Breaking The Command And Control Chains


So here we are at the start of another season. Already having played a number of friendlies, our hopes and expectations are high. We are refreshed after the summer break and look forward to expansive, open, free-flowing football. If only the reality matched this positive outlook.

In our pre-season friendlies I have already witnessed more of the same old nonsense. Two instances, funnily enough sum this up. Both involved goalkeepers and coaches while playing the ball out from the back. I love to see goalkeepers play the ball out and start moves by playing this way. In one instance, the goalkeeper gave a goal away by being caught on the ball and in the other the goalkeeper refused to play the ball out to the full back and instead chose to go long. Both situations resulted in an argument between the coach and player (quite heated in both cases). Both arguments were ended by the coach saying “Don’t argue with me, I’ll tell you what to do”

So we are again being ‘Joystick coaches’ and using command and control thinking and behaviours to coach our teams? I am not immune, as I found myself telling a player what to do in the same game which resulted in him stopping to look at me and ask a question while the game was going on. Crazy and my fault!

The system we are all in means it has always been done this way therefore we battle this demon in every game (I certainly do). Unfortunately, the demon wins more often than not especially when things are tight and that little demon is whispering in your ear or sometimes even shouting at you to get involved. It brainwashes you into thinking you can control the uncontrollable.

So, as coaches, why are we displaying command and control thinking and behaviour when we know this is not the best way to optimise the performance of our players?

I have been a systems thinker for years but still feel I am very much still a learner. A duty of any system thinker is to work on the system. Our system is the team and club in which we can exert an influence. I would like to look at this through the lens of a movement which is gaining momentum within organisational life which I believe will make a massive difference of how we work and live. Teal organisations and Integral thinking is gathering pace and I believe gives hope to the future of work. Frederick Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organisations‘ is an amazing treatise on this subject and would recommend it.

Without going into details there are 3 main principles which when applied move us away from a mechanistic, command and control (Red/Orange) environment to a living system (Teal). The book provides evidence of companies who have made this change to great effect.

In terms of our clubs and football in general, I can see benefits of applying these principles and getting away from the mechanistic way we have always done it, so here goes:

  1. Self-management – As a club, we are already partly there. Each team or age group effectively works as a self-managed team. No-one is telling them what to do. We are all volunteers so there is no need to. However, these ‘self-managed teams’ could really benefit by implementing the Advice Process. This allows any person (coach) to make a decision but they need to have sought expert advice from the people who have to live with the decision (players). This means good decisions on all aspects of play will be achieved collectively where the coach checks with the players and the players check with the coach. If we were to pick this idea up then just think how much the players will be involved in their own development.
  2. Wholeness – In traditional organisations we all wear a ‘mask’ We have a professional image to maintain and the mask will not be dropped. However, we know we have a much deeper part which carries risk if we reveal it. This is who we really are against wearing a mask that is career-driven and the ego rules. If we drop the mask as coaches and give our authentic self, our real self, then we will show up fully and our players will respond positively to this.
  3. Evolutionary Purpose – We need to have a higher purpose. Beyond the next win or trophy. We need to listen more to our players, what do they want to get out of their game? Great coaches have a different perspective, a different outlook. They have a calmness that instills trust and confidence. They understand that trying to control people just doesn’t work and they try and develop the ‘whole’ person.

So there you have it. Principles that allow us to get deeper and more meaningful in our coaching. I feel strongly about breaking the chains of command and control. Unfortunately we are surrounded by this cartesian, mechanistic, newtonian, deterministic world and will be a massive challenge to break out of it. However, once we break them we will never look back as we will be free. It will mean we will live with purpose, meaning and substance and will ever wonder why we wore the chains for so long.

Once we break our own chains, our players chains will automatically fall away. It will be liberating for everyone and just think how good it will feel?

Breaking The Command And Control Chains

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