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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Best Coaching Links Of The Week: Individual Coaching, Learning from Defeats, Deliberate Practise & more

Coaching is not only about talking to the whole team, it is also about giving pointers to particular individuals.  Apart from being a sensible option - it is better than stopping the whole session to correct one person's mistake - it is also the best way to ensure that people improve.

Defeat might often be bitter to swallow but it is also a great opportunity to learn.

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea that practise is what makes top athletes what they are and, although the way he described the 10,000 hours of practise as being the key has since been debunked, there is no doubt that deliberate practise is an essential element for those trying to improve. 

Talking of practise, here are five myths about genius.

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Importance of Change for Coaches, Newcastle's coaching & more

Change is rarely easy.  In fact, change is often hard and creates discomfort.  Yet without change progress is rarely possible and that is something coaches need to be particularly aware of.  In fact some clubs' decline - like that at Liverpool - is down to their inability to accept change.

I love pieces like this one that lift the curtain and allow us a look behind the scenes at a club like Newcastle that has suffered its fair share of humiliations in recent years but which now, with Rafa Benitez, have a coach that matches their fans' ambitions.

There are a lot of problem with the FA and the coaching structures within English football (as the declining standards of national team coach highlights).  Yet praise where praise is due, I really enjoy the coaching articles that they put out.  This one dealing with planning for the complexities of the game is a case in point.

And, to wrap it all up, something about psychology in sport which, rather than focus on the theoretical puts in a significant dose of it in action.

"A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are." Bill Shankly

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Impact of Changing Managers, Am I Doing It Wrong?, Leadership and More.

Whilst people should always be appreciated when they are alive, one must do plenty right to be remembered as fondly as Keith Blunt was when he passed away.

Many fans - and club owners - seem to believe that a struggling club can be improved by changing managers it seems that, whilst this can result in a slight immediate improvement, it does not necessarily guarantee a solution to the problems.

Most coaches will find themselves in this position at some point or another, wondering whether they are doing it all wrong.  A good thing to ponder. 

A lot is often written about leadership but what do we actually know about it?

“Worrying gets you nowhere. If you turn up worrying about how you're going to perform, you've already lost. Train hard, turn up, run your best and the rest will take care of itself.” - Usain Bolt

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Monday, October 3, 2016

The Importance of Change for Coaches

“I like to dream,” a veteran football administrator told me in one of the first interviews that I did.  “But I know that if I stretch too much I will hurt myself.”  Reverential as I was to wisdom built on years of working in the game, this seemed to me like quite a sensible stance.  Only years later, when I had supplemented it with some experience of my own, did I come to see that the sensible option might also be the one that leads to lethargy and insignificance.

The human brain is built to identify patterns and react to them accordingly.  That is how it was at the beginning of humanity.  Eat a particular fruit and you will survive; ignore the rustling of leaves in the forest and a deadly animal will jump on you.   Those who were better skilled at identifying and following those patterns survived.  They passed their genes on to their children until humanity as a whole was wired to follow those patterns.

Our brain is still essentially the same.  That is why most of us value the familiar and dislike change.  We look for patterns and, when we don’t find them, our brains start to panic because they cannot predict what the outcome will be.  It is why we feel discomfort when we’re faced with change.

The thing is that our brains were shaped in extreme times where not being cautious could result in death (and a painful one).  It still reacts to what isn’t familiar in the same manner.  And whilst, sometimes, the sensible option is the best one there are also circumstances where change is beneficial. 

Football provides plenty of examples of this.  When Liverpool opted to replace Graeme Souness in the early nineties they decided to pick Roy Evans in his place.  Evans was an excellent coach who tried to innovate in his own right – he opted for a formation with three at the back to capitalise on his team’s attacking talent – but his main qualification for getting the job was his history at the club and as a member of the fabled boot room.  If promoting from within had worked in the past why shouldn’t it now?

Yet the face of English football was changing.  Arsene Wenger was bringing with him dietary regimes that were unheard of at other clubs whilst Chelsea were investing their new-found wealth in foreign players.   Liverpool needed to be brave and embrace the change but instead went all conservative.  There are many factors that contributed to the club’s decline and it would be grossly unfair (not to mention hugely incorrect) to pin it all on the appointment of Roy Evans.  But the appointment was emblematic of a mindset that wasn’t ready to deal with change.

This in itself was hardly surprising.   For the previous two decades, Liverpool had been the dominant force of English football so they had more to lose than most.  It is fairly easy to be brave and experiment when there is little at stake but that is often not the case with the successful.  Even if there is an element within those organisations that fully believes in looking at different ideas, it is extremely hard to convince others to get on board.

Liverpool had, essentially, forgotten the lessons from their own history because their longevity was fuelled by change and their ability to pull it off at the right moment.  Big players left and were replaced by others who didn’t have the same characteristics but, in their own way, shaped the team so that it continued to be successful.  

Crucially, Liverpool’s managers were always willing to push along this change.  They didn’t get sentimental with players: when they felt that someone was getting to a stage where he wasn’t good enough, they were quite ruthless in selling them.  However, they always had a plan in place so that when that player left they already had a replacement who pretty much knew what he had to do even if it meant tweaking other areas.  And so change came about without impacting the team.

It was the same with another of English football’s most successful managers.  Sir Alex Ferguson kept on winning partly because he had the vision to foresee changes in the game and prepare for them.  It wasn’t simply tactical brilliance that shaped his success but rather his ability to see the bigger picture, identify what was going to be a problem and then prepare so that his side effectively improved.

Even Barcelona’s modern success is founded on change: when Pep Guardiola took over he faced down the huge risk of moving on some players who had been huge for the club – the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco – because that is how his side could really develop.

What does this all mean for coaches who aren’t at a big Premier League club and are doing this purely for their love of the game?  Essentially that change should be embraced.  Change can be uncomfortable but if you try to put it off then what you’re doing is undermining your capacity for success.  Look out for what might be changing, prepare for it to make the transition as easy as possible and then carry it out.

Some words of caution though: change for change’s sake can be just as bad (to continue on the Liverpool case study: Graeme Souness tried to change too much, too soon) so always be aware of why you’re doing all this.  And be ready to fail.  Not everything will work out smoothly.  But it will be the instances where they do that will define you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Best Coaching Links Of The Week: Combatting Depression, Cost of Qualifications & Perception in Players

Having struggled with depression myself in the past, this piece on Ohio State's head coach's fight to improve his mental health is one of the most important and powerful things that I've read in a long time and one that any coach should be familiar with.

This is a brilliant list of tips on how to coach today's athletes.  As the piece says, coaching is all about building quality relationships.

That English football lacks enough coaches is a common complaint but, given that little seems to get done, one that bears repeating

The greatest midfielders in the world are those who can not only spot a pass but also deliver it to areas where opponents do not expect them.  That ability is dissected and analysed in this mammoth piece on  Trust me, if you are a football coach, you HAVE to read this.

“There is no glory in practice but, without practice,there is no glory.” - Unknown

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Best Coaching Links of Last Week: How to Prepare for Matchday, Perfectionism, Personal Brand & Leading By Example

Not everyone might like it (and it isn't the be all) but ultimately, a coach's work is seen when there is a match.  Here are a couple of videos by Ally Bain on how to prepare players for matchday.

How important is perfectionism for success?  My own view is that it is success is ab accumulation of small things done extremely well which sound very much like perfectionism.  Anyway, here's an article debating that issue.

I'd never really noticed the site of the League Managers' Association but these are two fine articles that have ensured that I will be keeping a close eye on it in the future.  The first piece is about leading by example, something that every coach has to live by.

The second piece deals with developing a personal brand.  This might seem like marketing spiel and has very little to do with football but, ultimately, when you think about any top managers you immediately think about the characteristics that define them.  Can you reach the top if you're bland?

"If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win."  - Carl Lewis

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Case For The Use of GPS In Football

Football is traditionally slow in adopting new technologies.  Analysts are still looked at with suspicion (at best) by those who believe that the only way to judge a game is by looking at what you can see on the pitch rather than at what the numbers say.  

It took years for goal line technologies to be introduced even though their benefit – as we’re seeing now – was obvious.  And, despite this, there are still those vehemently against the idea of introducing any new technological support for referees.

The same applies on the coaching side.  The idea of having proper nutrition took years to take hold.

The irony is that other sports where resources and popularity are more limited than football are much more forward in their adoption of technology.   Australian Rules Football is a very prominent case in point.  This sport that to outsiders might appear one where brawn is the only pre-requisite is also one of the earliest adopters.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS), for instance, has been in use in Aussie Rules for more than a decade.  So integrated is their used in AFL that in 2012 it was extended to measure activity in junior football.

“The key thing about this study is that it is the first time we have ever gathered information like this on kids playing football and the first time we’ve been able to quantify how our kids are experiencing sport. The study is unique and groundbreaking in that we’re getting real data about what kids do when they’re involved in junior football.”  So said at the time Associate Professor Pamm Kellett who was handling the research aimed at measuring player’s activity during games as well as how long they were on the field, the amount of exertion used and how fast they were running.  

Football is a completely different world.  At around the same time that AFL was being involved in that forward looking experiment, football was just dipping its feet into the pool.  The pioneer was David Casamichana, a Spanish coach involved with Rayo Cantabria de Santander (a semi-professional Spanish third-division team) monitoring their GPS use during training and friendly games; at the time FIFA banned their use in official games (the ban was only lifted towards the end of 2015).

Despite the limitations of the technology at the time – the GPS that he had available tracked movement every second meaning that movement that took place in a fraction of that was not measured – Casamichana’s worked proved the value of this tool.  It allowed teams to measure just how much their players ran, how often they  were involved in sprints (thanks to an accelerometer) and, ultimately their fatigue.

Based on this he found that centre backs and centre forwards are the ones that run the least distance.  Contrary to that, midfielders run most but they cover least distances in sprint.  When they do sprint, however, they top the table for high intensity.

On top of it all, his studies found that as games wear on the intensity begins to decline.

All of that might seem obvious but that is because it discounts the finer level of detail that can be obtained through GPS.  Not all midfielders play the same role within the team meaning that not all have the same characteristics.  Having that data at hand provides another tool that coaches can use to fine tune their side.

It also helps improve the quality of training.  If you know the characteristics of different positions than you can provide different preparation.  Having access to such data allows you to view the session as a whole rather than just one sprint whilst it provides you with historical baselines with which to compare a group of players or an individual coming back from injury.   

Indeed this data can be used to help prevent further athletic injury given that it is possible to gauge when an individual is getting close to his limit that provides you with the ability to stop them before they hurt themselves.

All such knowledge can be used to improve the intensity that a team can show during a game.  A team’s ability to keep on going during a match for longer than their opponents can provide a significant advantage.  

And the future will see even more extended use of GPS, in particular during games.

In an article late in 2015, Wycombe midfielder Matt Bloomfield explained the benefits that he saw from GPS.  “Every footballer is different and some of the lads pay more attention to the information given to us than others.” 

“Some lads are really interested in the feedback and check their stats first thing every Monday morning, while some aren't so interested and will only deal with the stats when told to. And then there are the lads who pretend not to care but still check when no-one is looking!”

“I'm fascinated by it all so I'm always asking for feedback and information about what I should be able to do and how far I should be running. It's all part of the competitive edge needed to build a career for yourself.”

“I'm sure that the technological advances will continue and I will always embrace them while always trying to gain that edge.”

Sadly, not everyone is like Boomfield.  Indeed, Plymouth manager Derek Adams complained when Wycombe used those devices in a game between the two sides.  "Somebody could head it and injure themselves, or somebody's finger could get caught in it,” he said. "There are a number of things that can go wrong. Somebody could get choked if they are pulled too hard.”

Admittedly, Adams also said that what he wanted was clarification and it would be wrong to label him because of this one incident.  Yet such thinking is, sadly prevalent among the football fraternity.