A ‘coaching philosophy is a set of beliefs or principles that direct’s the coaches planning, practice and their subsequent actions or behaviours within that practice’ (Cassidy, Jones & Portract, 2008, P56). Until recently, I openly stated that I was never one who held a ‘coaching philosophy’. In reflection, I had a lack of understanding of what a ‘coaching philosophy’ actually was!
The Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 was a dreadful and difficult time for all of us! However, in this time, I unexpectedly began to understand what a coaching philosophy actually was through several external sources, and began to develop my own!
I split my coaching philosophy up into two parts!
I split my coaching philosophy into two parts. The first part, which I call ‘My Inner Beliefs‘ which concern what I look to implement with my players within sessions. The second part, which I call ‘My Practice Beliefs‘ concerns the practice structures that I use within training.
My Inner Beliefs
It was during this time that I started ‘The Sports Coaching Podcast’. I set the podcast up to hopefully benefit and serve as an education tool for others, and I didn’t expect to take anything from it myself. However, two episodes in particular began to make me think about my own coaching philosophy!
In the historic first episode of the podcast, my good friend Josh Smith spoke about this own coaching philosophy, and he said something that really stuck with me! In episode one, Josh stated ‘‘if we are honest with ourselves, how many of our players are actually going to go on and play professionally’. For weeks after the episode I kept thinking about this statement! I began to reflect on my own coaching practice within youth development contexts, and realised that I had placed too much focus on performance and developing technical and tactical skills with players in the past! and never actually throught around if players had enjoyed the sessions.
In episode 10 I spoke with another good friend, Kieran Sykes around the topic of Life Skills. Kieran highlighted the importance of developing life skills such as Confidence, Communication, Leadership, Effort, Respect, Teamwork & Goal-setting with players/athletes. Again this hit home with me! Evidently, these are important psychological and social skills to develop with athletes for performance, However I had never thought about the impact of these skills outside of sport! I reflected back to my own experiences of learning ‘hard work’ through football, which ultimately stuck with me throughout school and university, and lead to my academic success through this time.
After this episode, I stumbled across a book entitled ‘The Seven Secrets of Successful Coaches, How to unlock your teams potential‘ by Greg Dale & Jeff Janssen. The book was a real eye-opener for me, highlighting that successful coaches encompassed values such as respect, honestly, and responsibility, and held these values of higher importance as opposed to winning games, titles, trophies ect. Additionally, through the ‘understanding expertise module’ on the Masters Sports Coaching course, I came across ‘The Serial Winning Coaches (SWC) Framework (Lara-Bercial & Mallet, 2016). The framework highlights 4 main themes key to SWC practice’s, yet the main theme that stuck out to me was ‘philosophy’. Each SWC held an ‘athlete-centered philosophy’, which comprised of holding a ‘high moral stance’, encompassing the same values listed in Dale & Janssen’s book.
Through these sources, I realised that at times I had placed an importance of developing life skills and the individual person as well as the player. However, as I didn’t hold this as my philosophy, at times I placed a higher importance on developing technical & tactical skills with players, whilst holding a coach-centred philosophy (focusing on developing as a coach myself rather than developing players).
through learning from these sources, ‘my Inner Belief’ is to develop ‘people over players‘!
My Practice Belief
In early January 2020 I bought the book entitled ‘what is tactical periodization’ by author Xavier Tamarit. Through reading this process, as well as completing the ‘Understanding & Analysis Sport’ module on the masters course, I began to understand the concept of ‘Tactical Periodization’, and began to implement it into my coaching!
Ultimately, inspired through this approach, I believe that ‘the game has to be trained through the games logical structure’. For years in my earlier coaching I would focus a session on a technical skill within football, usually in ‘blocked practice’ (repeating the skill over and over). Regardless of the team I coached or the way I wanted to play, I could never understand why players couldn’t make the decision’s I wanted them to make based on the tactics & way of playing I implemented. However, through this approach, what I learned what that I wasn’t teaching players how to make these decisions, because players were not learning the tactical concept that I wanted to implement, because they were not practising this concept in training. Ultimately, every game action involves a tactical decision, which requires a technical action, a physical action, a psychological action and a social action (Delgado-Bordonau & Mendez-Villanueva, 2016), so training needs to represent the game from a tactical viewpoint based on the game that we want to create! So players can re-create these decisions and perform these game actions, in the game
Ultimately, to take a saying from Jack Rolfe (Founder of The Coaching Lab) ‘The Game is King’, I believe that everything my team does in training must represent the way of playing I want them to produce (based on my playing model). Ultimately, I believe ‘we must train the game, based on how we want to play the game’.
Having been a paying fan to watch football, I never minded losing a game as long as I was entertained by what I saw. As a Sheffield Wednesday fan, for years I watched the first team play ‘long ball’, which I found tedious to watch. It wasn’t until Carlos Carvahal arrived in 2015 and applied the famous Portuguese ‘Tactical Periodization’ approach that we saw a style of possession based attacking football that was so enthralling to watch.
As a coach, I have always wanted my teams, no matter the age & stage, ability or context to play ‘entertaining football’. In my younger days coaching in junior football, I wanted my teams to play exciting attacking based football, I wanted the players to showcase their ability and show what we had developed in training. I wanted parents and on-lookers to have enjoyed watching my team play. Even if we lost the game, I was always happy if we had played an entertaining game.
Moving away from the style of football, It has always been one of my core belief’s that as a coach in youth football, we should not train or play players in ‘one specific position’ throughout their development. In my opinion, this constrains players development and prevents them from fulfilling their potential (see my second blog post “training and playing players in all positions – the Ajax philosophy” where I explore this in more detail). I believe that within youth football, we should train and play players in different positions throughout their development.
Of course, one club that is famous for this approach is Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax from the Netherlands (commonly known as Ajax). One of the clubs underlying principles is that “All Ajax youth players will train in every position until they reach the age 15/16, by then they will have a set position” (Searson, 1995, n.d; Ajax youth academy, n.d).
Like many, I was a big admirer of how Ajax played under the tactics of Erik Ten Haag in the 2018/19 season, in particular in the Champions League. I was so entertained watching the first team play and began watching the clubs games in the Eredivise.
I began to comprise some research into Ajax’s philosophy and their fundamental principles of play. This of course lead me to Rinus Michels famous concept, ‘total football’.
My research into the Ajax philosophy & total football provided me with the inspiration to create my own football philosophy. My philosophy is based on the fundamental principles from of these philosophies.
I believe that the game should be played in a way that is:
- Possession based
- Player rotation
Simply put, my playing philosophy is to play offensive-minded possession based football, which is attractive, creative, fast to watch and includes player rotation.