Your Influence Is Never Neutral


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.

Your Influence Is Never Neutral

Grassroots Tax


This is another guest post from Dave Buglass after his extremely insightful and popular previous post. Dave hits the nail on the head with this one and should be posted ‘first class’ to the football authorities. I’ll let Dave carry on……..

Please sir…………can we have some of that?

The transfer window slammed shut at 11pm on Thursday after a frantic deadline day, with the 20 teams in the English Premiership paying out more than £210m on the final day of business.

English top flight English clubs spent an absolute fortune over the past couple of months as they scrambled to improve their squads for the long campaign ahead.

Premier League sides splashed more than £1.4bn on recruitment, with a total of 265 players joining new clubs.

Wow… if only we had even a fraction of that in grassroots.

This is my 3rd season at Syngenta Juveniles now coaching at U17s with a great squad of committed players, coaches and parents. As a club, we’re like any other grassroots club always looking for funding support, sponsors etc etc to buy new kit, balls and equipment. That’s then before having to pay for the use of school let facilities and astro parks.

However, as a club we’re lucky that we’ve struck gold with a new 25-year lease for pretty much exclusive use of the Little Kerse facility in Grangemouth which boasts five pristine grass surfaces, one refurbished astro park and the announced-on Thursday a second astro park for the use by Syngenta players. Fantastic news however it’s been far too hard to achieve this and the funding required.

So taking into account the money splashing around in the transfer window in both England and Scotland, why couldn’t we introduce with the help of the government some form of Grassroots Sport Tax how would that work?

Idea 1: For every £1 spent on a transfer a 1% levy would be applied to a transfer fee that is paid into a central fund that would be governed by the relevant bodies selected.

Perhaps the Scottish Football Trust who’s impact on our game is growing at a pace. So basically, for every transfer in Scotland that takes place at one of clubs, the levy is charged to the club and then paid into the central fund.

This summer alone, over £12m was spent between Celtic and Rangers so that’s £120,000 alone into a fund.

Idea 2: Much was written about the launch of Juan Mata’s (Manchester United) decision to pay 1% of his wages (£140k a week) into the Common Goal charity run by StreetWorld Football. His idea was ‘sign up’ a Common Goal First Eleven doing similar. All funds raised would go to a range of charities.

So why with the help of the PFA in Scotland (and maybe England) couldn’t we consider a Grassroots Tax on professional salaries for all players?

Businesses up and down the UK are being charged for the new Apprenticeship Levy, which is a tax calculated on their PAYE. So why couldn’t we consider something similar?

Players putting back into the funding of facilities across the country, creating the next set of heroes and giving something back.

We shouldn’t be struggling to get funding to put teams onto the pitch on a Saturday and Sunday morning, but sadly we are. With the outcomes and outputs due to be presented on the now infamous Project Brave, are we likely to see how more funding can be directed the way of clubs to continue?  How many of the Performance Schools had new astros or the appropriate facilities provided for their launch?

If Project Brave is due to slash the number of ‘pro youth’ and ‘club academy’ sides up and running, 1000s of boys will pour back into boys club to continue their development. Are we ready for them and will we be able to continue their development or will they be lost to the PlayStation or Xbox?

One thing is for sure with the money continuing to spoil our game at the top level, funds need to be filtering down into the grassroots game.

The big guys should be doing far more to grow the next generation of Scotland stars.

Grassroots Tax

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

Ego is the Opponent


Having enjoyed my little blogging break over the summer I had the need to feed my ego by getting back with a subject that has has concerned me for some time. We all have an ego however there are levels to it and I would like to challenge it from a coaching perspective.

Ryan Holliday talks about the “Disease of Me” and the self-interest of the ego. Your ego will hold you back. The counter to ego is humility, selflessness, modesty, self-control and justice. Consequently, by putting these into practice your ego is suppressed and you will develop and move forward.

As a grassroots coach achieving honours such as trophies and awards is the validation of the ego. Awards and recognition matter to the egotist. The coach fixated with winning to the detriment of player development is ego operating at the highest level.

There is a cost to ego. Coaches need to look internally and seriously question if their own ego is getting in the way of their players’ development. Of course, the ones with the biggest ego’s will fail to do this. Self-reflection is ridiculed by the ego. The very ones who need to do this are the ones who will disregard and rubbish this point. They fool themselves that they are doing it ‘for the kids’ when in reality the ego has won. The enemy lies within and the enemy is the ego.

Now the problem is that you can’t avoid it. The ego lies within all of us. It’s that little voice or in many cases voices that is chipping away at you not to lose face and show others how good we are. It’s part of us but our daily battle needs to be how to turn the volume down. The ego is telling us how good we are; how much better than others we are. The reality might be very different. Are we deluded?

Grassroots coaches come in many shapes and sizes. Our backgrounds, intelligence, behaviours and culture will be remarkably different. No two coaches are the same. With all these factors and all our personal history there is no wonder ego can easily find a comfortable home. We have found ourselves in a position of trust sometimes by default or by maneuvering ourselves into a role. No matter how you have found yourself in this coaching role, we are now here and let’s think how the ego affects that performance as a coach. Will it help or hinder?

Firstly let’s look at one end of the continuum. The ‘Egotistical Coach’ They are easy to spot. It’s all about them. Chasing trophies; chasing the best players; swapping out players who don’t meet their expectations; telling anyone who is willing to listen how good their team is. As Reed Maltbie would say the ‘joystick coach’ continually giving instruction. They do it for themselves, not the team. Don’t get me wrong there have been a few exceptions. I know a few who have created successful teams (in terms of trophy winning) but have built the teams with humility and selflessness.

In these times of instant gratification, ego is well fed and lives in comfortable surroundings. However, just like many forms of gratification it is empty, artificial and poisonous.

So at the other end of the continuum where ego has been silenced, we see the good traits in a coach removed of his ego. Truly great coaches do not need external assurance. They look internally and I don’t think how good I am but think what can I do better. In my experience, the ones who I have the most respect for were self-aware, diligent and humble. The saying ‘Think Big, Act small’ was their mantra. They knew the road to development was a long one but taking one small step at a time without any self-promotion was the path to greatness.

Finally, the ego blinds us by building ourselves up with fantastic stories of how good we are. Guaranteed it will be same ego and self-delusion that will be your downfall.

I’ll finish with my coaching hero and the most ego-less coach I know. John Wooden, voted the No’1 coach of all-time was seen at a basketball game at 93 years old taking notes. He was still intent on learning at such an age. No ego in any shape or form. We must learn from the greats. We must prevent ego finding a place in ourselves as it will only undermine your true self.

Ego is an opponent we can beat.

Ego is the Opponent

Community Is The Answer


Margaret (Meg) Wheatley famously said “Whatever the problem, community is the answer”. In the present time where we have had the shocking scenes from the Grenfell Tower fire; the General Election; Brexit; terrorist attacks; Trump as POTUS it is safe to say we are living in crazy times. We have seen that the authorities (or the establishment) are maybe not the ones to be leading us in this uncertain world. They have fooled us all into a way of thinking that has used the ‘Corporation’ to be king above all else. It uses authority, competition, power, profit, bureaucracy to produce a mechanistic world where the subordinates are controlled and people are moulded into self-centred, materialistic, money grabbers buying more and more stuff to generate the economy while at the same time trashing the planet.

So a very dark picture is emerging but I am sick of focussing on all this as we see it 24/7 on every news channel we watch. We need to change the paradigm and the only answer I see is COMMUNITY!.

When we talk of community it conjures up a different picture. We think of volunteers, meaning, neighbours, social responsibility, part of a team, fun, involvement, helping others. In summary, something bigger than ourselves.

Communities have existed for thousands of years while corporations have only really been here for the last few hundred. However the pendulum appears to have swung too far towards corporations (and the associated problems) at the expense of communities. Don’t get me wrong we need both but there is currently a dire need for some system correction.

Time to pause…..This might seem a bit odd to be talking about such big issues on a blog that focuses on youth football development but the same issues are reflected in our game. Subsequently I can see some hope in our game and for the society in general.

I am proud to be part of a real community club. We represent the local community of around 10,000 people. The vast majority of players and coaches live in Dunblane but our doors are very much open to people from outside the town. It’s not just a bunch of people thrown together. We are a bunch of like-minded people with a common aim. Community, by it’s very nature is about sharing. We aim to share and help each other. It is not about one person or one team but it is about building a club which stands for something. We aim to get as many playing as we possibly can, for as long as possible. If we can develop players as individuals and as footballers then we are making a difference.

Looking at it from the wider lens of the issues I mention above then if we fall into the ‘corporation’ mode then we will have coaches who are only interested in themselves (self-centred). We will have coaches chasing trophies above all else (materialistic). We will lose the game we love by letting commercialism take over. This will just put us on the same trajectory as the rest of society. Therefore we have a chance to uphold our values by sticking to what we believe is right. Care in our community. Strength in togetherness.

Let’s set the standard for a new future. Together, as one, as a community. Helping each other to get better. Protecting the weak and challenging the strong.

We need to build the C’s of Community:

  • Collaboration
  • Capability
  • Commitment
  • Contribution
  • Conscience

Remember (as in life), you can’t play football alone. You need to be part of a team, a squad, a club, a community. What better way than playing with your best friends and creating memories to last a lifetime.

The best clubs have the feeling of community. Can we lead the way for the rest of society to follow. This is my hope. This is our strength.

Without doubt, community is the answer.


Community Is The Answer

Football is Capitalism


I couldn’t resist writing this post in advance of the General Election. I am not particularly political but I do believe in certain values with regard to fairness, community and opportunity for all. Something I believe my own club stands for.

I believe football is reflection of our society. Back in the day where football was the only game in town and where the working class roots of the game meant everyone played. There was, literally, nothing else. The shipyards and mine’s were dominant and players fought their way out of these ‘hard’ industries to make it to the professional game. The fans could recognise their heroes as being one of them.

Today it is very different. Big Premier league clubs are the superpowers of our society. They promise trickle down economics as the outputs of capitalism but how much of it reaches the grassroots level? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Sadly, equality, altruism and concern for your neighbour have bitten the dust in favour of greed, individualism and asset accumulation.The religion of the day is to pray at the altar of the City.

Our game has been sold to the Captains of Capitalism. The respected coach, John Davies, has warned of this for years. Big business has taken over by selling fancy boots at £200, sugary drinks, fast food which all do nothing to make players better. They sell a dream. A dream that can never be achieved using their products. How we need to strip it back, minimalise and get to the roots of our character and spirit. To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club:

“I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war… Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

So, is our game leading or following the ways of our society? The mega-clubs get richer and compete for the most valuable assets while poorer ones fight over the scraps or worse. Countries like mine yearn for the days when they were able to play on the world stage. I am one of a declining generation who can remember when Scotland regularly qualified for World Cups and Euro Championships. Now we are a 3rd world nation trying to kid ourselves on we are a player in the world.

We will never be a superpower – FACT. So why don’t we learn from other similar sized countries. Why can’t we try a different economic approach? Why can’t we have a different social structure. Why can’t we rise and ‘be a nation again’ as the song goes? We can’t because we are little people who fear breaking out the existing paradigm. We fear the unknown. We fear it will affect us individually. We fear the fear! The system encourages us to be compliant and fearful. We are trapped in the current system through debt. How do we hope to break out if we continually owe to others. Just like our football! We play with fear. “Get rid”; “Kick it long”; “Don’t take any chances”; “Nothing fancy” It is much easier to do as you are told rather than question the system that you are in. I admit questioning the system is seen as too hard. Particularly when in debt, mortgaged to the hilt but we must try and break this paradigm.

There is one antidote to all this fear. It is HOPE. I hope one day to live in a fair, just society where everyone has a chance to make something of themselves. Where everyone can play a part in their community. Where we move from independent to inter-dependent. Where Scotland qualifies for a major championship! Ok, that might be taking it too far.

Maybe we should look over the North Sea at our Nordic cousins. They have changed both their political system and football pedigree by focussing on community and a fairer society. A possible model for us to learn from?

There is no doubt we live in a capitalist society and our football clubs reflect this. Is there a different model for our football clubs and is there a different model for our society. I live in hope on both fronts. As this season and parliament ends, let’s look forward to a new, fresh start and build solid foundations based on values, respect, honesty and concern for our fellow humans.

Hopefully when you cast your vote it is not done with fear but with HOPE. Let’s stop playing defensively; get on the front foot; attack with passion. This is ours and our children’s future. Now is not the time to play with 5 at the back and park the bus. We need to play expansively. We need to have hope that one day I am once again proud and to be part of a great community both on and off the park.

Whatever your political leanings, at least have a say in the outcome of the game and vote with your heart and soul. We will leave a legacy in some way, let’s make sure it is one of hope for our children.

Football is Capitalism

Lessons From A Legend

Sir John

This is a tribute to a man who many consider to be the Godfather of Coaching. Sir John Whitmore recently passed away (28th April 2017) and this is my attempt to honour his memory. I was fortunate enough to have been trained by John back in 2002 when I completed his course based on his book ‘Coaching for Performance’ I then took this training to the next level when I completed his 3 day course entitled ‘Transpersonal Coaching’ Both courses were amazing and gave me a desire to explore my own coaching journey.

Firstly, to the courses and the the foundation for all my coaching since completing ‘Coaching for Performance. This was really a journey of giving you tools and techniques to become a competent coach. The GROW model was introduced and I still use the model to this day. The real secret to this was not the tools and techniques but was looking inside at my own personal improvement pilgrimage. John’s authenticity drove us to look inside for answers. Not once did he tell us what to do. He just asked the right questions. So many people if they just learnt to ask good questions and not tell people what to do could make a massive difference to personal performance. The video below shows an exercise we carried out.

Although the quality of the video is not great, I think you will get the message. We did exactly the same exercise and the results were incredible.

Following this course I signed up for the Advanced Coaching course ‘Transpersonal Coaching’ and was lucky enough to have Olympic gold medallist, David Hemery, as my coaching partner. This programme content was a real eye opener and I must admit I struggled with it at the time. It was delving deep into my own psyche and the different sub-personalities we all have. It took ‘Awareness’ and ‘Responsibility’ to new levels. It looked at your core values and beliefs. It was about EQ and your own personal growth. But it was even more than that. John took me on a developmental journey which I am still on to this day. We looked at spirituality and the impact we have on others. It really was a rollercoaster for me where I explored things I had never even thought of before. ‘Crisis of Meaning’; ‘Crisis of Duality’; ‘Personal Will’ are all things I am still researching. It is only 15 years on that the jigsaw picture is now taking shape.

John was an inspirational figure to me back in 2002 and 2003. Although we lost touch I received the odd message from John over the years and I truly treasured his wisdom. A truly humble man who not once told me what to do. He just asked brilliant questions. I try to do the same but I am nowhere near as fluent as I want to be.

John is best known for his business coaching but also through the Inner game series and Tim Gallwey has helped me in my football coaching. Sports coaching and Business coaching are very different but both aim to improve the player/person being coached. John states that ‘building awareness, responsibility and self-belief is the goal of the coach’ Too true! Our goal is to bring the best out in the people we are coaching. John taught me that in order to do this we must work on ourselves first. The dichotomy of this is obvious but being selfless and giving to others is key for me. John talked about moving through three stages in life. From dependent to independent to interdependent. We really need to get to that last stage where we depend on each other to flourish.

John, you have joined my other great great coaching hero John Wooden and I would love to hear your conversations!!. I had the privilege to be influenced by you and you have given me an invaluable gift. You practised this until your last breath. I hope I can honour you by doing the same.

You made me GROW. I salute you Sir.


Lessons From A Legend