A Boxing Lesson


In my last blog post, I mentioned street football and how it is unlikely that we will return to those halcyon days. The post (Das Reboot) certainly created a lot of feedback with everyone supporting the position and even more giving examples where it all has gone wrong. Concerningly, I received the following four examples:

  • A coach who threatened to punch a 15/16 yo in the opposing team
  • A parent squaring up to a coach
  • A pro-youth team who replaced an entire squad following a heavy defeat
  • A coach verbally abusing his own players when 19-0 down

I am sure we can all give many more ‘war stories’ but the worrying thing is that not a week goes past without seeing some kind of dysfunctional behaviour to a lesser or greater extent.

For some reason, the above examples brought boxing into my conscious thoughts.

So I want to dig a little deeper.

I want to go even further back and try and work out how we have got to this position. I think football in the UK is following a very similar path to the journey boxing has taken. My early memories of boxing are of Scottish World champions like Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt. I can still recall Jim Watt winning the World title at the Glasgow Kelvin Hall. At the same time boxing had superstars like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Thomas ‘Hit Man’ Hearns all competing against each other as well as the legendary Muhammad Ali coming to the end of his career. So what does this all have to do with grassroots football? To be clear, I am not a boxing fan but all these names and memories are firmly stuck in my memory banks of being great days. Compared to now, I think I would struggle to name a boxing superstar except maybe Floyd Mayweather. So why do I use this example? I will use my Dad here who used to recite the tales of Walter McGowan (another Scottish world champion). Walter was from Burnbank, where my family came from. The majority were miners and tough as old boots. The thing was, at the time, boxing was a way out and boxers quite literally fought their way out. The place was awash with boxing gyms with many males spending their ‘leisure’ time in the boxing hall. Note, there were no fancy equipment at the time. A punchbag and speed ball if they were lucky. It was harsh but character forming. Boxers were therefore ‘made’ in these times as there were no other distractions.

Let’s roll on a few years and look at our football. Street football as I have discussed many times before had the same lack of distractions so we produced players like the Dalglish’s, Baxter’s and Jimmy Johnstone’s.

The common factor in producing world class footballers and boxers is that most came from a working class background and didn’t have a lot so all their focus was on one thing. They got hold of an old football or an old pair of boxing gloves and quite literally devoted their time to mastering their art.

So it looks like both of these sports have seen their best days but we can’t just accept this.

I admire the coaches who are trying to bring back street football. Guys like John Davies (@renegadestyle), Mark (@markproskills), Peter Prickett (@peterprickett) and Kieran Beech (@kireanproskills) who are doing a wonderful job in bringing these values back.

Alas, I think the world has changed and we are now trying to produce players from a more middle class background where there are so many other distractions and ‘helicopter parents’ to satisfy. I think this makes it even harder to produce talent. What I do know is that if we can try and create the right environment (and it will be different from the environment that I have talked about) then we might have a chance.

That new environment might just need more pitches (outside and indoor) where players can just play. The reason I think we may have a chance is two examples from this week. We have just inherited a new 3G pitch which we have fully booked each week night. The great thing is that there are always kids trying to steal a bit of the pitch to just play. These might be our kids who have just finished their session or local kids just wanting a kickabout. Also on Sunday, when it is pretty much not being used by clubs then the place is buzzing with kids just wanting to play. If we can harness this energy and realise we need to create different environments then we might have a chance of producing that elusive star ‘street player’

So what is the conclusion? Still a long way to go and learning lessons from boxing where they have now changed the boxing gym to become more attractive for people just wanting to keep fit. This might never produce a world champion but will succeed in gaining more interest in the sport. In football, we need to continually strive to increase interest and participation levels if we are to produce that ‘star player’ Let’s look about and see what other sports are doing to attract players.

It’s competitive out there.’ Round 1, DING DING’


A Boxing Lesson

Das Reboot

images (1)

My good friend and old coaching partner has returned to his native land for the next year. Returning home to Germany has meant trying to find a local club for his son and our former DSC centre back, Sammy. He hopes to continue his footballing career on foreign soil and what a great chance to experience a very different football culture. He has now found a club with similar community values to our own at DSC. As part of his induction to the new club he was given a document which described the club and its philosophy. One sentence stood out for him which embraced the difference between our nations:

“We don’t see the teams we play against as opposition but as partners which help our youngsters to become better footballers”

I remember suggesting something similar to an SFA official. They loved the idea and fully supported it but struggled to see a way that we could introduce it. I know other enlightened clubs who have complementary views with some leagues working on it as I write this.

Subsequently, this brought my thoughts to all the discussions surrounding street football. We look back at those days with rose tinted spectacles and, to be honest, I don’t think that environment will ever return. However, I would like to take some aspects from it and try to apply it in today’s culture. Back in the day, we spent most night’s and every chance we could playing both small and large sided games. My fondest memories were the ‘big side’ down the park. These could vary from  7 to 15-a-side. The great thing was that the games were always tight and the sides were picked evenly on ability (not age). Not only picking the teams this way but we adjusted them if a team got too far ahead. It was not unusual for the best player of the winning team to be moved over to the other side. So here’s some radical suggestions:

  • Could we pick teams to play against each other to make it more competitive?
  • Could we ‘lend’ out our better players to other teams to help them?
  • Could some teams have more or less than 11 players?
  • Could we have games where we mix up the teams?
  • Could players play for more than 1 club and maybe 3 or 4 clubs at the same time?

If we are to once again produce quality footballers, we really need to change the mentality from winning teams to developing footballers. This takes collaboration rather than competition between clubs. Can we work with other clubs as partners? I would love to see this but fear too many have their own self-interest at heart.

If (arguably) the world’s best footballing nation has this collaborative approach at grassroots level then why are we so arrogant to think it will never work in the UK?

Continuing on the Germanic theme, German philosopher Nietzsche produced this great quote

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”

Surely our football does not need to die before it gets stronger but I fear it is dying unless we take some radical action. It is time for ‘Das Reboot’

Postscript: As I was writing this post I received a scoreboard showing a 34-0 win from a Scottish Cup tie at u16 level. What good does this type of game do anyone? Welcome your thoughts?


Das Reboot

You Are Here

You are here

No matter where you are in your current coaching or playing journey, you are at a specific point. You may be in your first throes or you may have been doing it for 30 years. Nevertheless, like the sign on the shopping centre map indicates ‘You are here’ Wherever you are on the map, you are heading somewhere or aimlessly wandering around the plethora of shops trying to entice you in.

So let’s ponder at the map and think. The first step is determining exactly where you are. Agreed? After this, you need to decide where you want to go and plan the required route to get there. Depending on factors like time and inclination then this could be a very direct route or you could meander to get to your destination. Maybe trying out a few shops on the way either window shopping or going in to try a few things on. So what has this to do with coaching? Firstly, decide exactly where you are now. How much knowledge have I gathered? What is my experience? What are my strength’s and weaknesses? You need to do a very detailed inventory on yourself. Or even better, do this together with another coach who will give you honest feedback. Doing it oneself is ok but we will tend to focus on what we want to be rather than what we actually are. I did this and took some feedback from others whom I trust. This was revealing and I actually found myself doing less actual coaching and more administration. I got into coaching in the first place to be on the field and make a difference to the players under my care. Sending emails, hosting meetings and general organisation and admin takes me away from this. So I found myself in a very different place. However the sign does not lie ‘You are Here’

The next step is deciding where you are going. Where do I want to be with my coaching, or indeed playing? Do I want to get to the professional ranks or I am I only doing it for my son or daughter being on the team? Again with some self-reflection, I started coaching as my son played but I have had a lifelong fascination with coaching both on the park and in the workplace which led me to studying coaching at a deeper level. Coaching therefore allows me to take this learning journey into different areas which I can try out. Such things like trying things I have learnt on the football pitch and applying it in the workplace and vice versa.Thus my destination may never be achieved as it is constantly moving as I have a strong belief that learning never stops.

Lastly, we (may) know where we are going but do we have a route? This, for me, is the most important part.For some it might be a straight sprint while for me it is a casual stroll trying to smell the roses along the way. For the task driven, alpha male it might be that need to win trophies and tell friends about it.For others it is the self-satisfaction that you have played a small part in developing another human being for the better. The journey is where I want my focus to be. I want to work with players who want to learn and develop themselves. I want to work with like-minded coaches who focus on individual player development rather than chasing plastic trophies. I want to study the behaviour of my players and work with them to develop good habits they will require to be successful. Just maybe I can remove the obstacles that are getting in the way of the player taking the next step.

‘Here’ is a great place to be as all your work to date has got you to this place. However, if you want to get ‘there’ then you may have to do something different. The same rules apply to players. If they want to get ‘there’ can you be the guiding light who sharpens the focus for them? So, start here and now and work out your destination but more importantly put a lot of thought into your journey.

You Are Here

Spread the Learning

coach whistle

I have often pondered the difference between sports coaching and business coaching. In sports there are hundreds of thousands of coaches who are paid very little (except at the very top) while in business there are very few coaches and they are paid hundred’s of thousands!!

Sports coaching is generally free or minimal cost for the vast majority while business coaching is generally very expensive. However, the real issue is that sport players at all ages and standards seek out coaching while people in business avoid it like the plague. Yet, by definition, coaching is attempting to do the same in both contexts. It is moving the player or businessman towards a pre-determined goal. This goal has been agreed by both parties and should not only improve the players/businessman’s personal performance but contribute to improving the team or business performance.

I try to coach in both my sports and business environment. I think both areas have developed a lot over the years. I have been lucky that I have been given formal training in both fields but like all training it is only useful if applied correctly within the environment you are operating within. When I started sports coaching I used to do a lot of ‘telling’ players what to do. I shouted instructions, criticised, cajoled, encouraged but ultimately it was about me rather than the players. I have learned over the years that this approach has limited impact. A player will know when he has made a poor pass without me telling him. He knows when he has missed an easy chance or not picked up a runner at a corner. I was conditioned from an early age that this was coaching. My youth coaches made us all feel so small and the pressure seemed intense. Ultimately it was about them winning a plastic trophy to gratify their own ego. Nearly 40 years on from those early days, I now know better. I have read loads, studied the research and listened to loads of people I really respect in the game (you know who you are!). I have moved away from a ‘touchline commentator’ to a coach who puts the ownership with the players for their own learning and development. Ultimately, the only player who has control of their own development is the player. All we can do is be a catalyst for that development and hopefully assist in some small way to where that player ends up.

So let’s try and use some of this in business. We have all met the autocratic, ego-driven boss that loves to bang the table. As a manager will they get the best out of their people? Does the shouty touchline coach get the best out of his players? He might in the short-term but what are the long term effects on performance?

I believe sports have really embraced science as part of that development journey. Just look at the number of sports scientist and the use of data within sports. Even in the grassroots game, I watched a fantastic coach just count the amount of passes his players made. Why hasn’t business done the same. The tools are there to do it but are kept in the toolbag.

In conclusion, many of you will know that I am great advocate of development in our players and in business this should be no different. Therefore, think about the similarities between a win at all costs sports coach and a manager who is only interested in the bottom line profit. Both could be achieved quite easily. Think about it a bit, just play big, physical boys who will run over  teams and the manager who can cut his costs to the bone to achieve the same. This would be described by a mentor of mine as loss aversion rather than wealth creation. Yes, it is great to get a winning outcome but it is the upstream work in the process that will give you the required output. We need to focus and I mean really focus on the actions and behaviours within the process that will move us towards our goal. We might never reach our goal as a player or manager but just think how much you will grow working on the process. I think it was Gary Player who said the harder I practice, the luckier I get. Many have made similair quotes. I would like to add my own. ‘The harder I work at learning, the better opportunities are presented’

Finally I would love to see coaching wider spread within business and see two big areas of my life collide. There is so much to learn and share from both and both would benefit. I will continue to learn and pursue this goal. All I need now is a good coach!!!

Spread the Learning

Pre-season Coaching


As we get ready to embark upon a new season with the traditional pre-season training, I thought it was an opportune time to look at how we prepare as coaches. This time of the year is full of enthusiasm for the season ahead as we prepare training schedules, pre-season friendlies before kicking off that first competitive match around mid-August. But, let’s rewind a little, have we actually stripped back our coaching to prepare how we are going to coach this season?

I would like to start with the first review point. I want to define what coaching actually is (and by definition what it is not). There are thousands of people who call themselves a coach in football. I am stating the obvious here but a coach coaches therefore he does not do the following roles – team manager, administrator, cheerleader, teacher, instructor, trainer, drill sergeant, loving parent etc. So how would I define a coach? My own view is that a coach needs to be moving a player towards something. This something is a desired goal by the coachee. At this point point the player may not know clearly what that goal is yet. So the the first step is to help the player clarify their goal. In a team sport like ours each player’s goal might look very different. Therefore the skill of the coach is how he/she takes the individual goals and works it into a team goal without losing each individuals desired goal. The second step is therefore creating the environment using his personal skill and experience that help each player to move towards their stated goal. At this point, it is not about the external result but the improvement of the individual player. In team sports it is the duty of the coach (or coaches) to improve every single player in their care. Consequently, the environment created must be a learning one. Players must always be learning. The coach must facilitate this. This internal learning will drive out performance from players.

My second review point is that it is not about the coach but the player(s) being coached. Is the coach able to get them to solve their own problems and make their own decisions rather than doing it for them? It may be that coach actually needs to say less in order for the player to take the responsibility for his own learning. I believe players working it out for themselves is key to their own progression. I often see coaches jumping in too early to solve the problem ( I have done it many times myself) but this is really the coaches ego taking over. If a ‘coach’ continually operates in this manner then you can guarantee they are trying to validate themselves rather than coaching the player. It is the same for the ‘Tiger Parent’ who is consistently at the school insisting that their prodigy should have a better score or be in the top class. At some point players must stand on their own two feet and if they haven’t been coached to develop these key skills that build their resilience and character then I am afraid they may be too late for it to count.

My third review point as a coach is that failure is good. Sometimes as a coach and a parent it is extremely difficult to let our kids fail. We love them and we want to do everything to help them but the hard part is allowing them to fail from their own decision making. A coach needs to think objectively and subsequently needs to apply the process of players trying to solve their own problems. There is a big difference between a coach and a parent and that is why it is so difficult to be a parent/coach (believe me, I have direct experience of the issues). At clubs like ours it is mostly made up of parent/coaches so there is no real surprise that this brings its own problems when developing a group. The area of objectivity can be compromised but on the other hand we would not be able to run teams without this situation. There is no easy answer but I think a better balance of just having coaches who coach teams without the added pressure of being a parent would certainly help players develop, as coaches then would be able to be truly objective.

I started this post by trying to prepare for the new season by defining what coaching is in my book at grassroots level. I would like to finish with a few ideas for coaches to actually coach. I mean real coaching and not the other things that many do that I mentioned at the start. Please ask the following questions and answer honestly:

  • Have you given responsibility to each individual player for their own learning?
  • Have you ensured an environment of enjoyment at each session?
  • Have you agreed performance goals for each player individually?
  • Are you really ‘listening’ to what your players are telling you (as opposed to what you want to hear)?
  • If your players are doing something different to what they are saying then what does this mean?

Finally, coaching is not about giving advice and instruction (that is teaching) but it is being able to hold up the mirror for the player so he/she can see it for themselves. Ultimately if you get it right then the player learns and performs to their fullest potential. This is success. The downside to being a coach is that this may take years both for yourself to learn how to coach properly and for the player to learn to be coached. Remember just because you are called a ‘coach’ doesn’t mean you are one but you have a duty to learn how to do it to the best of your ability.

Let pre-season begin!!

Pre-season Coaching

Positive Reinforcement 

Being positive and applying positive reinforcement are two totally different things. Most people like to think they are positive people, consequently they think they are using positive reinforcement. If this was the case they would be getting the behaviour they want regularly. We all know this not to be the case when it comes to coaching young players.

Coaches need to learn how to use positive reinforcement as a tool for development. If this key skill could be used effectively then development would be on a upward exponential curve. I know many ‘positive’ coaches but not sure how many use positive reinforcement. By definition, positive reinforcement is getting players to do things because they want to rather than because they have to. Recently I have been doing some 1-1 coaching sessions as the season has finished as a few players would like to work on some aspects of their game. This is ultimately reinforcing for me as I get feedback that they are enjoying the sessions and learning at the same time. It is reinforcing for the player as they are working to get better and seeing the effects of this. Ultimately, positive reinforcement is being applied all round. This is success.

So how can we set up our sessions utilising positive reinforcement? Now it becomes harder in a group session as what is reinforcing to one player, may not be to another. Just think of all the complex characters that make up your team! So how can we achieve it (if it is indeed the road to success)? Here is my attempt at a solution:

  1. You must find out what reinforces every single player. Don’t assume everyone will be the same. There’s nothing everyone wants and likes and no single thing will please everyone. I used to make the mistake thinking everyone loved shooting. Many did but not all. Some players were reinforced to stop a shot. Know your players.
  2. Don’t look for the quick and easy solution to reinforcement. I know some coaches who love to give out medals, man of the match awards, singling out players for special praise. While this may be reinforcing for the few players that receive them, it is not for the many who do not.
  3. Don’t fall for the ‘perception error’ this is where we treat players as they ought to be rather than what they really are. We also assume these are shared by everyone and this will not be the case.
  4. The closest thing to achieving what most like is giving attention. In my experience, this is a powerful reinforcer. Players will do many things to get this attention. It is undoubtedly a powerful reinforcer.

So if getting to know each player’s reinforcers is so important to their development then how can this be done? Again here is my attempt:

  1. ASK – A bit simple but just ask the person. The danger is that the players might give you want you want to hear rather than what actually reinforces them. They may give you a couple but a really each player has hundreds of reinforcers. If you have a good relationship with the player then asking works.
  2. OBSERVE – This is the secret sauce. What a person says and what they do may be miles apart. You can work out a players reinforcers by watching them. Where they spend their time and what they do is key to working this out. Give players a choice and see what they pick and you will be halfway there to working out their reinforcers.
  3. EXPERIMENT- Try a reinforcer and see if it works. When you find the person doing the thing you want then you have found a reinforcer for them. If they don’t then you have still to find the reinforcer. Have fun trying but remember success is defined by what the player does and not what you do. If it is reinforcing for you but not for them then you haven’t achieved positive reinforcement.

Now you can see why it is much easier to achieve in 1-1 sessions as opposed to group sessions. The best coaches understand how this works and achieve this. Think of Ferguson, Guardiola and Mourinho (pre-last season) and you can see where they achieved this. They knew their players and they used positive reinforment to get the required discretionary effort and ultimately high performing teams.

Now think, how do I do the same at grassroots level? This is even harder as we are doing this in our spare time but it is ultimately positively reinforced for us as coaches and that is why we keep doing it. You will know when you get it as all of sudden it becomes just a little easier. The downside is that it may take many years for some to achieve.

To quote behavioural expert Aubrey Daniels “only positive reinforcement brings out the best in people”


Positive Reinforcement 

3rd World Football Nation 

The recent England result against Iceland has brought the worse out in us Scots. It is always easy to gloat when the ‘Auld Enemy’ has such an embarrassing exit from a major championship. This is little consolation for not even being at the party. Another year sitting at home watching quality football from even the smallest of nations. Some will argue that the football is not great. I would beg to differ. The football that is played is not the football we recognise but that is the problem. The game has moved on but we haven’t.

I think our problems go way back. My generation was the last to produce a team to qualify for a major championship. Now, we are nowhere near the level required to do so. Yes, we have a hard working team but where is the genuine class? We are a hard working nation and this is a value we should be proud of. This got us though in years gone by. Now others work just as hard if not even harder but complement it with technical skills and tactical awareness. I recall playing in a tournament in France as an u14 player. We were Celtic BC and we won it convincingly against such sides as Ajax, Milan and Nottingham Forest. One abiding memory is playing Ajax. I remember watching them warming up and doing rondo’s (although they weren’t called that then). We were in a line doing shooting. The game started and they constantly tried to play out from the back and we couldn’t understand this as we just pressed them and scored easily. Why didn’t the keeper just punt it forward like we did? I think we won the game 10-0 and went on to win the tournament. So here’s the rub. I bet some of these players who were encouraged to play out from the back and develop their skills and technique properly went on to become better all round players. Think Ajax and you think player development. Think Celtic and you think Lisbon Lions and the dribbling skills of a Jinky Johnstone; the passing skills of a Bobby Murdoch; or the colossus that was Billy McNeil. Almost 40 years on from the game I played against Ajax youths how would you describe progress in both camps?

So, while the rest of the world was developing players based on skill, technique and tactical nous. We are still in the Dark Ages of playing long balls from the keeper or defenders which are knocked down by the big centre forward for fast forwards to feed off him. This may get you results but won’t get you development at grassroots.

Wake up Scotland!! This is 2016. Technical, tactical modern football means working on all these areas from an early age to develop the good habits required in later stages. Don’t just pick big strong boys who rely on their physical attributes. Develop all boys no matter height and weight to be comfortable on the ball in tight areas; to be good in 1v1 situations and understand space and the developing pictures around them.

I really would like to go to a major championship before it is too late. Do I think I will? I have to be honest and say not yet with the current way we do things. We are a product of our current environment. I don’t see enough people wanting to change that environment for the better yet.

Many thanks to Euro 2016 for sending a strong message back to us.

3rd World Football Nation 

Two World’s Collide


A few weeks have passed since my last post. I have a new role at work and it has been full on. Hugely challenging but exciting with it. I thought I would reflect on these first few weeks in this new leadership role. I can’t help making comparisons with my role as a coach/club leader.

Everyone expects it should be easier at work as people are in paid employment.Therefore, they ‘should’ do a good job while grassroots is voluntary and relies on goodwill. Yes, there are massive differences between the workplace and the sports field but there is much more in common. Of course at work, people say because you are the leader then you can just tell people what to do. If only it were that simple. In sport, we rely on this goodwill which is given for free. People are at the club coaching and helping because they want to. It is the ultimate in positive reinforcement where we are getting people to do things because they want to. In the workplace it may not be the same as people may be there because they have to (bills to pay, mouths to feed). Therefore we might see more negative reinforcement that drives a compliance culture where only the minimum will be done. The secret is moving from negative to positive reinforcement. This will not happen overnight and requires a skilled coach to move in this direction. We have all witnessed the ‘shouty’ coach who barks out orders. Yes, players will comply but will they move to the next level or will they just stay in a ‘compliant’ mode.

At work and on the field, your job as a coach and leader is to bring the best out in your people and it is your people who will deliver success on the pitch and in the workplace. I have found myself doing very similar things that work in both world’s:

  • Create the right, positive environment through dialogue
  • Set some expectations
  • Measure what is happening in terms of behaviour
  • Put some consequences in place to get the behaviour you want
  • Put in shaping steps to get you to the behaviour you want
  • Test for stimulus control
  • Reinforce the things you want to see
  • Provide constant feedback

The above is not exhaustive and you will adapt to each player/employee as you build rapport and understand their own drivers. The most important thing, in my opinion, is for a coach to be constantly learning on how to do it better. You have to read, you have to watch other good coaches and managers/leaders in action.  I write copious amounts of notes and now have two journals. One for work and one for sport. I take notes on how people react to certain triggers so I know the next time how to do it better. I take notes of what I ask people to do and then measure if they do it. I am building up a bank of data to try and predict future behaviours. Your duty, as their coach is to pass this knowledge on but sprinkling your own experiences with the messages you are giving out. As a coach it feels simple but not easy.

At both places I am trying to build a high performing team around me. At work it is forming a management team who will lead the business and drive performance. At the club it is building a network of coaches who will concentrate on player and person development. In both instances, it takes time as trust is developed by both parties. Without this trust you can’t get to the next step.

As both my worlds collide, I remind myself that it is all a journey and that it is about enjoying that journey. After all, in all aspects of our life, is that not what it is all about?

Simple but not easy!


Two World’s Collide

Silly Season

We are now officially in the ‘Silly Season’ As the season comes to an end for loads of grassroots clubs, coaches now look ahead to next season. The dreams and aspirations at the start of the season have made way for the ego to kick in. Over the last few weeks I have heard loads of stories from the sublime to the ridiculous. We have players moving to new clubs, players dropping out the game, coaches moving clubs and all surrounded by rumour and innuendo of tapping/poaching/enticing/tempting players to join clubs. It is great fun to observe across a variety of ages but it really sums up how much we value our own players if our only goal is to have a stronger team to ‘win the league’ etc.

I am proud of my club and the people within it. We have just produced our own philosophy and curriculum which is really pleasing as it really drills down into how we are to achieve individual player development. All comments received from coaches so far have been positive so our aim is to ensure it is rolled out effectively across the club. I am under no illusions that not everyone will agree with it but I believe it will guide coaches on how to deal with their players to get this development. Hopefully our coaches are not engaging in ‘silly season’ tactics. Almost all our coaches are parent coaches. They start with great intentions to see their own son/daughter do well in a wider group. This is great and many carry on and do great coaching. They develop themselves as a coach. They watch how others do it well and instigate that learning in their own sessions. They seek feedback on their own performance and always seek to get better. While others remain parents and are no more than cheerleaders. This is ok as long as it doesn’t step over the line and their own ego takes over. This is when the problems start and such coaches fully participate in the ‘silly season’ This means we have moved from development to chasing trophies.

As a coach your job is to develop your players to the best of your ability. Success is taking a group of players (no matter the level) and making them better. I am not an admirer of coaches who just win trophies as they have the best players but the true coach is one who firstly works on his own development and then will develop the group he has. Be clear, I am not against winning but the process is way more important than the outcome. If you get it spot on then the outcome will take care of itself.

A proud moment is seeing a player you have coached take on board what you are saying and putting it into practice. It could be something very simple but if you keep building on these simple things then they will accumulate and the player will develop. A couple of players have asked for some one to one work. This is fantastic and you can tell the mentality of a player if he wants help to work on his game. I am delighted to be given the chance to help them. One of these players is about to move onto the next level. By doing this extra work, he has a real chance.

I would sum up ‘silly season’ by a reminder to the three key groups on what is important:




Silly Season

How Much Do You Want It?

We have just launched our Club Philosophy and Curriculum. It is a first draft following workshops we have held at the club. I really do believe it will take the club forward as it has a stated vision of where the club is going and a mission of the actions and behaviours which will be required to make the vision real. All underpinned with values that are clearly defined by behaviours. The big message is that we will concentrate on individual player development. No matter the starting ability, can we make that player better? This is not just as a footballer but as a person first. Without doubt this will be challenging across a club with 280 players but we have set the bar high. I believe we have great people at the club and they will drive this forward.We really do want to create ‘a grassroots club like no other’ where the development of the individual player is at the heart of what we do.

In producing this philosophy, it really got me thinking about individual player development. This part is not in the document but just some thoughts how individual players may go about developing themselves.It is also a result of a few conversations I have had with some players recently. Firstly, has the player set a goal for himself? If you have set a goal then you need to take action to realise it. If not, you are just dreaming. Nice to do but won’t get you far. So that is the starting point. Set your goal and then maybe ask some of the following questions:

  • What am I wiling to do extra that moves me towards my goal?
  • Am I willing to do the work when others are relaxing/enjoying themselves?
  • Am I willing to change my diet to give me more energy on the field?
  • Am I investing in physical conditioning to make me stronger/faster?
  • Will I do it on my own if others aren’t interested?
  • Can I find a coach/mentor who will help me reach my goal?
  • Am I pushing myself beyond my comfort zone?
  • Am I working on the weaker parts of my game?
  • How many hours/week am I putting in with deliberate practice to improve?
  • Am I tracking my progress?
  • Am I actively seeking feedback?

We prove what we desire by our actions not by our words. Maybe if every player looked to answer these questions in the positive then just think how much development would be achieved! I really want to challenge the players who want challenged. Some will not accept this challenge and that is absolutely fine. The ones who do, really need to ask themselves – What am I willing to do? Am I taking the steps above to accomplish my goal? How much do I want it?

Finally remember, a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking?


Footnote: Many Thanks to Mira Novak, SFA Club Coach Officer, for all the hard work in producing our Club document. In a short time, he has made a massive difference to our thinking.

How Much Do You Want It?