complicated with the ball. So I didn’t. And I didn’t develop either. But in 2019 I did. I was driving through the midfield, getting shots off as a centre back, creating goal-scoring opportunities, and scoring myself. This coach instilled me with confidence to play.

 

When I look at the teammates who have made the most significant improvements, they too had this from a coach. In 2021, a coach invested in one of our strikers. Now she is one of the most lethal players in WNPL. This year, the coach has invested in a midfielder. Calling her after games and actively demanding she get on the ball more in trainings and games. The result? Her game has blossomed. At the core of all of these ‘success’ stories, is a coach who’s invested their time and created environments to actively encourage the player making mistakes. This, to me, is the most important role any coach can have.

 

Scoring

Everything in football is about scoring and keeping score, yet how many times in practice do coaches either keep score or have ways in which players can score? The best players are driven by competition, without it, players have low motivation and the pressures aren’t game-realistic. Even simple drills like passing practices can be made competitive – add a goal at the end to create accountability with passing or create competitions between groups – who can get around the square five times first?

 

Coaches often lament on their team’s inability to score in games, but my first question to them is always, how much of training is towards a goal? How much finishing practice do you devote in training? If everything in football is about scoring, why doesn’t every training drill have a goal? How can you score in a game if you aren’t even practicing it in training?

 

One thing I want to implement with the next team I coach is the idea of a competitive cauldron (as used by Anson Dorrance at UNC). The idea is simple (but implementation perhaps challenging depending on resources) – every goal a player scores in training is recorded. There now becomes a competition between players to score the most during training. At the end of each week, the player with the most goals is rewarded, the player with the least, has to wash the bibs. 

 

Purposeful training

Trainings need to make sense. If your team is struggling to score, yet you work on your defence for the entire week of training, don’t be surprised that nothing changes the following week. If you’re doing a defensive session, use your starting back 4 (or 3 or 5) during training. Although it’s important for everyone to be aware how to play different positions, the higher up you play, the more important it becomes to practice how you’re going to play and with whom. Have the non-starting players be your opponents on the weekend – set them specific challenges to replicate the playing style of the upcoming team. This keeps them engaged.

 

Practice game actions in training – ball goes out, take a throw in. How many times in practice do players practice throw ins? How many times in games do players throw the ball to the opposition or fail to retain possession? Coincidence? I think not. You can’t be good at something you don’t practice. It’s also important to ensure the quality is there during practice. As a coach the other day said, if your runs into the box in training are at 75%, they’ll be at 75% in games too. Or perhaps they’ll be 100% in games, but the technique won’t be there because it hasn’t been practiced at that level of intensity in training.

 

The last point on this is regarding deliberate practice and players investing time in themselves to work on themselves. It’s the most valuable piece of advice I can offer anyone – if you want to become a better player, you need to train by yourself or at the very least, in a highly attentive, intense environment where you can’t hide (e.g. private sessions or small group sessions).

 

Playing style

Perhaps I’m still too young in my coaching career to have an established playing style, but I have a really hard time buying in to coaches who have a set playing style without considering the players they’re working with. At what point do you need to adapt the way you want to play to the players you have available? Or do you remain strong in your belief that these players will be able to play the way you want them to play? Is this development? Or is this just a player moulding to your playing style?

 

Openness

One of the most disappointing and unfortunately common experiences that I’ve had as a player has been coaches’ close-mindedness when it comes to feedback. Despite being a captain of this team for the past six seasons, there’s only been one coach who has actively sought out my thoughts and opinions. The other coaches I’ve had have either become defensive when I’ve offered feedback (on behalf of the team), or have dismissed the suggestions altogether. As I begin to coach more senior level players, I truly hope I have an openness towards my players and their thoughts and opinions. At the end of the day, no coach knows everything. Your players, and your captain(s) in particular, is(are) the vessel into knowing how the team is feeling. Without buy-in from the players, it doesn’t matter how great a coach you are – you won’t get anywhere with them.

 

The other disappointing aspect of this is how I have openly expressed my desire to become a coach. I hope that if I ever have a player who has aspirations to coach in the future, I’m including them in as much football discussion as possible. The game needs more coaches. The last thing the game needs is coaches unwilling to mentor the next generation of coaches. Perhaps something that needs to be revisited is the idea of head coaches and assistant coaches – perhaps the women’s game needs more co-head coaches. This lateral hierarchy creates an environment of equality and respect; of shared responsibility and problem-solving capabilities.

 

Mentally stable

Coaching is a hard, lonely profession. You often get most of the blame and little of the credit. This final point cannot be unstated – you must be mentally stable to take on a role as a head coach. Some of this comes down to being secure in yourself, as a person and as a coach. Having a clear coaching philosophy can aid in this security. But it’s a security that isn’t fixed – it’s not ‘my way or the highway’ it’s a ‘this is how I’ve done it, but if you know a better way, please show me’. It’s a growth mindset. Without this stability, the damage that can ensue can end players’ careers. We need more players in the game if we have any hope of developing the game in this country. In order to have more players in the game, we need coaches who create environments that are safe and stable. Verbal abuse isn’t acceptable in the classroom, so why is it acceptable on a football pitch?

 

Writing all of this is great, but the challenge for me comes in implementing these ideas and beliefs. And that is exactly what I plan to do.

 

For those interested, I’m planning on starting an academy (location TBC) for players who have the drive to become better footballers. The key footballing focus will be on ball mastery (repetition, balance, and control) using Coerver principles and small-sided games to improve 1v1 abilities and playing under pressure. Not only can I guarantee development of football skills, but I can also guarantee emotional support throughout the individual’s journey. Places will be limited – 8 only. This ensures that maximum individual attention and feedback is obtained. If you or someone you know might be interested, please complete the expression of interest form from the link below.

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i've asked this question many times before, but it seems to be all i can think about at the moment - at what point do you try harder and at what point do you give in? when do you need to accept the reality that some things just aren't meant to be? when is resistance a sign and when is it an obstacle to overcome?


i've been here many times in my career. i was here in 2014 when i tore my second acl. again in 2018 when i got cut from adelaide united. a year later when i did my acl for the third time. then again in 2022 when things didn't work out with an agent i'd signed with. and instead of getting there at the end of last year, when w league didn't work out for me (again), i decided to pack up my life and move across the world to pursue my childhood dream of playing professionally.


i was hopeful. eager. finally things will work out for me. they have to. i'm in a different country, where no one knows my name or has any preconceived ideas about who i am and what i can/can't do. this is my chance. but within weeks of me arriving in the UK, i quickly learnt that that dream would not be achieved in this country either. but i refused to let this experience be wasted. i still signed with a really good tier 3 side. outside of football, i've been pottering along, volunteering and coaching at as many different organisations as i can, even ones i don't enjoy. all with the hopes that one day this will pay off. one day i might be given an opportunity. one day, it might just work out for me.


but at what point do i need to just accept the reality that it's not going to work out for me? at what point do i just need to let go of my childhood dream and move on with my life. i'm 30 years old, soon to be 31 and what do i actually have to show for myself? i work casual jobs in coffee shops, i coach on the side, and i'm trying, perhaps even forcing, trying to make something of my football career. i have no stability with a career. and none of that is going to miraculous change until i can let go of playing. even transitioning into coaching - that's not a full time career. that doesn't pay you maternity leave when you decide to have kids. unless you move to any other country other than australia. but i'm done moving across the world. i'm done feeling alone. i'm done feeling like i'm swimming upstream with anything that i seem passionate about. but perhaps that's my own doing - perhaps my problem is in that being interested in so much, i've been committed to nothing. perhaps that's why my business of equipping individuals with skills to support others when they're struggling never went anywhere. perhaps that's why my playing is at a standstill. why nothing much has progressed with coaching.


meanwhile, all i can see around me are people settling down. settling into their careers. having babies. starting families. and the only people doing that? are the people that let football go a long time ago. and to be honest, i feel like that's what i need to do if i'm ever going to do anything with my life. because the reality is, i can't keep having this child-like attitude towards my life and my future - keeping all my options open, whilst simultaneously wasting away. i feel bad for my parents - two incredibly intelligent, nurturing, and accomplished individuals, watching their child do nothing with their life. wasting their intellect on futile, unrealistic dreams.


they say it's good to have options, but i disagree. sometimes you can feel burdened by choice. paralysed by an inability to commit to any one thing. and that's where i feel i am right now. i don't just have one interest; i have many. i don't just have one hobby; i have many. but perhaps it's time i start closing some doors and focusing on what will actually provide me with a stable future and direction. perhaps it's time i grow the fuck up.

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in my last post i wrote about people's need for a network, but what i was really referencing was people's need for a friend. humans are social creatures - we literally need other human beings to survive. but in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by individualism, finding a friend seems ever more challenging.


i moved to the UK in november. i've been with this football team since january. yet i still don't feel any closer to anyone in this country. i still don't feel like i have any friends.


i know that sounds dramatic, so let me break it down - what exactly do i mean when i say 'i don't have any friends'? i mean, i don't feel i have anyone i can call to talk to, to vent to, to cry to when i'm having a shit day. i don't feel i have people i can just message to grab a coffee with. loneliness isn't about being alone, it's about feeling alone. feeling emotionally alone. feeling like you have no one in your 'circle'. and yes - i have people back home. i have my partner, i have my family. i have other friends. but none of those relationships can substitute the need for friends in the country you're residing in. friends that are accessible, within a similar social circle, and within the same time zone. a partner can't fulfill all of your needs. nor can your family. and especially not when they're on the other side of the world, sleeping, when you're going through something.


these feelings aren't foreign to me. i remember feeling like this when i was in the US too. it wasn't until my final year that i finally found a teammate who i still consider my friend today. what was different about her compared to everyone else? well she was Norwegian, so she was an international too. but the main thing she did? she took an interest in my life as i did in hers. she made an effort.


so what does it mean to be a friend? it means being interested in their life. it means asking questions. it means making effort. i've just started working at a coffee shop and there's been one individual in particular who's taken a genuine interest in my life outside of the generic football / sport small talk. and it started because she mentioned drawing is what she wants to do for a career. and i asked what sort of drawings, she said she designs album covers for musicians, that sort of thing. i then asked if she could design my book cover for when i eventually write my book. she didn't leave the conversation there - she prodded. she explored. and she did so with a genuine curiosity and excitement.


despite having been here for nearly six months, i have yet to have anyone really ask me anything about my life outside of football. without that interest, without those questions being asked, no connection can be formed. no friendship established. because curiosity has to be mutual. conversations have to be mutual. vulnerabilities have to be mutual. one person can't be the only person learning about the other, which is something i've experienced here - the insulated nature of people's lives.


not only does friendship take effort and interest, but it also takes empathy and understanding. it's acknowledging that 'wow, this must be difficult for you'. it's realising what you have and potentially take for granted, is something that someone else does not have. is there any way for you to share what you have? e.g. if you still live at home, or go to visit your family, can you invite your teammate? can you offer them a home cooked meal? i don't know about others, but i don't think you ever get too old for home cooked meals.


the other point about being a friend is not ignoring someone. i completely understand that everyone has their own lives and not everyone is accessible 24/7 - i know that i'm not. and i also know that even though i don't always (or ever!) reply straight away, i will reply. especially if it's someone i care about and even more so if i know that they're going through something. one of the worst things i think people can do is ghost someone. and it's even more painful when the last message you sent them was about something you were struggling with - something you've been vulnerable about.


this happened to me recently with someone i considered a friend - someone who said they were here to listen to me vent about my struggles in the UK because they'd been there and they understood. i sent a voice note to them, basically holding back tears of how alone i feel in the UK. of how i'm struggling with the passing of a soccer coach from back home and have no one to talk to about it. i never got a reply to that message - which again, is okay - i get that people have shit going on in their own lives and sometimes don't have the emotional capacity to support someone else when they're struggling. so i sent a message asking if they were okay, if a phone call would work better to catch up and chat. and despite all of this happening nearly a month ago, i still haven't had a reply. yet i see them posting daily on social media.


so what is the effect of this? and how damaging can it really be? i think the worst part is this person is very well aware of how i've had significant people in my life literally go MIA when i've needed them the most. and still to this day without an explanation despite multiple attempts by me to get in contact. yet, this seems to be the pattern unfolding again. although this undoubtedly says more about them and potentially what they're going through, it still fucking hurts. it hurts to feel abandoned by those you're supposed to trust the most. by those whom you have been vulnerable with. with those who are supposed to be your friend.


people might dismiss this and say 'they're clearly not you're type of person' - but let's be real, many of us aren't inundated with a surplus of friends. it takes time to develop friendships. it takes courage to be vulnerable; to open yourself up to another. so to lose one, on the back of already losing many in your life in a similar fashion, it fucking hurts.


another aspect about being a friend is the exchange of information, especially if that information could benefit someone else. what i will never understand is when people hoard information. hoard contacts. hoard assistance. i'm unsure if others have experienced this, or perhaps it's a product of the football/soccer community, but i've found people to be particularly unhelpful. if i have a teammate interested in playing in australia, i'm giving them every contact i know. i'm explaining everything i know about the leagues, structure, payment, restrictions etc. and if they were interested in coming to adelaide, i'd help them find a place to stay. or at the very least, put them in contact with someone who could. a player from back home also travelled to the UK to trial over here and i shared with her all the email addresses i had found online to save her the hassle and time of doing that herself. in contrary, a former teammate who i've known for a long time was very well aware of my intentions to move to the UK. she was also aware of the GBE points required to play professionally. yet did she share this with me? absolutely not. part of being a friend, or simply a decent person, is adding value to others' lives with no expectation of that being reciprocated. it's doing for others perhaps what you had wished someone had done for you.


so what do i recommend? i think all of us need to be better at being better friends. and i'm not saying you're going to befriend everyone you come in contact with; that's not realistic. but i think the least we can do is take an interest in their lives. to ask questions. to be curious. there is no greater feeling than the feeling of being understood and seen. but i think so many of us are living in the worlds inside our heads because no one seems to be taking an interest to learn about them. so how can you take an interest in someone else's life? how can you make an effort? and if someone has the courage to be vulnerable with you, please, for the love of god, don't fucking ignore them. even if you have your own shit going on - just say that. "hey i really want to be there for you right now, but i've got quite a bit going on emotionally and i don't want to do a disservice in giving you half-assed replies. i'll touch base when i'm in a better place." the more communication, the better. "a lack of communication leaves too much room for imagination." don't be shit. be a better friend.

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