Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Coaching Adventure Part 1: my view from the dugout

I agree with the viewpoint that football is about decision making. And junior football is about learning to make and accept others' decisions.

I believe that football can be used to teach young people about their ability and constrained rights to make decisions (ie constrained by the ref, the rules and the other 21 players). It also teaches that you must live with the consequences of your own and other peoples' decisions, and that life should not be expected to be fair. But that you should play football, and life, as if to play fair is to win.

Therefore my coaching fundamentals have been to:
  1. tell children what to do only when necessary (and discourage parents from playing this role - that's for home and school)
  2. find the leaders (positive kids who play well for their division and age, but always play fairly)
  3. encourage the leaders to play fairly, ask them lots of questions about what they think is happening at training and on the field, and encourage them to prompt me about what to do next
  4. get the leaders to positively influence the play of other players
  5. discourage the whole team from making negative comments about their team mates or about the opposition
  6. encourage the team to call for the ball and talk to each other
  7. work with the leaders, particularly the team captain, to develop drills that address skill weaknesses
I think football is about adding to young people's life experience so that they have more positives to draw on as they meet life's experiences. It is also about showing children, particularly boys, that there is something more interesting and important than computer games.

It appears that for many junior teams and some parents, children playing football is about either making sure the socceroos have enough Harry Kewells in the future, and, or winning by as many goals as possible. In my experience many officials are about the former and stress drills and physical development, and coaches are about the latter and therefore work towards short term results. These short term results are achieved (or not achieved) by shouting at the young players. This, at the least, passively encourages rough house play and, at its worst, ensures that teams are positioned in divisions below their ability. For an example, I watched an under 11 division 5 team win 13-0 and its parents celebrate a 'cricket score'.

For me, the physical activity of football is a great way to encourage young people to think. Still I can't understand the coaches that lecture kids for hours. I prefer to do this quitely, one-on-one with the ball at their feet.


Hamish said...

Thanks John. I hope we here more about your coaching adventures. Coaching is a unique, and sometimes lonely, challenge.

I'm going to throw in two things.

First, I don't think we should be afraid of the objective of winning, firstly because it can be used to feed all sorts of other objectives, like building skills and developing cooperation and camaraderie, and secondly, because the kids instinctively relate to it. I don't think 12 year olds are ideologically developed enough to not value winning for itself, even if they ever should be.

For me it gets more interesting when we see that the objective of winning the competition sometimes can override the objective of winning every game. I find the former objective is a great way to get the kids to embrace trying new positions, taking risks (like passing from the back, or even backward to keep possession), and giving all the kids an equal go on the field. The first two thirds of the season is essentially the build up, and an elaborate training exercise, for the final round and the finals when, in our case, we will be getting more serious.

The second thing is about parents. It has been pointed out elsewhere that a problem in Australia with junior football is that the parents don't necessarilly understand the game, so will often give intuitive advice, perhaps influenced by indiginous Australian sports, which is just wrong. It's a point well made, but what's the solution?

My own view is that the parents will banter and encourage the kids in their own way regardless of what the coach says. They're the kids' parents after all, so to try to struggle against that force is pretty pointless. The alternative to trying to get the parents to butt-out is to try to educate the parents, bit by bit.

I send all parents (and some kids are on the list as well) a weekly email detailing training and game details, as well as organising linesman and fruit-bringing volunteers. But I add notes about what we're trying to teach the kids and advice on the sort of things we'd like to encourage. Last week I just asked them to not tell Johnnie, "score goals" or "let's see some big kicks" but to keep to position and maintain possession by passing. I got really good feedback and I know some of the parents took it on board.

It certainly expands the role of the coach, and it is unique to junior football, but there it is to think about. It may be a better approach.

john said...

Thanks Hamish
I agree with your throw-ins.
I admit that I want the team to win. While I want the Roar to play exciting football and win, I coach the team to play a results based game that is relatively defensive. I find the tactical battle that I have with the opposing coach absorbing. I have always played an the intuitive game, and football is my indigenous sport. Across the 29 year divide since I played a serious game, I added two years of obsessive study of the A-League, the world cup, plus some Spanish and EPL. But perhaps the biggest influence on my thinking is reading our community's blogs on game strategy. This I think is a substantial competitive advantage. (more on this later? 4-4-2 when every youth wants to play striker, building up from the back (when everyone wants to plow forward), playing wide on the wings (when everyone wants to go up the middle), and even the much maligned (my me) long ball game).

Like your ideas on parents. I have thought along similar lines. But fear I don't have your communication skills to pull it off effectively.

wayne said...

Camus said "All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football" (which is rich yet telling coming from an existentialist), and while winning and losing is an unavoidable part of that equation, I believe what you two are advocating is in part a form of sophistication to those proceedings, which if taken on board broadens both the playing style of the game, and the spirit in which it is played. That's the general idea, right? If not, why not just go and play thugby, and learn that big is best?