Understand then Individualize: Player-coach relationships

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These last three weeks of our premier training has seen a lot of information exchanged. From myself, I have introduced to the players the game principles that underpin everything we do. Then from the players, they have given me small insights into their character through answers to questionnaires I designed.

The reason I decided to give the players a questionnaire was simply because I wanted to find out more about them as people. I know I would get to learn about them as players on the field over time; their selfishness, their intelligence, their fitness, their competitive nature etc. However what I really wanted to know was how they think day to day. What do they hold important? How do they value their time and priorities? How driven are they? What are they willing to do to succeed? How do they view themselves? Using a basic questionnaire with a mix of mostly opening questioning intertwined with some direct closed ones, I was able to get a general gauge as to what kind of characters I would be dealing with.

Introductory slide of the questionnaire
Introductory slide of the questionnaire

More often than not it was not actually the content of the answers that was providing me with the most insight, but the style in which the questions were answered. Players’ characters could all be seen in some form through the nature of their writing.

Fortunately I had already had some interaction with the players at various levels before our season had officially got underway and therefore a chance to form a first impression. It was therefore pleasing for me to see some of my initial judgments confirmed through the clarity and honesty of their answers.

The questions were answered by all players with varying length with some choosing to write no more than 1-2 sentences while the occasional player chose to provide more detail. However regardless of whether the answer was a short paragraph or a small sentence there was still some telling insight to take away relating specifically to the player. In all of the questionnaires, words were repeated in their answers for more than one question showing a consistent thought pattern.

Examples of such words were ‘honesty’, ‘confidence’, ‘want’, ‘improve’, ‘myself’, ‘I’, ‘better’, ‘right’, ‘correct’.

Across the questionnaires in that the vast majority of the players’ answers all contained at some point a level of vulnerability and an underlying desire to not fail. This failure was mostly described in examples of giving away possession and therefore ‘letting teammates down’. Even for the more confident and extroverted players in the groups this was noted giving a very consistent pattern. This certainly did surprise me.

So what will I do now I know that I have this information?

Well I can now be more mindful of the things I say to certain individuals and the way in which I say them. I know that some players will need positive reinforcement more so than others, whereas others will need more of a constructive critique to keep them engaged and therefore on their developmental path.

But why is this so important?

Communicating to the players in their appropriate individual styles collectively can keep everyone working hard towards their own individual needs and targets. Developing within a structure inclusive of targets is not only highly motivating but it also allows for objectivity in order to best pinpoint areas of improvement.

In order to get this ideal position of being able to best drive our players through the communication we have with them we must attempt to better know our players mindsets and their motivations. Coaches need to take a willingness to ask introspective questions of their players in order to get them to begin thinking about what it is the player best responds to. Asking these perhaps somewhat unfamiliar and deeper questions relating to the self will also show the players that the coach cares just as much as the player themselves about their development. If the coach can then tailor their approach to the individual, trusting coach-player relationships can begin to form.


Then if this effect is optimized across the team,  we should begin to see a set of motivated, determined and committed players all striving along their individual paths of development. Yet all of whom will be bonded by their common team culture, governed by their own rules and led by their goals. But that is how it should look on paper if players and coach all make the most of such an idea.

Beginning with the questionnaire was a start as it gave me some initial insight into their character. Analyzing the answers then showed me some consistencies in their thinking. Now to evaluate how best to channel my communications with the individuals in line with their responses. Once these tailored dialogues begin, feedback from the player (both direct and indirect) will then allow me to continue along the cyclical process of forming a better understanding of the players.

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