The two biggest lessons in my coaching life
The two biggest lessons in my coaching life
During my first year at college I worked Friday and Saturday nights as a waiter at Epsom Downs while also voluntarily coaching and managing the Ashtead Colts U11 team on a Wednesday evening and Saturday morning.
Mid way through this first year (2008), I realised I loved coaching and wanted to find out more about it. My dad and I did some research and found a coaching business that carried out what looked to be top-level coaching on a Sunday, this being the only day I had available. Dad asked them if he could bring me along to see their operation.
I wasn’t driving at first so he used to take me to Dulwich to watch the sessions. I’d pick up cones for the coaches and harass them with questions. This is where I met two great coaches who remain mentors to this day, Mark Hudson and Jeremy Sauer.
And it was at this time, right at the start of my coaching career, that I learnt my two biggest coaching lessons!
When coaching my Ashtead boys at the weekends, I thought they were the next in line to play for England! I truly believed that! I loved working with them and I loved seeing them do the things that I asked, there was no better buzz! I used to sometimes finish at 2am on Friday mornings at Epsom Downs and then have a 9.30am kick off on Saturday but I didn’t care, I loved it; we were playing in Division 3, winning every week and playing what I felt was the right way – ball on the floor, equal playing time, positive support from parents on the sidelines. I truly felt my u11s were the best out there!
When I saw the boys Jeremy and Mark coached on Sundays I realised very quickly the difference coaching could make and where the next level was. It was a real shock but it made me realise that I had no one to compare my U11s with and that my own expectations were limited, which meant I was not really challenging my players and so not helping them to reach their potential.
Jeremy and Mark got me buzzing and I knew I wanted to go back and help my players realise they could go to a higher level.
So at the next session back with my Ashtead boys, I copied Jeremy’s session from the previous Sunday, pretty much word for word. I copied the plan and copied the key points and progressions. And I quickly started to get frustrated that the boys couldn’t do it straight away. That they couldn’t take a touch out of their feet and put the ball exactly where I wanted and couldn’t do it at the speed I had just seen. I remember getting angry and shouting because I was unconsciously mirroring my own recent experience of being coached.
Playing football for Woking Academy during my college days (16 & 17 years old) was my first experience of being on the receiving end of ‘real coaching’.
When playing and training at the Academy, if we lost or if we didn’t do what was expected, we were given the hair dryer treatment and punished, usually being made to run lengths of the pitch in an ever-shorter time. We were told we weren’t good enough and would never meet the level of the manager’s playing days.
Frustrated with the U11 session, I was about to get them to start some punishment runs but thankfully took a breath and quickly thought how Jeremy and Mark would behave. They would teach, explain, break it down, not make players feel rubbish if they made a mistake and help players realise, they can do it.
The 2 biggest lessons in my coaching life happened in the space of a week.
Firstly, I realised clearly the coach I wanted to be. My coaching model was always going to be Jeremy and Mark and my job as the coach was to encourage my players to achieve the highest level, not to punish them when they couldn’t do something.
For any young coach I think it is vital to watch coaches at work so you can see how good some are and so you can work out the coach you want to be. You have to truly believe you can always develop personally. I think we as coaches can always improve, be it the way you structure a session, the way you communicate or your coaching points. I think players can also improve too, at any age or level if they put in the effort. We’ve seen players develop late on like Jamie Vardy, Ian Wright & Jimmy Bullard etc.
Secondly, I realised that coaching isn’t just about putting on a session and talking and then expecting players to do it. When I copied Jeremy’s session word for word, I realised this wasn’t my session, I didn’t truly understand WHAT I was teaching and why I wanted the players to do what I was asking. I learned that every lesson had to be my lesson.
You don’t know what you don’t know, so the best coaches will explore and find out what’s out there. Of course we will all make mistakes when coaching, and we won’t feel confident to create our own sessions straight away, but as long as you have an idea of what you want to teach, and what sort of coach you want to be and how you want to be remembered by your players, you can work backwards.
Lastly, how do you make your players feel fearless and confident whilst also making them aware they can always get better? No child has ever reached their peak at 10 or 11. They may be good, but they can always get to the next level. And always remember, players who are less naturally athletic or skilled can probably improve the most, they just may need more time or a different style.
So how do you cater for both challenges in your session? Would the best coaches just forget those who can’t? Or would they find a way that helps their players.