With the PSL starting up again this week after a long break, we thought we would empower you the supporters with some knowledge and finish our 3 part series on Coaching. Be it Pitso, Gavin, Steve, Milton or Lehlohonolo its important to have better insights as to what they are doing.
In our previous post we saw the dangers of believing that winning teams are well coached teams in the younger age groups and that consistent repetition of action, focus on the individual and keeping the exercises rooted in games that mimic the match are the hall marks of good coaches. This all took place in the nursery of football ages 4-13, to be frank we do a decent enough job at this level in SA, although probably more by chance than intention and certainly more because of our raw athletic talent than purposeful development.
The sad truth is that from here all the way up to the highest level in our country we see hugely imbalanced coaches that make excuses instead of developing their weaker traits. The most common is the “Motivator” coach. He is in fact so poor, rather than strong at motivation, with his method and tactics that all he has is “motivation”. What it leads to is a coach who coaches through fear, shouts (a lot!), and spends most of his training and game day either internally or externally blaming his players for his own failings! Raise your hand if you’ve see this? It’s like a Cowboy entering a gun fight with one bullet in his “six shooter” and then screaming at the passersby for not shooting his enemy.
As I’ve mentioned before the older the age group the more rounded you need to be as a coach. So what then does a good coach at this level (14-19 and above) look like? What should our expectation be of a coach at this level?
The Good Coach
I’ll start by describing what good method looks like because it’s the easiest to see. From 14-15 technique is still the focus of development, however it should be being coached in a pressurized way with tactical objectives to it. What I mean is there should be almost no unopposed training, everything should have a defender that is fully able to defend or slightly limited at least. At older ages tactical understanding and team communication are the most important objective, as a result training's should have a clear tactical objective. Everything you do at training should speak into the team’s style of play on match day. I’ll get into style of play more under tactics.
In short if your coach, or kids coach, is making players run through cones, or run without a ball, or just allow them to play 11v11 (or however many end up at training) every training, HE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
Tactically he needs to understand that the game has four phases and he must coach all four phases to the players: attack (you have the ball), transition to defense (you team is losing the ball), defense (your opponent has the ball), and transition to attack (your team is winning the ball back). You should watch and see a clear intent on how the team is looking to play in all four phases, this doesn’t mean the team will always do it right but the intent should be there.
At a pro level there should be a high level of detail to accompany this. It is not simply good enough to see a team play counter attack football, but rather see a team consistently setting up these counter attacks with intentional defensive strategies, and not only in large groups of players. We should be able to see player X doing certain actions on a field repeatedly and intentionally, not just as a matter of their own natural tendencies.
In youth football an easy way to find out is to ask your child, around a quarter into the season how does coach want the team to play? If the answer is generic, like he wants us to attack fast or work hard in defense, either your child has not been paying attention or the coach isn’t coaching it.
Another simple way to see if tactics are being coached is by watching set pieces, if there is no clear plan it’s probably not being coached.
The coach should also be exposing the kids to a variety of broad tactics at this age (changing every 6-8 weeks, not every game), ie: counter attack, fast break attack, possession based football, pressing, low block (parking the bus) etc. This allows for full development of the player. By 18 this should not be the case and a focus on the style of play that works for the group is the right way to go.
If you sit and talk to the coach and all he can talk to you about is formations, without some detail about how it’s going to work in the four phases, HE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
The Rah-Rah coach isn’t going to cut it anymore! There now has to be an understanding of motivating on an individual level. Not every player will be inherently motivated to be there. Some will be more motivated by the social aspect of friends being there, some will be there to achieve, some will be there to be as good as they can be. It means the coach has a more personal 1-on-1 role to play. Coaches that are good methodologically and tactically will find it easier to motivate the all the players at this point. Getting players to be part of the process is now critical.
If you ask a player what he and the coach have discussed as the team and individual goals for the season and he says we don’t have, THE COACH IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
I’ve seen many players forced to train and overload their bodies to the point of injury through poor coaching, more specifically, poor management. It’s often the coach that says, “When I was this age I did xyz, and never complained” that is the culprit. His own lack of understanding that with better management he probably would have been even better leads to a cycle of under-developing, under-performing players.
A great coach is going to know when the best time of the year to load, mentally, physically and tactically is. He would plan the year accordingly and adjust weekly as he gets closer to the session. Great coaches are proactive in communicating about sessions, session plans, giving player’s time off and creating a culture that helps players and parents see the big picture that they are the center and master of their own career.
You should be able to ask a coach to see a session plan for the full week at the very least, if you can’t, HE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
All of what I’ve said is relevant for professional and non-professional programs alike. I see it far too often that the brand of the professional club or academy “sells” the idea that the coaching is good enough when most of the time it’s not better than non-academies.
So, go and watch your team play or your child train, create a check list of what we have posted in this post, and our previous ones in the series, and comment back to us on what you have seen. We would be really interested to hear the realities of your environment.