Do we need a coaching re-think?

Coaching?

We make a lot of assumptions in coaching and this blog post is going to do exactly that! I just wanted to make you aware that I’m going to do that from the start! 

I’ve had some good discussions recently about the whole “teaching technique” v “learning through the game” and this was just a chance for me to get some further thoughts down rather than in 140 characters. And it won’t be complete otherwise this could turn into an essay!


Let me just say, I used to be all about teaching technique in isolation, believing this was the way forward, and that this had to be learnt in such a manner before being partially opposed and then putting into a game. I used to coach this way religiously. Why? Well, I was a product of going through the original FA Level 2 Coaching Certificate (back in the day) and of the environment I coached within. It is what everyone did and I didn’t know there was any other options. 


However, as my thoughts and knowledge of coaching have expanded and developed over the years, I’ve put into practice alternative methods having spent time with expert coaches, things have evolved for me. Spending time with expert coaches, such as Pete Trevivian, Pete Sturgess, Paul Holder and John Allpress makes you think differently. It makes you realise there is another way. 

That way became learning in context

That way became learning in context. Learning through game-type situations that always had a level of opposition, whether this was just people running across your eye line and disturbing the natural state of the game or people from another team trying to regain possession for themselves. Learning became authentic for the kids, it was real, it was like the actual game they came to play. 

Out went loads of cones all over the place and structured boxes for me to ‘control’ the players behaviour and actions. In came being comfortable with things looking a little ‘messy’, knowing that this is where the real learning takes place. 


Out went thinking that I had all the knowledge and I had to download this into the kids brains. In came working things out together, giving clues and not answers to the problems I had posed them, and letting them do the learning for themselves.

Out went unopposed practices that involved ‘scripted’ movements that players had to perform with the ball travelling in identical ways every single repetition. In came games that had real people as defenders and attackers to pose problems that changed slightly every time, like the game.  

I read a tweet that added more fuel to my current position. It was from Shane Warne, the Australian cricketer, who said about his coach “he didn’t give me TECHNICAL coaching; he taught me HOW to bowl – strategy and plans to get batters out”. 


Read that again! He taught him ‘HOW’ to bowl linked to the game and the problem they were trying to solve. I don’t know enough about the rest of his bowling past and how he learnt the game, whether this was through informal street cricket, I’m not sure, but it does raise some interesting questions:


Q. If we help players to solve the tactical problem they face, will they work out the best technique themselves without needing us to be explicit about this?


Q. If they can solve this problem, will this create new techniques that break down barriers and create new solutions? And what is the ‘right technique’ anyway?


Q. If we limit them to our own technical knowledge, does this stop new things being developed? 

See, we THINK we are helping by giving them technical detail but how much do they actually need? No doubt some players will need more than others but actually, the ones that don’t get this may become more creative. They may also breakdown new barriers in the game when otherwise we might have hamstrung them with our own limits.

There are some recognised benefits to implicit learning and it’s worth a read of this post (not an endorsement of everything in there but gives you a good insight into what it is all about) – http://www.sportsciencesupport.com/implicit-learning/

We also have a bias that is going to look at those questions in a certain way. If you a ‘Lord of the Technique’™ (Mark O’Sullivan) and believe that it HAS to be done in the traditional way then you will suggest players need to learn the techniques first. Absolute beginners, yes, understand they may need some technical stuff as a base but beyond that? Give it a go, you encourage the players to try something new so do the same too!

What might this look like?

The challenge with all the coaching information you can find is “this all sounds good but what does it look like?” and that is a perfectly fair question to everyone that talks about different things. My plan over the coming weeks is to start posting some games and sessions that may fill this void and prompt some thinking. They won’t be rocket science. They aren’t going to change the world. Thinking about the game before the technique is certainly nothing new (Google ‘TGfU’ or ‘Game Sense’ or ‘Play Practice’ for loads of information around this).

Few links to consider reading:

http://www.coachingtoolbox.co.nz/table/game-sense/

http://content.yudu.com/web/1zc5z/0A1zc7p/bootroom9/flash/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fcontent.yudu.com%2Fweb%2F1zc5z%2F0A1zc7p%2Fbootroom9%2Findex.html        (Page 72)

http://www.playsport.net/about-playsport/teaching-games-understanding-tgfu

As you start thinking about what the new season starts to look like and you start to consider the practical elements of what a pre-season, it might be worth considering what your approach to learning looks like also. 

13 thoughts on “Do we need a coaching re-think?

  • June 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    Somewhere we have to bridge the gap between Pete Sturgess’ ball mastery at the foundation phase, and game play problem solving. Look forward to seeing what you deliver

    Reply
    • June 27, 2016 at 6:49 pm
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      Hi Pete,

      Pete Sturgess would totally support support the fact that lots of touches with no meaning or context is not as beneficial as just touches for the sack of it. It is ball mastery with a purpose – what are you trying to achieve by having possession? His little games of 1v1 and 2v1 etc are all about varied repetition but with an outcome and decision making linked to principles of the game. He designs very clever games! If you notice they pretty much all will have an element of decision making in them – even the likes of Skills Corridor for the ‘passes’ involves making a timing and delivery decision based on the moving traffic.

      Clever man!

      Reply
  • June 27, 2016 at 6:20 pm
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    Excellent article Neil. I have a couple of questions: if repetition is a key part of refining technique how else will players get it unless in isolation? Surely there needs to be an approach that is what’s best for any player at any time. We know from analysis that games do not provide enough repetition or for feedback to be used on techniques. Is the challenge to coaches more about accepting new or different ideas that can be combined with what we know is essential for improvement to take place. I watched some training clips of an Aussie basket baller who just got a spot in the NBA draft, he was practicing 3 point shots in rapid succession, all in isolation with what looked like a coach providing feedback between shots. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
    Regards
    Ron

    Reply
    • June 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for the message. Repetition is indeed vital but the important part is meeting the needs of the context of the game to maximise transfer of learning. You can do a thousand passes along the floor over ten yards to a team mate that isn’t marked but then in the game this looks totally the different due to the movement of the ball to you, the time and space available, the distance of the defender marking your team mate, where the goal is, the state of the game, what you are trying to achieve etc. This then means the ‘perfect’ technique (not sure even such a thing exists) has to adapt and change subtly every single time to achieve the desired outcome.

      Absolutely; repetition is important but making this slightly different every time, with the real triggers from the game is essential.

      It’s difficult to know about the basketball clip without knowing the purpose or what the player was doing. Was it part of a warm up? Part of his superstition? Technique maintenance as opposed to technique development? What was the feedback from the coach? Were they trying to mimic getting the ball at having to shoot quickly in the last seconds of a shot clock? Loads of questions that we probably don’t know the answer to.

      Thanks for the questions Ron, good discussion.

      Nick

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 10:19 am
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    I enjoyed this article. In athletics/track & field, a coach has to be aware that individuals may be excellent at performing drills, but poor at performing the full movement, which is similar to what is being discussed above. To be effective, a drill must lead to the eventual better performance of the full movement. For example, I have seen youngsters perform hurdles isolation drills really well, but the full movement poorly at speed. Over the years I have heard coaches, all successful, preach a wide spectrum of approaches: i.e. From drills forming the foundation of training, to drills only being used remedially, if required. I am currently of the thought that a combination of approaches is required and that the coach should use the best approach that suits the situation, the athlete and the activity before them.

    Reply
  • June 30, 2016 at 6:18 pm
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    Hi Nick
    Thanks for the information it is a good read.
    I’ve said it time and time again the to me one art that we ignore in this country in football or do not spend enough time on it is the art of receiving ! Every player does it goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker ! The have a picture in your head scenario is rarely used in our game as some coaches just assume kids understand it. You look at English players generally and only a handful scan before receiving and make a decision and then have a first touch in the direction of their decision to execute that decision. Because not only do they not scan but most times they can only use one foot. Even watching the recent England games it is so clearly evident that there were time and time again where opportunities were lost by not being able to take the ball on the other side where the correct option was there waiting and the opposition was out of shape. By being able to use two feet as you know gives you them extra one, two and three seconds in transition and the quicker movement of the ball. More options in receiving, gives you the opportunity to move the ball quicker to therefore catch the opposition out of shape to create space to create options to create chances to create goals.
    Going back to receiving, i know at the young age at 5 a-side and also at 7 a-side there has been the retreat line introduced to help us play out from the back and look to receive from the back. But as you say about realistic situations, surely the receiving unopposed is for the training pitch on a Saturday or midweek but on a Sunday match which to me is an extension of training, it would be better for the children to put the training into practice under pressure with the retreat line removed to create the natural and realistic situation. This is all down to the patience of coaches, managers and more importantly the parents because mistakes will obviously be made but this is what life is about by learning from your mistakes. I feel it would be better for a large emphasis to be put on to receiving in the coaching badges and especially on level 1 as i have found in my years of coaching that a lot of the coaches i meet in grassroots football has a level 1 and do not go any further because of either time or money. When i took my level 2, what was obvious was now is the time that we become the coach whereas a level 1 is teaching the game. I am not saying that we should make level 1 harder but i do feel that the level 2 theory could be dripped into the level 1. The ball mastery as we know ties in with the receiving and is so so important. When we analyze games and you look at some of the great players and certain phases of play it is clear to see that it is about the correct decision being made. I.e. if Gareth Bale takes another touch and doesn’t cross the ball as he did the other night that opportunity of the own goal doesn’t go in. If Payet takes another touch instead of spreading the ball to the right wing immediately or the guy who received the ball on the right wing takes another touch before crossing the ball then Greisman does not get the chance to head that ball in for their equaliser.
    Football is a simple game but sometimes i feel we look too much into things to find a fault when in reality we are creating a fault by over complication.
    Just my thoughts.

    Kind regards Alan

    Reply
  • July 1, 2016 at 8:47 pm
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    Oh my gosh thanks for this article and keep it up. i have been saying this for years as a coach and have been an outsider. My son who is just 8 dominates his league (62 goals, 29 games) but i dont think he can juggle three times or hit two instep drives in a row to save his life (i wish he could frankly and know he will need to but he will get there -or he wont). I coach but am wanting to not coach anymore but no one listens to me!!. I have taught him brain speed, choices, learning to play in rhythm (totally under looked), reading the field, knowing where and when to be somewhere and then to attack guys and create 2 v 1s take it to goal himself/direct or pass (he is not a ball hog, he just happens to have ice water in veins near the box).

    Of course he needs tools and weapons (technique) to do it. he has all fundamentals now, can use both feet..the basics…i don’t want to over do it. he can figure it out.

    But now he needs to develop the tools to do what his brain is asking him to do.
    And then he will need to adjust to players taking away some of his weapons/tools.

    So to me, u teach them to problem solve, to think on their own and think as fast as possible. The game is simple and it teaches you if you let it i tell my son.. Playing the game simply is hard to do. The best players do things simply. They just do it with the right pace, at the right time etc..

    Reply
    • July 5, 2016 at 10:18 am
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      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for the reply and sharing your story about your son. From my own perspective of what learning looks like it would appear he is doing some great things by starting to understand the game and allowing the technique to emerge from the problems created. Love it!! Please keep coaching; the game needs people that consider things this way and the kids would lose out if you left.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

      Reply
  • July 2, 2016 at 4:04 pm
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    Hi Nick, great blog as usual.
    I have had my current U8’s since they were 5 and as an experiment, I thought I would get them to dribble in and out of cones, something which I have never done with them, having always let them
    Experiment them selves, and shown them different ways of dribbling and turning with the ball. As well as lots of SSG’s.
    I was expecting them to struggle a little with dribbling in and of the cones using a variety of different parts of the foot and combining touches, BUT they did every single one first time !
    I understand that technique is very important and can be improved through isolation but in my mind isolation is on your own not with the eye of a coach or parent watching, give a child a challenge on their own and I bet you they will rise to it, they may ask you a few times for help but eventually they will get their if you praise their effort.

    Reply
    • July 5, 2016 at 10:15 am
      Permalink

      Hi Wess,

      Thanks for the message. Love the part of your reply that talks about giving a kid a challenge and letting them rise to it. Igniting that fire or passion for solving a problem is crucial and a great point to make.

      Nick

      Reply
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  • July 8, 2016 at 4:59 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Nick
    Thanks for the information it is a good read.
    I’ve said it time and time again the to me one art that we ignore in this country in football or do not spend enough time on it is the art of receiving ! Every player does it goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and striker ! The have a picture in your head scenario is rarely used in our game as some coaches just assume kids understand it. You look at English players generally and only a handful scan before receiving and make a decision and then have a first touch in the direction of their decision to execute that decision. Because not only do they not scan but most times they can only use one foot. Even watching the recent England games it is so clearly evident that there were time and time again where opportunities were lost by not being able to take the ball on the other side where the correct option was there waiting and the opposition was out of shape. By being able to use two feet as you know gives you them extra one, two and three seconds in transition and the quicker movement of the ball. More options in receiving, gives you the opportunity to move the ball quicker to therefore catch the opposition out of shape to create space to create options to create chances to create goals.
    Going back to receiving, i know at the young age at 5 a-side and also at 7 a-side there has been the retreat line introduced to help us play out from the back and look to receive from the back. But as you say about realistic situations, surely the receiving unopposed is for the training pitch on a Saturday or midweek but on a Sunday match which to me is an extension of training, it would be better for the children to put the training into practice under pressure with the retreat line removed to create the natural and realistic situation. This is all down to the patience of coaches, managers and more importantly the parents because mistakes will obviously be made but this is what life is about by learning from your mistakes. I feel it would be better for a large emphasis to be put on to receiving in the coaching badges and especially on level 1 as i have found in my years of coaching that a lot of the coaches i meet in grassroots football has a level 1 and do not go any further because of either time or money. When i took my level 2, what was obvious was now is the time that we become the coach whereas a level 1 is teaching the game. I am not saying that we should make level 1 harder but i do feel that the level 2 theory could be dripped into the level 1somehow.
    Football is a simple game but sometimes i feel we look too much into things to find a fault when in reality we are creating a fault by over complication.
    Just my thoughts.

    Kind regards Alan

    Reply

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