Experience Counts when Coaching

Everyone wants to be a coach. If that wasn’t the case fantasy football and Playstation games would not be as successful as they have been.

Ask anyone who has been a coach, as rewarding as it can be when things are going well it is also a very tricky path to navigate. Players not in the side always believe they should be playing and further down the scale parents of children always believe their child is a superstar in the making.

A recent tale by a youth coach sums up the situation. One young boy was being picked week in week out and playing in defence. The parent felt that his son should be playing as a striker, even though the strikers were doing a great job and the team was winning and top of the league. The father forcefully stated his case to the coach. Who with years of experience under his belt turned around and asked the father if he was happy to be responsible for his son not playing. The father looked perplexed. ‘Well, said the coach, at the moment he is getting a game every week, and plays a key role in a successful team. If you want us to play him as a striker he will have to fight for his place and at the moment will not get a game. So shall I tell him or do you want to, that because you think he should be playing as a striker, he won’t be playing next week?’ The father walked away and the young boy continued to play each week.

Another example in recent times, another coach is trying to convey a message to the young players he is in charge of. All bar three players are listening attentively. The three are having a conversation of their own. When it comes to the drill the coach has explained the three who were not listening stuff the drill up. A few minutes later the same thing happens again. The same three players have not been listening. The coach continues to try and keep things going, but his session will never be the success he had hoped.

At the end of the session a senior coach who again has had the benefit of years playing the game and coaching, walked up to the three boys who had disrupted training. He engaged in a conversation with them. It was friendly and there was no hint of annoyance or anger. Eventually he asked them if the enjoyed football? All three shake their heads. He asked if they do not enjoy it, why do they come each week to training. The boys said it was because their parents wanted them to play football. The coach then asked what they would prefer to be doing. He then thanked them, and when their parents come to pick them up asked to have a word.

He took the parents away from the children and told them what the boys had just told him. One parent said ‘he will grow to love the game.’ The coach shook his head, and said that in his experience whenever a child is forced to play something, they rarely grow to love it. He told the parents that their children were in fact ruining the game for the other eleven boys who do enjoy the game, and that he would rather they did not come back.

The coach taking the training session could not believe what he heard and started to panic. The older coach told him not to worry, new players will come and those who stay will now improve on the pitch and at training. All of these things happened.

So what is the point in relating these two stories which both happened in recent weeks here in Western Australia? To illustrate a point, that coaching cannot be learned in a classroom. Like any job, time and life experience breed confidence which will in turn lead you to make the decisions which are right or for the best for a player, or a team. Good coaches will not kowtow to parental pressure, because they believe and know what they are instilling in the children is the right thing to assist their development. Sometimes it may be painful, but ultimately the child will see the light.

The Football Federation of Australia is to be credited with trying to improve the standard of coaching in Australia. It was an area that had suffered great neglect in the last days of the old fractured regimes running the game.

Yet now the question has to be asked are we producing the right coaches? Or is accreditation simply being given to all those who have the nous to pass the coaching exam? As we all know, just because you have a title it does not always mean that you are the ideal person to carry out the job.

The FFA it would appear had a plan. They wanted to create a pool of coaches that would follow the system that they believe best suits Australian football. That was why they were happy to churn out hundreds and thousands of accredited coaches around the country. If one person bucks the system another who will happily tow the line will step in and take over.

Yet, as appeared in a recent article, it is not systems or formations that win games. It is the players on the pitch, their skills, and their ability to read situations and make decisions. The coach’s job is to fill them with the confidence to back themselves in those situations, but also learn their role within the team structure.

What is a serious concern is that many of the coaches with the game experience, and playing experience are being lost to the game because the FFA were not prepared to go and see these older statesmen in action and assess their coaching ability. They were simply told they had to move with the times and get the relevant accreditation. Many understandably felt insulted. As one said ‘If I wanted to move cones around all night I would have taken a job with the department of roads!’

The question that needs to be asked is how many of the young accredited coaches would have had the confidence and the wherewithal to handle both of the situations at the start of this piece? Is there anything in the coaching manual that would assist them to deal with such situations?

The sad thing is the FFA would not worry about that, as the money currently being generated by coaching courses at various levels around the country is rumored to be enough to cover the salaries of two full time staff members. It has in terms of revenue raising been a huge success.

Yet is the success being translated on the pitch? Of course in many cases the answer will be ‘yes.’ However who is following up to assess the coaches once they have their accreditation? That coaching badge does not necessarily mean that the owner of the badge is a good communicator or motivator, or that they are able to adapt to certain situations on and off the pitch. These are skills that you do not find in a textbook or on-line. These are skills that come from a lifetime of experiences.

Coaching is not just about setting up drills at training, or playing a set formation. It goes far deeper than that. It is about drawing out the best in those you are working with, inspiring them, cajoling them and sometimes giving them a jolt or a kick up the backside if they are getting ahead of themselves.

There is the old cliche in sport that 90 percent of performance is mental. If that is so, has anyone ever wondered why 90 percent of coaches and athletes spend 100 percent of their time working on the physical and basic aspects related to their game? The truth is every game at a high standard is 100% about mental preparation. Do you feel confident in your ability? Do you know you have what it takes to play at that level? Are you confident to back yourself? Are you fit? Sure you need the physical fitness, you need the basic fundamental skills but all of these are no good if you lack the mentality to compete. How many players go into a game with a niggle and genuinely question in their own mind if they should be playing? Sometimes a coach has to make the decision for them, or convince them that they are fit to play.

It was refreshing to know that the two coaches in question understood the ramifications of allowing those not interested in playing drag the other players down, and pleasing that a parent’s interference did not result in a child not playing. How many clubs have coaches who would have done the same thing? Where will these coaches take the players under their control? Will they be coaches that the players remember and enthuse about in years to come, whom they will one day acknowledge they learned a great deal from? The rewards do not always come immediately; sometimes they come a long time after the player has moved on.

It comes down to quality and not quantity, and in coaching you need coaches who you trust, and who inspire. When Sir Alf Ramsay decided to play without wingers at the 1966 World Cup everyone thought he was mad. Yet the players in that squad will tell you they had faith in him; this writer has interviewed four players from that team and all remain loyal to the man and his vision.

Coaching is no easy job, and that is why the best ones have been around for a while, and stay in the game. The FFA need to try and find a way of bringing back some of that experience that initially they lost from the game, and if it means finding a way to give these wise heads the required qualifications without having to spend or attend a whole course, then so be it. It is foolish to lose these people from the game based on a piece of paper and because of finances. It is also important that after handing out accreditation the FFA continue to monitor those they have accredited.

(Listen to the podcast and the interview with Spencer Prior to hear how many pro licences have been issued and how few jobs there are in Australia for these coaches).

Experience Counts when Coaching
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2 thoughts on “Experience Counts when Coaching

  • August 30, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Ron, I could not agree more. The game needs more people like you with a passion for the game and a wealth of experience, who is happy to share that knowledge and enthuse the next generation and the one after that. As you say it can be a thankless job, but it can also be exhilarating when you see a player suddenly take on what has been taught and grow in confidence.

  • August 30, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Coaching is about giving encouragement and understanding to young players wishing to continue learning the game , as a coach of 30 years mostly men I have had to ease back and observe young players and correct them when I feel they have not understood what is being asked. Yes you get the cocky ones who know everything and it’s fairly easy to pull them into line I usually set a drill that is not difficult but needs concentration and technique.

    When the players cannot complete the drill It highlights where the player needs to spend time be it passing , control, vision, communication , movement it is a eye opener for those who think they don’t need to practice or in some cases listen . Coaching is communication with information and a reason behind it . It can be a thankless job then again it can be exhilarating to watch players develop into future quality players.

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