X and Y’s

Many coaches use ‘O’ and ‘X’ as part of their coaching plans. This is the very functional description of how a training session is carried out. Drills, game related practices, small sided games and tactical sessions all utilise this format to help the coach and describe to players what needs to be done. Without doubt, this is important and helps put structure into coaching sessions and games. However, what I think is more important and will be increasingly crucial as the game develops is an understanding of what motivates a player to improve. Most coaches can put on a well planned session following templates and guidance that they received as part of their FA/SFA training but that great plan will deteriorate quickly unless they understand their own players and what makes them tick. I haven’t seen too many coaching badges which focus on this area as opposed to balls, bibs, cones and noughts/exes.

So how do we look at this? I love to look at other areas and see how this can be adapted into my football sessions. My biggest source of information is in the workplace where I spend most of my time. Therefore using James Altucher’s process of ‘Idea sex’ How can we take something from one area, make some adjustments to get benefit in another area? For this I would like to consider Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. In summary, this is a theory of management which looks at people based on Theory X which uses extrinsic motivation and takes the view that motivation is concerned with self-interest and uses motivation based on maximising rewards and avoiding punishment. Basically carrots and sticks. On the other hand Theory Y is based on intrinsic motivation. In this theory, people are self-starters and take on responsibility which delivers a more creative workplace as people think and act on how things can be improved. Let’s start by making it clear that one is not better than the other. These are models, after all, and something that may be used as a framework for improvement (I also apologise to my HR friends in advance if I haven’t summarised this well enough – I am sure they will give me feedback!!)

Let’s now and try and apply this to football. At the grassroots level and particularly at the younger age groups, I see Theory X very much in evidence and coaches are trying to gain compliance from their players. Do this, do that etc etc. This is very much a Parent-Child relationship between coach and player. The problem occurs when this relationship continues into adolescence and we do not make the transformation to an Adult-Adult relationship which forms part of Theory Y. By staying in Theory X we continue to produce compliant players who are probably average at best. They will just do what is required to meet the needs of the coach. Theory Y, on the other hand can lead to creativity and higher levels of motivation and consequently performance. The problem for coaches is that they have a lot of control in Theory X but they start to lose this in Theory as Y as control is passed to the player. Many coaches struggle with this and fight to retain control and stay in Theory X (Think LVG at Man Utd). It should be made clear at the professional level both theories can produce results. My focus is on the development level at grassroots and I think that by moving to Theory Y as a coach then we could, potentially, produce better, creative players.

So how do we do this? Well it is difficult. In Theory X, players are exhorted to do more; they are maybe given rewards for wins or punished after defeats. The focus is on the outcome rather than the process so in typical Theory X fashion people use their ingenuity to meet the target (the win) and that is why we see win at all costs coaches and teams. To move to Theory Y will enhance development and have the required Adult-Adult relationship. Responsibility is given to the player and self-development is seen as key to progress. The role of the coach is to create this environment for growth where players take on this responsibility. One key element to creating this environment is to provide feedback artfully (I will cover this in more detail in future blogs). A second is to remove the interference that a player experiences in achieving the Adult-Adult relationship.

In summary, Theory Y works particularly in the development arena. But compared to Theory X it requires much more imagination and ingenuity from the coach. This is a challenge for all of us coaches who want to develop players particularly if they have been in Theory X environments for a very long time. Indeed, many players may reject this as it might be too uncomfortable for them in the short term. So because it is easy, it doesn’t mean we should settle for the status quo. Let’s challenge ourselves and move to a new land where the results could be spectacular rather than the ‘average’ we have seen for the last 20/30 years.

X and Y’s

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