Action Takes Courage

Many (if not all) coaches claim they are all about player development. I know the odd coach who has actually stated they are all about winning trophies but they very much exist in a very small minority. All the coaches I speak to, both personally and on social media keep on the politically correct track of advocating development of their players and how players always come first. I totally agree with this stance and our aim as coaches should be to develop better players but more importantly better people.

So, here is the problem as I see it. We all talk a good game on this subject but how many of us actually have the courage to follow up our words with actions? Time to play the honesty card – I was one of these coaches. I would talk about long term  player development but my actions said something else. I have learned this lesson the hard way. I have repented and paid for my sins!!

You can tell a lot about a coach if their words match their actions. I can think of many who love to give the impression that they are all about the players but scratch the veneer a little bit and the truth comes out. Coaching is not about today and you will only know in many years time if your coaching developed the players under your tutelage. The easy option is to react to the ‘now’. Coaches who focus on short term success against long term player development. Natural Law will dictate this process with coaches giving in to their own ego and those of well-meaning but sadly misguided parents. The harder road is going against this and actually aiming for ‘real’ development educating and learning players in the technical, tactical, physical, social, psychological and emotional aspects of being a football player.

There are tell-tale signs that this ‘real’ development is not taking place. if you witness the following behaviours from a coach who espouses player development then get very worried:

  • There is an over-emphasis on winning
  • Stronger players are brought in with weaker players being removed or sidelined
  • Trials are held to bring in stronger players
  • Stronger. more physical players are played in preference to technical players
  • Players are assessed (subjectively) for their future success in football (the “he’ll never make it” scenario)
  • Over celebration by coaches when winning or anger when team loses
  • Positive results and winning trophies posted on social media
  • Constant shouting/direction from sidelines from coaches and parents therefore not allowing decision-making or failure
  • Strong players played through middle of park with weaker players played out wide
  • Perceived ‘better’ players get most game time (if not all game time)
  • a ‘fight for your place’ culture exists
  • Perceived ‘weaker’ players only get on when game has been won or lost
  • Players put in same positions every week
  • To improve chances of winning, training consists of attacking/defending free-kicks, corners etc.

if you see some of the behaviours mentioned, don’t be scared to ask the coaches what they are doing to develop my son/daughter? They might just be uninformed (unconscious incompetence) and trying to do the best with what they know. The more serious cases are the coaches who are actively displaying these behaviours (conscious incompetence) to become win at all costs coaches. Players and parents can decide what is in the best interests of the individual and where best that development takes place.

My convictions have grown stronger over the years I have been coaching. I believe we now need to stand by our words with strong actions. If not, then mediocrity will continue. We can all moan about it and nothing will change. Do the right thing and stop talking about player development and actually start doing something about it.



Footnote: Although these are my views, please read ‘Coaching Outside the Box’ by Mairs and Shaw. This not only backs up my own observations but quotes the research which supports these views on player development. Note if you are a win at all costs coach maybe you won’t read it!!

Action Takes Courage

10 thoughts on “Action Takes Courage

  1. What a great article that covers very many good points, points that we have all considered at different stages of our coaching careers. I’m going to be brave and say that I’m one of those coaches who whilst mostly will have stayed away from most of the bullets/behaviours could be accused on occasions of acting some out. As an HR professional of over 24 years and one who is accountable for learning and development, recruitment and talent management, I pride myself on treating my boys as a team and as individuals. I have worked hard to bring my professional skills in to the youth football space.

    I will work hard to look at development areas each need from games we play, or training sessions we run. I will spend at least 2/3 hours a week speaking to them direct via Messenger to ask how they are feeling and how we can help them improve. I’ve been accused of carrying too many players in my squad (20 and we play 11s) with most telling me 16 is ideal. However what all the onlookers don’t understand is that I have a clear contract with my ‘squad’ about how we will play, rota and share our game time. How on occasions we will pick the right players for the right games. Its never about the best 11 every week, its about the right 11 for that game.

    After spending 4 years scouting match opposition professionally in the SPL, I will consider how best my players will play based on their strengths and their development areas. Yes we want to do well, play well… yes if we’re all honest we want to win things for the team, the club but most importantly the boys.

    However I will never sacrifice my own personal beliefs, will never moan at players from the sideline, fall out with parents, opposition coaches and will never ever call out referees who appear to spoil a game. We’re all volunteers, we love the game, we love our boys (and girls) doing well… any coach who will tick at least half of those boxes in my view needs to take the chance to take on feedback from parents and players alike.

    For the record… it’s not all about winning and it is all about development… ironically both can be done together if you get it right and don’t over step the mark.


    1. Dave, a fantastic response. Your passion for the game and your team shouts from the rooftops. We all have a duty in the GR game to make the environment better for our players in order they develop a lifelong love of the game. You are clearly doing that, well done. As a fellow coach, i know how hard it can be sometimes but never compromise your values and beliefs. You have stated them clearly and I admire anyone who puts them out their for everyone to see. Action takes courage!!


  2. Mark Taylor says:

    Great read! I’ve recently started my coaching career in the last 6-8months and find that as you go up through the ages then your points become more and more evident. Met some lovely coaches with pure passion for their players development and a lot more coaches with chip on their shoulder shall we say. Coaching is a very selfish thing because you’re always analysing yourself but I always have in my mind that coaching is all about constantly developing your players (physically, mentally, socially and technically), as soon as you stop focus on this then it becomes about the coach and creates the bad habits you have mentioned above. Its almost a way of saying that I cant be bothered anymore


  3. Matty says:

    Hello, fascinating article and I have just got “Coaching Outside the Box”.
    Forgive me if this comment is too specific to my own case but I would be grateful for the advice.
    At my son’s club they are not win at all costs types but they seem to have put quite a few under 9’s in the under 10’s – I think because the coach was looking to keep the two under 10’s teams going into next season when they move to 9v9 (both teams could be a bit of short of numbers otherwise). The problem though is that the under 9’s moved up to the u10’s hardly get a kick – it’s clearly too physical for them. I think the coach is having second thoughts (he said we would review things and one boy will definitely go back to his own age group). He has also asked if I want to manage my son’s team next season. I am thinking fo saying yes (though I have no coaching experience) but also thinking that I should insist that players should only move up if they are really finding their current age group too easy. However, if I do that then the 2 u10’s teams (who by then will be u11’s) could have 16 or 17 players next season – perhaps too many for one team but not enough for two. Any thoughts on this much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My view would always be to get as many playing as possible, therefore having two teams would be better. There is a problem putting weaker players up an age group as that will be beyond them. I think a compromise would be trying to put perceived stronger players up if possible. This is not always easy. Keep it flexible enough to move players if they are not developing or not enjoying themselves. These are the two most important aspects.

      Also, being a dad/coach is not the easiest thing. You need to think this through and talk it through with your son/daughter.

      Good luck!


    1. Kia van der Laan says:

      (Pardon my English, I a a native Dutch Coach)

      I think its essential that we all realize that ‘wanting to win’ is an urge in everyone. The kids and coaches.

      So you will constantly be tempted to take the short term decision of winning in stead of the ling term development.

      Know it, embrace it, fight it together and stay open (ask!) for feedback on this subject.

      I often compare it with sugar… We know its bad for us but still take it fir the short term rush.


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