Irish Grassroots Football

The Coach

Coaches have so many different styles and personas, but one thing is for sure they all start out with the right intentions. So what sets the very best apart from the rest?

About Life

The very best coaches are life coaches, they teach the player much more than the tactical and technical aspects of a game, they prepare the athlete for life by sharing wisdom and insight based on experience. They will look to build a players confidence and trust in a though provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal, technical and tactical potential. Coaches help players improve their performances.

They will always have the best interests of the players at heart, they will never do it for their own benefit and generally the best coaches have only one interest, to develop each player individually and collectively, build a great team. One thing is for sure, if a player reaches the very top it was through his own efforts and desire, with the guidance and help from a coach or two along the way. Coaching alone will not lead him/her to success. Commitment, the will to work hard and always striving to do their best and improve at least 1% every time they train, is where the real success comes from, the 6 inches between a players ears is how you work on it..

They key to being successful as a coach is always be willing to learn.

“As a coach you are responsible for the process, the player is responsible for the results, which are a matter of the players intentions, choices and actions supported by the coaches efforts and applications of the coaching process”.

What makes a good Coach?

Firstly, a good coach must be willing to learn and to learn you need to be willing to develop. Developing your coaching knowledge comes from being involved, practicing your methods and having the desire to go and attend courses (contact you local governing body), – opening up your mind by reading and studying different methods. You must be willing to evolve, listen and learn from others and the players you coach. A good coach understands that different people have different learning patterns and doesn’t stick to one forceful method to draw out a person’s talent just because that worked before. Players don’t need to feel nervous and put down at the same time, you should have just as much heart as his players. The way you communicate is also so important, players learn by doing not by watching you do. So make sure your message is short and always demonstrate the task, use your players but don’t always pick the same one. Try not to step in too often, let the game be the teacher. You can learn a lot from just observing.

“It’s not experience that makes a coach great (although it does help); it’s the quality of their coaching,”

I think it’s important to know the reasons why kids take up a sport. Many studies have asked the questions and the answers never seem to change:

  • To have fun and play;
  • To be with their friends;
  • To learn about the sport & improve their game related skills;
  • To compete;
  • To work on their fitness;
  • To do something I’m good at.

A good coach supports, rewards, teaches, and makes a sport fun.

Surprise; “winning” didn’t even make the top ten reasons. Study after study comes up with the same #1 result. Kids play sports for the fun of it. And not having fun is one of the major reasons 70 percent of kids quit playing sports by the time they’re 13. Most often it’s parents and coaches who want to win. Kids hardly care. For them, winning is just icing on the cake. They’re focused on simpler things. Most kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning one. That doesn’t mean that kids don’t value winning, just that they prefer playing. If you want your players enjoying sports, all you have to do is make sure they are having fun.

When it comes to looking at the reasons why children stop playing, it’s all of those in reverse.

“Traditional coaching had been entirely teacher-directed and largely technique-orientated, whilst today emphasis is directed on tactical problem solving through games play”Lynne Spackmann

I always tell my players to never give up and always do the best you can do, train with 100% commitment, with focus and the conscious mind.

Build from the roots

Alex Ferguson was a leader, when he arrived at Manchester United he had a vision, he had values and beliefs. He new how important it was to build from the ground. He put all his efforts on getting the best kids and working to develop the ones he already had. Starting with the foundations was key to his success.

Sir Alex Ferguson: From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.

When I arrived, only one player on the first team was under 24. Can you imagine that, for a club like Manchester United? I knew that a focus on youth would fit the club’s history, and my earlier coaching experience told me that winning with young players could be done and that I was good at working with them. So I had the confidence and conviction that if United was going to mean anything again, rebuilding the youth structure was crucial. You could say it was brave, but fortune favours the brave.

Write down your Values

Let’s face it. You can’t teach your players all the hundreds of life lessons there are to teach. But if you FOCUS on a small set of core values every day in your training, you can have a tremendous positive effect on your players. Your values will remind you who you are. Share them with your players. It’s important that an organisation also has its own values. Write them down and make sure you stick to them.

“The goal of the staff at La Masia is to provide young kids with an education that goes far beyond football tactics and technique; it makes them good people, with strong values.” FCB

When JOHN WOODEN, the great coach at UCLA finished 2nd year, his father gave him a card entitled, 7 Suggestions to follow, they were:

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Help others.
  • Make each day your masterpiece.
  • Drink deeply from good books, especially the Good Book.
  • Make friendship a fine art.
  • Build a shelter for a rainy day.
  • Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings each day.

Wooden kept a copy of the card in his pocket the rest of his life and used these philosophies in coaching. I suggest you do the same and keep your values with you all the time. Another important task is to set down your rules early in relation to training and playing. A rule I use is, if you don’t train then you don’t start the game but you will always play. Players will respect you more if you stick to the rules and beliefs you have.

“A coach shouldn’t be too easy with the ‘it’s just a game, go have fun’ stuff. He should train the team hard — but be able to encourage, motivate and direct without shouting.”

Don’t leave commitments in your brain. Write them on paper. This does two things. First, it creates clarity by defining in specific terms what your value means. Second, it keeps you committed since it is easy to dismiss a thought, but harder to dismiss a value printed in front of you.

Develop a style of Play

When winning is all that matters, the smaller creative kids don’t get much of a look in. Usually the bigger, early developers get more football with suits a more direct style of play. Develop a style that suits every player big, small whatever. A good coach will have 15/16 players (11 aside) no more and each player will be working hard to get a place in the team. Don’t be like so many where these unfortunate 5 substitutes will get very little game time during the year, players learn best by playing not watching.

Don’t be focused on results, coaches become more concerned with results than the style of football played or the natural expression of creativity and skill by the young players. “Kick and rush” and the “long ball” win out in the end. The constructive possession-based football that we have all come to admire in Spain cannot flourish in such a climate.

Most importantly be fair to your players focus on development of the player and stick to the plan, they will reap the benefits in later years.

“A good coach isn’t obsessed with winning but will motivate you and your team to want to win.”

Prepare your sessions and make them FUN!

Firstly, be on time (start on time) allows you time to prepare and sends out a message that you like punctuality. It’s important you prepare your sessions and work on at least one game related exercise per session and do it well. If you’re coaching younger the kids, the more variety the better. Make sure you include the ball with everything you do. Kids love being on the ball and they love showing off, so give them an opportunity to show you what they can do and always finish with a game.

I’m forever complaining about the lack of dribbling skills Irish players have and despite everything we teach them. The biggest factor is that players are not given the freedom to express themselves through dribbling. In our anxiety to rush the adult passing game, we restrict the players’ individual freedom and in later years we end up with players who cannot beat a man or use their skills to devastating effect in attack. In every part of the pitch there are opportunities for players to go 1v1 or 2v1, in these situations players should be confident enough to take risks and dribbling must be encouraged. Always re-visit what you worked on and ask the players questions.

“When it comes to development programs, what we are really talking about is creating an environment within which gifted players have the best opportunity to flourish.”

Whats the rush

Playing in leagues at very young ages means that we don’t actually encourage coaching at all, we create managers, who specialise in winning tactics and not in developing players. we focus on the winning and teaching the kids to play. What’s the rush, let the kids develop in age specific and related exercises. Some progressive organisations have already made great strides by introducing less-competitive structures and small-sided games. This will go a long way towards creating a healthy environment where young talent excels. Coaches who play favourites every week are definitely high on the lists of “what not to do” in coaching. A good coach is “one who does not recruit a load of new players each season just because of their skills but takes the ones he has and works with them to improve.”

“A good coach understands that respect is to be earned and understands that they do not control the team, they are part of the team,”

Always be in control

Horst Wein stated, “Parents and coaches shouting from the sidelines is very unhelpful to young players for so many reasons. Firstly, they often cannot actually hear what is being said, and often it is confusing when there is more than one voice to listen to. Secondly, none of us responds well to orders, and thirdly, it puts the players off their game. This culture of over-coaching and too much “input” from the sidelines actually thwarts the decision-making ability of young players, which is a very important part of their development if they are to make it to the higher levels of the game. Be in control of the sideline and most importantly, let the parents know, that the only one who should be directing is the coaching staff and even at that, we want minimal instruction. This is their time to show you want they have learnt in training.” Don’t let that parent who thinks he knows it all, control your line and/or control the decisions of a referee. If he is so keen bark his orders maybe ask him would he like to take over a team at the club. All too often commanding parents are ruining the game for everyone involved.

“Good coaches have the ability to tell you what needs improving, without making you feel bad.”

Observe the game

A good way to take you voice out of the action is to observe and take some notes. As Paul Swenson rightly put it, “The one thing that best summed up what separated the best coaches from the rest, was their highly developed skill of observation. These coaches had learned to critically observe their teams and players play, and then put their observations through an objective analysis that would help them identify strengths and weaknesses, that would enable them to more efficiently guide their players to become better. During games these coaches do not obsess about whether or not their team will win. They are calm and relaxed, carefully observing what their players and team are doing. To be effective at this it is necessary that they write their observations down. And it is amazing, that through this practice of observing and taking notes, that a soccer coaching intellect begins to develop, and a clear picture of where their team is really at begins to form.

Through observation, a practiced skill, coaches are able to set targeted training goals, and through more observation, measure “tangible” progress.”

It was said in a recent interview with Alex Ferguson,  “Early in his career, he delegated managing practices to assistant coaches so he could simply watch and observe what was going on with each individual player. He said, “I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing.”

Quite often we, as coaches, hinder the player’s development rather than aid it. The term “over-coaching” has often been used about this effect.

“If the enjoyment of the game is taken away by adults who rant and rave on the touchline and the grassroots game becomes, in effect, a computer game controlled by dad’s, the opportunity for young players to plant the seeds of a lifelong love affair with the game will be diminished”Les Howie

To Conclude:

It’s important as a coach not to do the following:

  • Do not making winning your priority.
  • Never want to win more than the kids themselves.
  • Don’t risk a players safety.
  • Don’t select the best and forget about the rest every week.
  • Don’t be negative towards your players.
  • Never ridicule a players mistakes and don’t allow team mates to ridicule a player either.
  • don’t stop them from taking risks.
  • Don’t lose the head.
  • Never go back on your word or values.

Negativity from the sideline bookmarks in a player’s brain and could effectively knock his/her confidence for the rest of the game. Be in control of your words and before you open your mouth, think about how your words will affect the player in question and team. Sadly, criticism does not correct mistakes but creates even greater pressure and consequently more mistakes.

Another important aspect of good coaching is uniform. I don’t understand why clubs tolerate a coach not wearing the club colours. By being presentable sends out a good message to the players and expect the same from them. Practice what you preach.

Most of what I spoke about above, is all habits – you either have good ones of bad ones, in any case the players will adapt to either. Habits make you, who you are. The key is controlling them and being consistent with everything you do. If you really want a habit to stick, then repeat it everyday for 21 days, this is how long it takes your brain to adapt to change.

Don’t forget to make your session fun. We have moved away from line drills, give every player a ball and don’t have them waiting around for one. The more touches they get the better they will become!

Make it a positive one! 


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading.

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