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I was standing in my usual position on the sideline. Natural pose, watching a bunch of U8s working things out on the pitch. It had been a good morning so far. Lots of games all taking place at the same time as two Development Programmes met. The boys were rising to the challenge of playing a very talented visiting team and they seemed to be responding to a few of my ‘What ifs…..? and ‘What happens when…..?’ type questions. Quality was high, decision making on track even if execution was occasionally missing. Above all, 15 or so kids were involved in the game they love playing and learning as they go.
Our lead coach had been in conversation with a group of supporters between pitches before coming over to see how things were progressing.
‘Why don’t you shout?’ he asked, the smirk on his face showing he knew the answer. I played along.
‘Because I don’t really know what I’m doing.’
We watched the boys for a bit and the ball went out of play so I took the chance to encourage the stand-in Goalkeeper, letting him know that his effort so far had been terrific and we were all very pleased with him. This prompted a quiet laugh beside me and then I learned the details of the conversation with the supporters.
Parents and Grandparents had been asking why all of our coaches (five of us on the day) stood virtually silent on the side of the pitch, whilst our visitor’s coaches all seemed to be busy helping and supporting their players. Vocal, persistent and with really good, football related instructions. Animated and verbal, while we looked perhaps disengaged and uninterested to everybody other than our players.
As individuals and as a scheme, we believe in letting the player learn for themselves. Guide them rather than teach them. Listen to them rather than talk at them. Nurture them, challenge them and above all understand them. We let them play, encourage them to try things out and learn from the errors. We feed back when we can and listen to theirs because they often have the best ideas. However, once again, here I was being questioned and compared. I was amused and a little bit annoyed all at the same time. As often happens, when a coach is more vocal than you (and wearing a more recognisable badge) questions are asked if you are actually the right guy to be working with these kids, their potential in our hands, along with family aspirations.
Later, I thought about it some more. The Chimp was back under control (Thanks Dr. Peters) and I realised how as coaches, feedback to the parent is also vital. I realised that it might not have been a criticism directed at us. It was actually a really valid question for someone to ask when their kid is entrusted to us. We’re quick to grumble when supporters get their heads together around polystyrene cups and moan about us out of earshot. Here was somebody perhaps genuinely interested in the two very different methods on show. The question was indeed a very fair one. Fair play to the questioner and thanks for giving us an opportunity to explain.
So what is the issue with the vocal coach? I’ve been to some well-respected Academies and Pro club Development Centres and seen it happen. Does it make coaches like me right and them wrong? All I can do is look at it from the point of view we always must. The Player.
There’s plenty of science on offer. Research and studies show that when we learn a particular skill, practice and repetition will enhance that skill or movement. If we turn to our left, control with back foot and pass along the line, we learn that process. The more we do it, the better we get at it. Our player receives the ball from the Goalkeeper. If we TELL him to ‘turn’ and ‘Harvey’s up the line’ we help him on the spot. He executes the move, enhancing the skill and Harvey now has the ball. Great.
But what triggers that movement? Who made the DECISION? Coach or player? The research shows that it’s not just the skill itself that enhances with repetition. The process of DECISION MAKING and LEARNING FROM THE OUTCOME. Myelination is the process and is a product of trial and error learning. We couldn’t learn to walk without producing myelin to help preserve the memory and we couldn’t produce much without falling over a few times, learning by our successes and errors.
If we as coaches trigger the action, when will the learning process actually take place? We told them to do it so they’ll have little reference in their own brains to lock in the memory. Therefore, when they’re in the same position later, they’ll need the coach again, having learned little.
Also, when we’re desperate to get that ball up the line to the goal-bound but closely marked Harvey, what if our player actually had a better idea? What if he’s seen something we haven’t (probably learnt from some myelination in the playground when no adults area around). Whilst we marvel at the quick thinking Coutinho, Messi and Hazard, why on earth would we want to stunt that DECISION MAKING development at an early age? A good enough reason not to shout?
We’re all claiming to want to develop our kids. Coaches need to work together on this but in an invasion game of one team versus another, does it happen enough? Are we sometimes that desperate for a result and performance, whether it be for ego or shelter from criticism that we need to coach in the here and now, forsaking long term learning for short term instructed success? Why is it so frustrating to play against a ‘commentator’ coach?
For me, the problem is that the team we are learning against has an extra pair of eyes and ears on the pitch. Someone else, more experienced than the players themselves, making those all important decisions. Small helpful phrases like ‘Where’s the danger?’ nudge the player in the right direction but more detailed decision making, taken away from the player on the pitch, such as ‘Look behind you and pick up number seven’ are specifics. Doubtless it’s more effective in that moment and ‘help’ the player perform. However, with so much instruction, they are making them perform at a better level than they are currently at by driving them, controlling them and restricting their chances to make errors and learn. Fine, but the scales are tipped in the match. It’s no longer a 5v5 but 5v5+Coach. The game becomes one-sided for those that live in the here and now. The team I’m coaching, now outnumbered has more problems to solve, prompting that question.
‘Why don’t you shout?’
Genuinely, thanks for asking, Sir. I hope we’ve helped to answer it?
Thanks for reading
I’m no scientist so couldn’t begin to explain Myelination fully but Google will help!
If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.
I'm not a 'shouty' coach and, in my time with a team used to a previous coach who roared instructions and loudly pointed out errors in match=play and also in training, I was accused of 'not caring' whether the team won or not !!! Don't get me wrong, I will certainly input during the intervals but tend not to issue specific instructions during play as I agree with Rich and the research ... players get better when they are involved in the decision-making process and learn from the outcome, be that a success or otherwise. So if, as a coach, I'm continually issuing specific instructions to specific players in specific situations, making the decisions and (quite needlessly) pointing out errors, how will they know what to do, what decisions to make, in similar situations - especially when I'm not there?In my experience players who have not learned, or been allowed to learn, through games-based decision-making are often much-less confident in their acquired skills and own self. For me, it starts by ensuring the training environment is one where mistakes are allowed so learning can take place ... I hear myself use the word "explore" over and over at training sessions, empowering the players to make mistakes, reflect and discuss with their team mates ... and I'm available if they want to bounce some ideas around. Of course, until a player is confident with any new technical skill or tactical strategy, reverting to 'comfort zone' is inevitable, especially in the more pressured, competitive match situations and I have to recognise and be satisfied with that. However, there will come a time when the 'new' skill/strategy is mastered and consistently, contextually executed during pressured situations. That, to me, demonstrates learning and, importantly, understanding has taken place and the player is capable of making decisions about when or when not to use that skill or strategy in similar scenarios ... how happy am I then!?!
I guess my only question is when or at what age (of player) should a coach move from that nudging/passive matchdays style to a more vocal/helping 'in the moment' one?
Hi KiranThat's a good question that I'm currently searching the answer to.Check my latest blog which suggests I should have adapted coaching style for my u14 group.
Hi Rich,I can't find any blogs from you about this! Do you have the link?
Hi Kiran I think Rich is referring to his teenagers blog that was just published. You can find a list of his blogs here https://www.connectedcoaches.org/people/Clenchiecoach/blogsbut that specific one is here https://www.connectedcoaches.org/spaces/17/coaching-children-ages-5-12/blogs/general/6808/teenagers-why-i-should-have-been-readyCheersRob
I suspect in field sports things are slightly different and there can be more room for input by communicating instructions, but in my sport of athletics, I suspect many of the coaches shouting instructions are doing it to make themselves look knowledgable rather than directly helping the athlete. Just my opinion...
I agree wholeheartedly with Andy Poppleton. In my sports of swimming, running and triathlon the athletes can't really hear what the coach is saying anyway. If their performance depends on your instructions from the sidelines, you have done them a disservice. I reckon coaches shouting instructions are doing it to make themselves look good (as Andy said) or because they feel they have to be seen to do 'something' or they're bored and want to do 'something'. I also worry about coaches giving athletes detailed instructions at the start of a race. In most cases, I reckon it only makes them nervous. Exceptions would be if you have a particular athlete that likes that interaction, or you've just found out something that they need to know. By briefing them prior to the race, they become reliant on the coach - what happens if you can't get there one day?
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