It’s more than balls, bibs and cones: it’s about people.


It’s just about ‘people’…
The more I think about things now, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that the development of young people in sport comes down to one key thing; relationships between people. The content of the technical components, the actual information you provide to help a learner improve, qualifications, the size of the pitch and all those other bits are often secondary. And I think this extends beyond sport into everyday life and business too.
I turned on the TV earlier this week and stumbled across ‘The Undercover Boss’, a programme where the Chief Executive of a large company goes incognito and down to the floor level of the organisation to find out what really goes on, the thoughts and feelings of the people that work for them. This episode happened to be about Biffa, the national refuse collection company. As ‘Mark’ donned his stubble and glasses he learnt a very clear lesson, demonstrated in the Boardroom – ‘this company is built on the foundations of good people’ and if you treat the people well, guess what, productivity increases, staff retention increases and costs are lowered. And for CEO’s, often that means profitability goes up too.  This finding has been replicated across all the episodes I’ve seen.
Think about the people in your life that make a difference, what are they like? How do they make a difference? What do they do differently? What can you remember about your teachers from school? I’m guessing the memories will either be very positive or very negative and often based around how they made you feel as a person?
I’ve interviewed A’ Licence and Pro Licence coaches for jobs they have applied for to work in primary schools and not actually appointed many of them, despite being way more qualified than the ones we have selected. Why – because it’s much more than the piece of paper. Does that coach have the ability to enthuse, inspire and captivate the imagination of young people? Do they actually like working with children? That’s ultimately what we are looking for in a coach. Would that coach be appropriate in a different setting, possibly yes, but we are at a crucial time now in the development of sport where we need the right coach with the right age group.
The person delivering the coaching, their make up and them as a person can essentially make or break everything. If they have the right traits, their character can ignite and accelerate a young person’s curiosity, learning and love for the game. If young people acquire these facets they will source the technical components themselves or ask questions of other people to find them out.
If they aren’t the right character as a person, they can do severe damage long-term to that child and put them off playing sport for life. The knock-one effect can then carry to their children, due to the impact of socialisation.
Who the ‘right person’ is becomes a debate but I feel you can drill it all the way down to being a good human being. Putting the interests of others before your own, helping out young people on their voyage towards self-discovery and just being nice to children goes a long way. We learn in the modern world through collaboration, interacting with other people, so the coach that can facilitate this beyond just being ‘the font of all knowledge’ him or herself is on to a winner.
Within grassroots football, we are developing more than footballers; it is about developing better people. All the dynamics that being involved in a team sport can bring you – understanding people from different communities, working in small teams, developing tactical and strategic thinking, allowing creativity to flourish, recognising that different people have different skill sets that make a team function and become high performing. These are all skills now valued by the modern day businesses.
It is often helpful to understand yourself before you can start to help others. How has your journey impacted on your own life? What has been the speed bumps along the way that has shaped you as a person and your character? If you can start to understand these you can then start to understand helping others. Emotional intelligence it might be known as, and if you like reading, try Daniel Goleman’s work as a starter for ten.
Coaching by its nature involves the interaction between people and the coach needs to allow the recipient to become part of the process; ultimately, we want to develop an independent thinking learner that can take responsibility for their own learning (when they are ready). 
We can then go a long way to developing a generation of young people that can flourish in the future, whatever sport, work or life throws at them. 

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4 thoughts on “It’s more than balls, bibs and cones: it’s about people.

  • August 3, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Totally agree with your article, I think all the technical stuff is secondary. The coach needs to be a good (nice person) and approachable for the kids and parents. I've been coaching for five years, the learning curve has been huge but I've enjoyed every moment of it. My group of kids are all now 18 and 19 who all know I care about them as people, I will not shout at them, put them down.

    They come on a Sunday play football for two hours and leave, I have 16 to 18 players who have doing this for four years, we are in no league, they just play and enjoy.

  • August 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Great article and agree completely, my lasting memory from upper school is of my PE teacher who consistently motivated and inspired me from his attitude as much as anything (he was also gifted technically). Still remember the sign over the entrance to the PE department that read 'Manners Maketh the Man' which he used to make us read regularly.

  • August 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I'm a 'grassroots' U9 coach in New Mexico, U.S., really finding this blog informative and inspirational. Great to see a new post – thank you!

  • April 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Nick. I could not agree more with your comments. I have worked as a HR Manager since 1995 (old Personnel Manager comparator role) and in the same year I join Chester le Street Town as youth team manager. In 2003 I began researching the USA soccer scholarship placement market, placing student-athletes voluntarily until 2011 whilst at the same time monitoring their progress and interviewing youngsters from UK scholarship providers who had returned to the UK after having a failed placement. In 2011 I left Chester le Street and formed Scholarship Connect. I have my HR skills combined with football experience and knowledge to change the way talent is identified, assessed, recruited and placed. Critical alignment factors – all related to people / behaviours – are used (I call them human factors), and we have significantly reduced the risk of student-athletes moving abroad and returning home without achievement of their goals. You can apply 'human', 'people' factors to any aspect of life for improvement. It is refreshing to see somebody look at that with a view to football and to put their thoughts in writing. Well done. Great points. Andrew.


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