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This has been written in response to questions I, and colleagues are often asked about how to develop a club philosophy. There are some excellent examples of how a philosophy can be developed and delivered across grassroots football, none more so than that of Longfleet YFC (@LongfleetYFC), which you may be able to apply to your sport. Graham Parkes, whom I employed as an FA Coach Mentor in Dorset was responsible for coordinating the process of developing the philosophy and in a recent meeting he explained how he receives several requests for copies of the philosophy each week. We discussed how the document was produced to suit the specific nature of their club (Longfleet YFC) and that simply applying it in another club would be of little benefit to coaches and players respectively. We agreed that there was a need to develop a framework that clubs could use to develop their own philosophy, something unique to their club that would serve to enhance the development of coaches and players alike. This framework is presented below but first it’s important to consider what a philosophy is. Simply put a philosophy is a way of thinking about something, a group of ideas that act to guide how we behave, in this case as coaches. The benefit of developing a club philosophy lies in providing an identity for your club, and a consistent approach across your club to make sure the key messages are the same throughout all age groups.
Consulting with parents
A philosophy should represent the thoughts of the people involved in its delivery. In order for any plan to be delivered effectively and supported by the key people within the club it must represent everyone. Grassroots coaches across all age group report parents as being the biggest challenge preventing them from effectively fulfilling their role. Parents questioning the coach’s decisions, and coaching from the side are among the most popular responses received.
Parents are arguably the most important influencers in their child’s development. Coaches should involve them in the process rather than assume they know the purpose and vision of the coach. Involving the parents in the development of a philosophy is crucial for many reasons. Make them feel valued by giving them a voice and allowing them an input into what their child will learn. After all, parents spend every day with their child and know them individually better than us coaches. We can gain an important insight into their child and how they learn if we just ask. Consulting with parents can be done in various ways including workshops, feedback questionnaires, and informal discussions.
Consulting with players
As coaches how many times have we delivered sessions that we want in a way that suits our delivery? Ask yourself that question, I did. My response taught me that I deliver some good sessions, some not so good, and many that I don’t even know whether the players have truly been motivated to learn. Why? Because I hadn’t asked them why they played football, what they hoped to achieve from the game, or what they wanted to learn form my sessions.
The FA youth modules first alerted me to the need to challenge my own approach, and this need was substantially strengthened when conducting research for the first study of my PhD where I interviewed a range of key stakeholders in grassroots football. The overwhelming expectation of grassroots football coaching reported by players was to allow them to develop social skills. Yes that’s right social skills not football skills. In fact less than a third of the players’ main expectation was to develop football skills. Quite staggering to some maybe, and I’m not suggesting this is true of all young players in all clubs. However, other research such as that conducted as part of the Youth Development Review revealed similar findings. I therefore urge you to ask your players and find out: why they come to your sessions, and what they’d like to achieve/learn. They may very well support other research in grassroots football.
Consulting with coaches
Coaches play a significant role in developing young people. Everyone remembers their youth football coach, quite often more for what they taught you about life and being a good person than about football. This is certainly true of mine who taught me the true value of hard work, being determined and committed to everything, and respecting everybody equally.
It’s vital that the coaches at your club believe in and are passionate about what they are delivering if the philosophy is going to be effective. Giving all coaches the opportunity to contribute to the development of the philosophy is crucial. It’s easy to assume the best person for writing a philosophy is the most qualified or knowledgeable coach. Whilst they will no doubt create something spectacular it will reflect their values and beliefs and not all coaches.
What do your coaches stand for?
Find out what your coaches value. Our values are things we deem important and can include things like equality, honesty, effort, perseverance, loyalty, education…. Why are these important – because they are very much individual and every decision we make is based on our values.
What are your coaches’ beliefs? Our beliefs are assumptions we make about the world. They grow from what we see, hear, experience, read and think about. They determine not only how we see ourselves but also how we see other people.
The clearer each coach is about their values and beliefs, the more effective they can be.
Once you’ve gained input from parents, players, and coaches it’s important that you find the common ground between them all. The easiest way is to pick out the key things that represent each group (parents, players, coaches) before bringing them together to identify the things they agree on. These then become your core values and beliefs that provide your club with an identity. That is, a mission statement, as a club we believe in ………….. and strive to ……………
Consulting with others
The power of social media allows people to connect easily. This makes it easy to consult with thousands of experienced coaches, teachers, and educators to gain a wide array of perspectives that can support, and influence your thoughts. It also provides a fantastic resource for acquiring good practice resources and templates.
Developing a programme/curriculum/syllabus
The next stage in the process is to develop a programme that allows you to promote your values, beliefs and live your mission statement. This is important as it demonstrates your commitment, ‘walking the walk’ if you like. There are some excellent resources that will help you to do this. The FA’s Future Game document is a great start point. It’s important to stress the importance again of compiling sessions that do what you need them to do, and that allow you to deliver them in a way that enhances your players learning. Simply copying sessions from any document or from watching another coach does not ensure a great session. Make sessions your own.
Think about giving players what they want and need, creating opportunities for them to make lots of decisions, allowing them freedom to experiment and be creative, and ensuring lots of time active in the session. Much is reported in media about the England ‘DNA’ launched this weekend, being active in the session was emphasised where for 70% of the session the ball should be rolling. This provides a great start point for structuring sessions. Coaching in this way is not easy and we could be forgiven for thinking that our role is to allow them to play. Whilst this is somewhat true, as coaches our role is to unobtrusively facilitate learning. This doesn’t mean simply allowing the children to play but providing challenges and finding ways to intervene with the relevant players without stopping the session – not all players need to hear every instruction, challenge, or question. Be specific over who needs what – your consultations will help you with this.
Drawing upon the expertise of a range of coaches is immensely beneficial for developing practices – again the important part is ensuring the sessions reflect your needs as a club. It’s also important not to underestimate the experience of the people involved in the club who will all no doubt have a bank of session to contribute.
Share, share, share
Once the philosophy is developed share it with everybody at the club. You may wish to present it in meetings or provide handouts. Consider writing a one page summary rather than handing out full copies of the philosophy – few people will sit down and read multiple pages. A summary will also allow you to produce posters and other material that can be displayed and serve to inform, reinforce, and remind of the key messages.
Live it, challenge, and reflect
There is little point spending considerable time producing a fantastic philosophy if it becomes a document that nobody uses. It’s important that coaches in particular are prepared to follow through their intentions, delivering sessions and behaving in a way that promotes the values and beliefs that shaped it’s existence in the first place. We should be prepared to challenge each other to ensure we all strive to ‘live it’. I appreciate this isn’t easy to do, particularly when working with volunteers. The success of many clubs in grassroots football demonstrates that this can be done though.
Once developed its also important to reflect religiously on it’s effectiveness and seek ways to continue to improve. The easy way would be to think the hard work has been done. The world continues to evolve, and so will the demands and challenges faced by young people. We as coaches need to ensure that we continue to develop players as people. As new players join the club, expectations may change. How do we continue to service their needs?
In summary, ask yourselves: Why do we want to develop a philosophy? What will it allow you to achieve? How committed are you to living it? Don’t fall into the trap of writing something that only reflects your thoughts: this is a coach philosophy and whilst it will no doubt be very useful for you as a coach, it will likely do very little to motivate and engage other coaches at your club. A philosophy takes time to develop and should continually evolve, take the time to consult with as many people as possible. This is a long-term investment not a short-term fix, avoid the temptation of taking another philosophy and simply changing the name and badge – it won’t meet the needs of your club, coaches, and most importantly your players.
If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.
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