Coaching – Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours

Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours

I watch a lot of football, and have done over many years, at grassroots and professional clubs. You see a lot of different things and many of which could be categorised in the “good” or “not so good” category but the more I think about this, the more I think which category you put this in depends very much on your personal philosophy. However, I think for a coach the first rule of coaching is simple, this is Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours.. 

Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours

I’m putting that in a massive bubble because it is the start of any coaching relationship. I’m writing this blog because I observed something this week that clashed with my own personal views of something I wouldn’t have done. I’m sure the coach I watched had his reasons but for me he fundamentally broke Rule 1. 


The game was a cup final for 12 and 13 year old players so a big game for the players and, so it seems, a bigger game for the coach. The game was tightly poised, nothing in it between the teams and both coaches were feeling the tension. They stood in the technical area and gave a lot of information to the players, not in a shouting negative kind of way necessarily but just A LOT of information. The players were already playing a big game and this may have racked up the level of pressure they felt if this was wasn’t the normal behaviour of their coaches. Maybe it was though?

As the game went on, one team made a few changes and gave substitute players the chance to experience playing in a cup final. Fantastic! This could be the biggest game some of those kids play, ever!! 

The other coach got one substitute out to warm up in the second half. For twenty minutes he warmed up in the rain and never made it onto the pitch. In fact, not a single player that was there on that team, sat on the bench watching their school mates play, actually made it onto the pitch. None of them. Interesting day they had. 

But the coach had his reasons to break my Rule 1, right? Maybe, who knows. 


It was that tight the game went all the way to penalties. Kids then doing the massive walk from the halfway line to face off against the opposition goalkeeper in a war of attrition and seeing who’s technical skills could handle the pressure that had been built up, from external factors and no doubt inside their own young heads. 

Will I score?

What technique shall I use?

How will I celebrate when I have scored?

What happens if I miss?

Will I get shouted at?

We go through the first few on each team, with the players successfully putting the ball away and scoring, the tiny keeper making a vain attempt to save them in a big goal. The 4th player misses and looks distraught. His captain runs out from the team huddle to go and console his mate – that’s leadership there. Right there. A 12-year old kid sensing his mate is upset and going to offer an arm round his shoulder. 

Thankfully for the that young player his goalkeeper then saves the next one to get things back on level terms! All square again and it goes on to sudden death. 

Sadly, the first player up in sudden death takes his penalty and misses (captain goes again to see him) and the opposition player scores. Their team run to congratulate the goalkeeper for his heroics and are rightly elated! The joys of cup finals and becoming a hero or villain. 

This for me was where Rule 1 of coaching was ignored again. The lad that missed the penalty was visibly upset, sat down crying, shirt over his head. They have a team huddle led by the other coach, that kid is still walking around behind the group and not part of what was happening. The head coach never went to see the lad, offered any support and said things would be ok. Not once did he offer any kind of personal connection and support to a young person that was clearly devastated. 

Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours

It doesn’t matter really if the coach was disappointed or not – that’s perfectly allowed if he was. However, the player is THE most important thing in that moment. Not your ego. Nothing else. I also know the head coach then never said anything to the player in the changing room or after the game. 

As I said, this is a clash with my personal philosophy and I’m sure he could justify his actions and ways of working. Perhaps he was teaching the kid a lesson? Perhaps he was allowing the player to reflect on his own and would pick this up with him in the next few days? Perhaps not. 

Either way, I believe Rule 1 was broken and we should NEVER break the most simple and straight forward of coaching principles – put the interests of the players above yours. 


For more info, consider reading some content around this link – Attachment Theory and listen to a podcast with Pete Carroll from the Seattle Seahawks – Relationship-based Coaching



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6 thoughts on “Coaching – Rule 1: Put the interests of the players above yours

  • May 20, 2017 at 6:10 am

    Thank you for thst Nick. I couldn’t agree more. As a teacher heavily involved in schools’ and District u11s football, I treat my players in the exact same way that I treat my pupils.

    Namely if you build relationships, everything else from behaviour to academic progress to sporting development takes care of itself.

    I also fiercely believe that what I demand for my pupils has to be good enough for what I demand for my own children. I treat my pupils in the manner that I would want others to treat my son and daughter. That has to be the way. Whether a teacher or a coach, you are tasked with the same job – to provide equal opportunities for love, learning and laughter for all children.

    Thanks again.

  • May 21, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Wise words as always Nick. A few weeks ago I took my under 7s to a festival and we won a semi final on penalties. My first reaction was to go to all of the other teams players who missed and who were Clearly upset and tell them how well they had played and not to worry. They had played fantastic and next time would be their time. I did this with true feeling even though their manager offered little comfort to them.

    This Saturday we had another festival and this time we lost in a semi final and we lost on penalties. My players who missed were clearly distraught but I just gave them both a big hug and reminded them that if they hadn’t played so well we would have never got that far and that I had missed a fair few in my time and that’s football. As soon as the ice creams came out, the smiles came back and that’s what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned.

    Unfortunately I see this sort of behaviour on a weekly basis. We are played in the so called ‘top group’ of an under 7 league and I’ve experienced all sorts this season. From the team whose coach wouldn’t let his players shake my players hand before a match through to a little boy crying on the pitch as he had caught an elbow and his coach telling him to ‘man up or I’m taking you off’, through to a coaches assistant blatantly cheating whilst refereeing and even ‘PlayStation’ coaching whilst officiating. Wish there was a law which stopped everyone from saying anything during a match and only allowed applauding at the younger age groups but until then I’ll keep plodding along listening to John Lennon’s ‘imagine’

  • June 1, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Great stuff Nick, and obvious. But not obvious enough for most adults and coaches.

    Put the child first, each and every one, regardless of ability.

  • Pingback: The PE Playbook – May 2017 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  • June 10, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks you for sharing your views its logic.

  • June 10, 2017 at 11:34 pm

    Great post.My thoughts from your observations and reading the picture you have painted are that the coach lacked the emotional intelligence to deal with the experience himself so he could not put his players first. Shouty coaches are those who have not done a good enough job in prep prior to the game? Bit controversial, but final or not shouldn’t boys just be allowed to play? It does concern me that a coach would allow a child to deal with that break down on his own! Experiences good and bad are all forms of emotional scars, some of which will be really obvious some not so, but all will have an influence positively or negatively on future events as the emotions will trigger behaviours. The way the coach offers the emotional support and safety net to the team is crucial ( in my view) he/she needs to be able to model the behaviours and ways to deal with things. I have learnt this from experience, I teach in a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.I have made lots of mistakes which have had negative impacts on the environment children learn in. It has taken a lot of years to learn (and I have to keep on learning) how to deal positively and effectively with emotions and the pressure situations that children and adults are put in, we have mantra at work. “The problem is the problem not the child or adult.” We have to separate issues from the person, I find this massively helps with my coaching. Emotional Intelligence EQ is a part of coaching that really needs developing I stumbled over it about 4 years ago because of my job, I am really pleased I did!Sound EQ as a coach and teacher is needed if rule no 1 is to be followed. I absolutely agree with it but it is as Brian said in his comment it is obvious, but not; because a lot of coaches from whom I have observed and talked to think it is just common sense. The only problem with that is; Common sense is like a deodorant, the people who need it most , never use it!


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