To Grow Where You’ve Been Planted, A look into identity and coaching philosophy

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

In soccer, the main aim is to outscore the opposition in order to win, by launching precise attacks while preventing attacks upon you. How we go about that lies in our own ability to solve for X. So solving for X requires for one to first fully understand and know what is X, the construction and deconstruction of the solution. Just like how 2+2=4, so too is 3+1=4, and 1+2+1=4. The equation may be different but the answer will always remain the same.

So the first and by far the most important step in coaching, is to find your “X”


It is important to note that most Tactics are born through certain types of environments, just like how evolution began. For as much as we look into international trends and standards, let us not forget where and who we are.

It is our job as coaches to filter through all the information that’s so easily accessible via social media, Google and other learning platforms, so as not to be caught up in trends that might not be suitable for our current environment.


It is important to ask ourselves the question “Why?” Why Press, why counter press, why the inverted full back, why the false 9, why the short corners, why reinforced defending, why the high line and why the short passes and why the 4 3 3? Is this suitable for our environment or league and the type of players we produce in our country and their level of technicality and tactical awareness?

We have to ask ourselves these questions in order to grow, not just as individuals but as nation. There’s no point in doing something just for the sake of doing it, as it serves no purpose.


Great Coaches, like Pep Guardiola have shown over the years the principle of adaptability in their approach to the game without losing their true identity. The players available to him and the manner, in which the opponent sets up against his teams, gave birth to most of these modern trends and concepts that we’re so quick to jump onto without fully understanding the principles behind them. Pep didn’t just fall and stumble upon success… He was molded by the likes of Johan Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard who themselves were influenced by “Total football “and its creators. This proves that history plays a major role in modern football.



Adaptability through identity

How can we strive for greatness without knowing the type of soil required to help fertilize and nourish the roots of our own identity? No great tree ever reached its full potential without first fully and deeply planting its roots. For instance, in our national teams, what key fundamental values do we base the selection of players? Does this filter all the way down to our junior teams? Or are we just simply putting a group of talented players together in the hope that they perform? Who is responsible for the development and growth of these individuals at the school level, club and national level? What tangible information is being absorbed by these players and where is the source of its origin? And can it be traced? “I don’t think so”.


Coaches influence players, players intern influence our leagues, and our leagues then influence our national teams. But the biggest question is: “Who influences our coaches and quench their undying thirst for more knowledge”?

I believe that the game is the best teacher, as it is forever evolving and so should we. It is our duty and responsibility, as coaches, to search deep into our culture, our players characteristics and profile, our footballing background and our leagues for constant patterns and norms that tend to present themselves time and time again, for us to truly unearth our own Tactical identity and approach into football as country, and a continent. It is only then that we can compete for international recognition and excellence.


Would we have had this iconic moment if Clive Barker had simply followed the European flavor at the time?

Yes it is important to keep pace with the direction that football is heading but we cannot risk skipping the stages of evolution just for the sake of mimicking international trend. Most European countries have a long history of trial and error and a head start to get to where they are. We are too far behind with our own development to get on board the European steam train. The first step to success lay within one recognizing their own shortcomings and setbacks.

In recognizing that, we must be wary of trying to revolutionize the game far ahead of our time. We need to build a solid foundation, with core values and fundamental principles in place, to govern our true identity, in order to pave the way for coaching concepts and tactics so as to not hinder our own progress, simply because we did not grow through the Process. Therefore the risk of failure is far greater than that of success. Let us use these international coaches and footballing standards as a benchmark to which we reference from and aspire too in our own journey of self-discovery.


It is without a doubt that the modern coach will have to be forward in his thinking and true to his methods in challenging the norms of how the game is perceived and played. He has to go through the whole process in order to eliminate any grey areas that might arise when riding somebody else’s wave. He must possess the ability to take one look at a complex situation and be able to break it down to its simplest form, both Tactically and Technically, without taking away its true nature.


I conclude by saying that even though the game is 11v11 the greatest advantage will and always favor the one who’s most likely better at 1v1 duels (qualitative superiority), While also having a group of players (quantitative superiority) that are completely comfortable with the ball at both feet and poses the ability to adapt to the constantly changing complex environment of football, with or without the ball, using the highest speed of thought (perception speed) and execution (action speed), but most importantly with the ability to make the right decision at the right time.



Contributor: Lunga Ngwane @coachlunga


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