Do players raise their level because they " want " to play for the coach

It is my opinion that every coach should be willing to learn from others, develop personally and professionally and ask questions to expand their knowledge and experience of the game of soccer. This can only have a beneficial effect on their players in a fully holistic way.

As a professional coach, I am effectively, delivering a service and I endeavor to be the best I can to encourage team development. I personally enjoy observing other people working with their teams as it presents a valuable learning tool. I regularly see " what not to do" or I may re-use a technique and put my own interpretation on it. I continually reflect on my performance, that of my players and ask questions about all aspects of the sport -from whoever is willing to listen. I hope you will find my discussion informative and

thought - provoking in that you may relate what I am saying to your own experience. I have often heard the statement "players raise their levels for a coach they WANT to play for " and comments like " that coach gets an extra ten percent from those players".

In my years as a full time professional coach I have worked with colleagues of various abilities and qualities and I question why a team appears to want to play for one coach rather than another. Why does one person appear to have greater impact or be more inspirational to the participants? What makes a player extend their work rate and desire to excel; how does this coach influence the performance level.

As a professional, I am accountable to my players and I fully acknowledge that my team is MY best asset. However, it is a two - way relationship between coach and team and we have a shared purpose - to achieve optimum performance.

When I reflect on my own abilities and potential, I am confident that I do encourage my team to play beyond expectation and raise individual performance levels. However, I do question whether it is because I have been educated in all aspects of the game and have acquired the knowledge and skills to deliver the information to my players or simply due to my individual personality. I am an enthusiast and general lover of the beautiful game and I am certainly privileged to be able to nourish my players' enthusiasm and desire to play.

I feel that the coach's role encompasses many aspects - educator, leader, role model, supervisor, assessor, mentor, support, friend and confidante - to name a few.

Arsene Wenger, former manager of Arsenal F.C., said "You must love the game and want to share with the players a certain way of life, a way of seeing football."

Sharing that way of "seeing football" with your players will be through the use of your coaching characteristics or specific coaching style. Personal characteristics of a specific coach can be either beneficial or detrimental to their team. It is imperative that a coach's attitude is not damaging in any way. My opinion is that a successful coach is motivational and inspirational to his/her players. It is important to be realistic, to allow players to make mistakes - and learn from them. Encouraging confidence in each individual, raising self esteem and belief are key to getting "that little extra" from your players.

Growing up playing soccer in Ireland and England, the majority of my coaches employed "traditional methods" referred to as coach - centered style where they commanded the players to play in the style they wanted, using techniques they dictated. The relationship with the team was one - sided. The unfortunate thing is that this is still widely replicated by many coaches in today's game

Nowadays the coaching governing bodies (USSF & NSCAA) are trying to educate coaches to make proper use of Freeze, Individual Coaching, Running Commentary and Natural Stoppages. This is better known as the coaches 'tool box'. Since moving here to the US using my toolbox is something I have practiced in every single session. By doing this in coaching you are allowing players to make decisions for themselves and develop initiative using "guided discovery" in a player - centered training environment. "The players gradually become capable of holistic thinking in their soccer performance." ( US Youth Soccer Player Development Model)

Player- centered practices encourage individuals to become decision makers, work out their own strategy, identify solutions and reflect on their game. Player centered coaching places high priority on the overall development of the player. Feeling free, enjoying the learning environment and loving the game becomes a regular occurrence when players participate in the session knowing it is about THEM and no - one else. This creates a feeling of reassurance coming to practice or entering a game. It encourages confidence and positivity. If someone makes an error they are allowed to correct it without embarrassment or pressure. A coach can destroy self esteem and bring a youth player down simply by reproaching loudly. I agree with Carlos Parreira, former coach Brazil National Team: "A winner in life, not just in football, learns from a defeat and comes back stronger."

An example of a "mistake" I saw in an U10 girl's soccer game last year occurred when the coach was encouraging his team to utilize the goalkeeper if they needed a passing option and were unable to play forward. The central defender was facing her own goal and the keeper called for the ball. As the defender played a soft pass to the keeper it was intercepted by the striker who scored. Immediately the parents on the sidelines gave a loud groan of disappointment. Coach called loudly to the player "Don't worry about that. Your tactical thought was correct. You looked up, identified the pass and played it. What would you have changed to complete the pass the next time?" She replied "I could have played the pass a little harder to make sure it got there." Coach gave a thumbs up, shouting "Keep up the good work!"

The player understood that she played a pass without enough weight behind it to allow the ball to reach the goalkeeper; she demonstrated to Coach (and the judgemental spectators) her understanding of correction. As the match continued, whilst under pressure from the opposition, she played two more successful passes to her keeper, allowing her team to maintain possession of the ball. Success!!

This is one example of how guiding players into discovery and offering positive feedback encourages confidence, motivation and raises self belief.

I am certain that you readers can recollect an occasion where you or one of your teammates made a mistake. Was the reaction to this positive or negative? Each has a knock on effect. Focusing on negativity is damaging to a person's confidence and self esteem. It is all too easy to destroy this. It is more effective not to ridicule but to encourage. In order to command respect a coach must treat each player respectfully.

For me to say that I am passionate about soccer is an understatement. As a devoted Liverpool supporter I have spent most of my life viewing Alex Ferguson as the leader of the enemy (Manchester United). However, I can only acknowledge his success as a manager, his nurturing of brilliant, talented young sportsmen to compete and succeed to the highest level.

"The drive, the hunger, the passion must be inside you, because players need to recognize that you care."

(Sir Alex Ferguson)

Have you ever listened to someone speak about something and their words had such an impact they made you feel ten feet tall? A successful coach can have this effect on their players by using positive reinforcement. There is an often -used phrase in the soccer world - "Some players need the arm around the shoulder and told they can do it."

That was me! I have never responded well to teachers or coaches who reprimanded me for not doing something "their way." For me, accepting criticism is difficult when it is given directly without constructive feedback. When criticism was delivered in a positive "sandwich" I always felt I could improve my performance. To be told "You are working hard and making intelligent decisions but as your first touch needs to break the pressure to retain possession. However, I love the work rate to win back possession," is recognition of the effort I made and a confidence booster. Now I can feel good about the things I am doing well with the confidence to correct the things I have to work on.

From personal experience, when players feel good about themselves, they will WANT to remain involved in the sport as long as they can. The more you enjoy something, the more you WANT to do it and the more you participate the better you get.

I love soccer because of the excitement involved; the rewards for all the commitment, hard work, dedication to training and preparation for the game; the social side to sharing the game with friends; that feeling of success after winning a "header" or scoring a goal. Whatever the reason, once you have found the love for the game, you will never lose it. I could talk forever, travel down many avenues. There are many different ingredients that make a coach that a team wants to excel for. Since moving to US I have developed further both personally and professionally. My effort and hard work has been loyally reciprocated by the players that I work with. My success is a manifestation of many things. I have developed great partnership with my teams and am proud of their individual development, comradeship and growth as a team. They are continually raising the level beyond expectation. Success for me today would be that one person reading this will think of a way to elevate their own coaching skills that will encourage their players to want to play for them.

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