The words of Dr. Jerry Lynch kept wringing in my ears ‘Your influence is never neutral’ as I reflect on some recent events. I would urge you to check out Jerry’s website wayofchampions for a deeper dive into some fantastic content.
So, with Jerry sitting on my shoulder, the penny dropped a little further for me at a recent match. For readers who know me and have kept up to speed with this blog then you will appreciate that I like football to be played the ‘right way’ For me, that is getting the ball down and passing, good individual technical ability and movement. One of my pet things is to see full backs get forward at every opportunity to help support the attack. At a recent match in the first half, we (the coaches) were ‘encouraging’ our right back to go forward every time we had the ball. He was on our side of the park so it was easy to ‘tell him’ This worked to great effect with loads of overlaps and underlaps causing chaos for the opposition. At the same time we didn’t say anything to our other full back as he was on the opposite side. In the second half the roles were reversed as we ‘encouraged’ our left back to go forward at every opportunity. The effect was the same with the left back rampaging forward causing chaos while on the other side the right back hardly ventured forward once. After the game I spoke to the right back and asked why he never got forward in the 2nd half. He actually couldn’t explain it despite some promptings!
This little lesson was profound for me. After a discussion about decision making it is clear that it is not the player who is at fault. This is my failing and it is a big one. I realised that all the technical work is meaningless unless we work on the mental side at the same time. The players are still relying on these ‘shouts’ from the sidelines. I hate to say it but at 15yo we haven’t created that environment yet where decision making is integrated. I have taken a hard look at myself and now looking at teachings on awareness, self-responsibility, purpose and emotional buy-in. My last blog Breaking the Command and Control Chains talked about how we do this but it’s not that simple or easy. The only way to do it is small incremental steps and that is how I am approaching it.
I suppose my failing is not stating a clear style of how I would like the team to play and evolve. This is definitely ‘work in progress’ for me. So what is that style? For me, it is players comfortable and confident on the ball; quick passing; every single player involved in the game no matter where the ball is; playing out from the back; good transitions etc etc. My own team is very much a WIP on this but I need to help them understand the how and why.
As well as my own u16 team, I have watched quite a few other games lately involving older teams. There are certain themes evident in all the games. I have taken in matches up to adult level. Mostly, defences are made up of strong physical defenders who are good in the air and don’t take chances. I listened with interest for the shouts from the side of the park such as ‘clear your lines’ ; ‘No chances’ ; and the loudest shout I heard from a coach was ‘Great kick’ when the GK launched the ball the length of the park. On the same day I heard this I read a statement from Brendan Rogers following some impatience expressed by some Celtic supporters. It was summarised as:
“Or you can play Scottish football. Just smash it up the pitch. It hasn’t got you anywhere for 20 odd years”
Brendan is oh so right. The problem is that this way is still evident throughout all our age groups and is therefore the MO for Scottish football. I even see it in our youngest players. The cultural thought process is that if the ball is at the other end of the park then the opposition can’t score. Yes, we still live in the dark ages while other nations know that this is just giving the ball back to the opposition. I have watched matches that have seen both teams do this ‘no risks’ football. It actually more resembles a game of rugby where teams kick for position. To paraphrase Nigel Owens:
This is not rugby.
My own failings rear their ugly head again as I have both played in and coached teams doing this sort of thing. Well, it needs to stop. I need to work out how to get it across to players that they have a choice every second they are on the pitch. They need to start thinking for themselves rather than listening to the nonsense that comes from the side of the pitch (myself included). I actually asked a player to ignore me if I shouted something to him during a game. It is not about me, it is about the players. We need coaches to think differently and not always do it the same old way. We can make a difference but only if Jerry’s words are wringing in everyone’s ears!
So, I’ll say it again. Your Influence Is Never Neutral
Postscript: Thanks to Jerry, John O’Sullivan and Reed Maltbie Changing The Game Project for their continued inspiration on this.