This post is a continuation of my reflections from my last post at this halfway point of my first year. This time I want to specifically look at the mistakes I’ve made in my few months since being here working with my premier teams. What these issues have grown out of and the lessons I have now taken following my dealings with them at the time.
Captaincy is a sensitive issue, but much more than needs be. I think being captain is important. Especially in these developmental years that I am working within. These years are the time to select a fixed captain and develop them into the leader of the group. Having the responsibility of leading your team is an honor and requires a brave mentality on and off the ball as well as a physical presence, a tactical understanding and a varied technical arsenal. These requirements though are often not quite grasped by all stakeholders. With the aforementioned factors, only a small number of players in a team are realistic captain candidates. My decision to choose the initial candidates was something that perhaps ruffled some feathers, far more than I had expected. From here the plan was to speak to the remaining players and hear their thoughts on the most suitable candidate.
What I have learnt is that this can lead to a popularity contest and the forming of cliques (and not to stereotype but this can especially get out of control with teenage girls!). If I had my time again, I would just carefully watch the players over time and make my own decision. Having the players input was a thoughtful idea but the perceived benefits are just an illusion. This is one area to keep out of the players hands.
No matter the age, players need to be coached the technical and tactical basics. I’ve worked with several different age groups here now in the States and the latter age groups of those playing at ‘premier level’ are still both technically and especially tactically below what you find at their equivalent level in the UK. Now this of course is a generalization and there will be that smart, two footed flexible player on the more competitive premier teams. However these players are in short supply. Players simply do not consume the game in the way that the generation that I grew up with did. These players are learning through play and have had their entry years shaped by well meaning but ineffective coaches when it comes to teaching of the technical and tactical details. They do not know the nuances of the game and each position but why would they, there was no one around to tell them. These players for the most part have then developed with excellent physical attributes for example but under developed with the essential technical and tactical foundations.
What I have learnt therefore is to always include a high technical element in all my sessions mostly at a variable level (so not block or constant practice e.g. taking the same shot repetitively). Regardless of their age, their ability demands it.
Outlining what I’ll do early off my own accord was great but I also need to plan ahead as to when certain ideas will be ready by. Before the season had officially started, I decided to put together my most viable and effective ideas in a powerpoint and share it with my teams. The idea was to add some value to our processes and to provide myself with some increased responsibility for the teams’ development over the season. What I found was quite rightly, it was only myself that was responsible for getting these ideas off the ground. With them being all supplementary players or parents were not coming to me and saying when are we starting this idea or that, no matter how exciting I found them! Instead, it was down to me to plan and then create in advance the things we needed to get these ideas into practice. I am still not there yet with everything but I soon will be.
The lesson here is that if I have an idea I need to also place a timeline as to when I think it’ll be ready to launch. Communicate this out and then this increases the level of accountability I have for myself for getting it done.
Not everyone can be pleased. Remember who the decision should benefit and make sure you have reasons. I’ve experienced some disgruntled parents and I know this was going to happen. I also know that I am not alone. The thing I’ve learnt to understand though is that not everyone is looking at the same things the same way. People have different viewpoints for their own reasons of course and have different interpretations of the facts. I then need to accept that they will come to different conclusions and be ready to listen to these. I say listen and not simply ‘hear’ because all views need to be respected and understood for what they are but ultimately the sporting decisions are made by the head coach as guided by the rules set by the organization. Sometimes people come from an overly emotional frame whereas other times their sentiments have good reason. Either way, as long as I as the coach base my decisions on what’s best for the overall long term development of the team as my main reason, I can always feel rest assured in what I am doing. So far that has been the case and will continue to be so.
What I’ve learnt is to accept everything I do won’t be appreciated or accepted by all as I wish. Rumblings will always be there so be ready to confront these at the earliest stage with the correct information and reasoning behind the decisions in question. But perhaps most important of all I must stay emotionally neutral when faced with these potentially highly charged situations.
Respect and popularity are different things. This has something I have always understood fairly well thanks to the fictional office managers in the form of David Brent and Michael Scott in the office sitcoms. They have always gone so far in search of validation from their employees that they have completely lost all respect and in fact have gained unwanted pity. What I have been increasingly mindful of though as the weeks have gone by is to maintain a distinction between being one of the group and being the manager of the group. I understand the need to be both and also the fact that both roles are very different. Going too deeply into one of the roles is sabotaging on either end to the work that is trying to be done long term. I would say that now the players have had enough time to get to know both one another and myself the coach on a personal level, the time to increase the professionalism is now.
What I have learnt is that there is a fine balance to be struck in order to get players to perform willingly. Showing a sense of humor, humanism, and vulnerability at times is acceptable and definitely has its place. But it must always be balanced out with firmness, authority and certainty in the long term to maintain the level of respect that is needed to manage a group of players.