I recently returned from another excellent weekend at the NSCAA Convention. It doesn’t get much better than 10,000+ soccer coaches hanging out, interacting, and learning from some of the best minds in the industry.
As I looked around the room in various lectures and sessions, I couldn’t help but consider that many of these coaches – although very enthusiastic and eager to improve – did not know how to learn from these great presenters. Many of them took notes and jotted down the important points. They also discussed the themes with their peers and began to plan how they would incorporate the concepts into their own teams’ sessions.
But that’s not what coaching education is all about.
Yes, watching and learning from others is crucial. But as coaches looking to improve ourselves, we cannot simply follow the format of others blindly. What works for one coach with one group of players rarely works for another coach with an entirely different group of players.
For instance, if I was to watch a session put on by Pep Guardiola for his men at Bayern Munich, it would not be appropriate for me to run the exact same session with my U8 girls the next day. But why not? Pep is one of the most successful managers in the world! Surely he puts on a quality session, right?
Of course he does. But that doesn’t make it appropriate for my U8 girls.
Here’s why: First, I have no idea what the context of Pep’s session is. When did they play last? When do they play next? Are there injuries or issues with personnel? What is the strategy they are incorporating into the next match? Was it a recovery day or a high-intensity session? How is the morale and mental energy of the team? Secondly, his players play at a much different level than my girls. My girls can’t even strike a ball in the air – how can they possibly work on advanced tactics? Thirdly, Pep gets to see his guys every day, and likely spends hours in discussion/film with his team in addition to the time on the field. I see my girls twice a week for an hour. And finally, his guys play for a living, yet my girls play soccer for fun to hang out with their friends before heading to ballet class.
Our situations are completely different; and therefore, although he likely put on an excellent session, it is not necessarily a good session for my team.
Getting the Most Out of Coaching Education
So, if it is recommended to learn from others, how do we ensure that we actually learn something useful and effectively incorporate new concepts into our own coaching? We must simply keep in mind the following:
Context: Just like when we teach our players, the most important question to answer is “why?” Why did the coach design his sessions a certain way? Why did he choose to make (or omit) a coaching point at a certain time? Why did he progress when he did? Why is the coach standing in a certain area or moving around the grid? Understanding the context behind why a coach did things a certain way will give us a lot of insight and help us to better understand how to incorporate something similar with our teams.
The format is a suggestion: Whenever I teach coaching courses, candidates often ask why we follow a certain format, or they point out that they have previously done something different that has worked. The reality is that the format used in coaching courses is merely a recommendation. They are often best practices, but it is not to say that a different method cannot be effective. The point of sticking to a particular format in a course is to help candidates understand how to do it to give them the tools necessary to incorporate the concepts into their sessions. It does not mean that every session every single time must follow that format perfectly.
The methodology is also a suggestion: In courses, we also learn about when and how to make coaching points. In courses, we are often expected to make corrections whenever the play breaks down. This does not mean that – when we are working with our own teams - we need to make a coaching point on every mistake or breakdown. We have to do it in a course because we have limited time and have to show that we have the knowledge and ability to coach. But when we work with our teams, we can use our judgment to do what is appropriate for a particular group of players.
So next time you find yourself at the convention, as part of a coaching course, or simply watching another coach in action, remember to take into consideration all factors involved. Consider the context and learn the underlying themes and concepts, rather than simply the face value of what is presented. Take those themes and figure out how they apply to different situations so that you can effectively apply them to your own, different set of players.