There is nothing as corrosive for a manager as the belief that they’ve learned everything there is to learn. Such arrogance – more common than some would think – inevitably leads to stagnation and, eventually, deterioration.
That is why the best coaches are always striving to learn. Many do it by attending courses or reading books whilst some achieve it by studying what others are doing in order to find things that they themselves can do differently. A few, however, take their education even further; going overseas to teach as well as learn.
These few face the ultimate challenge of trying to pass on their knowledge in a culture that is alien to them, interacting with people who might not even understand them. This is the path that Stevie Grieve has taken and, despite being in his mid-twenties he has already coached in three countries (apart from his native Scotland) and has more experience than many accumulate in a lifetime.
His Blueprint, inevitably, is different from that of many others which makes it all the more interesting to find out more about it.
Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long ago was that?
Stevie Grieve: I started just over 10 years ago when I turned 16. I got into it through a guy who coached the local futsal club and after I showed some interest in coaching helping some younger kids learn to do some skills, he asked if I fancied doing coaching more regularly and from there I got into coaching.
BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
SG: I don't know about mentors, but people who I've either looked up to, asked lots of questions of or used as a benchmark as certain stages. Steve McPhee was the 1st football coach I worked with who was really good at it and I felt I could learn from in a fun, technical environment. He taught me how to talk to kids, how to control a session and other basics.
Steve Chatila who was the founder and chairman of Perth Youth Futsal was also someone from whom I learned a lot, particularly about tactical sense for movement off the ball and working as a cohesive unit. Unfortunately he retired a few weeks ago but PYF are regular UEFA Cup preliminary round contestants.
I've always used Ian Cathro – who is the assistant manager of Rio Ave even though he’s in his mid-twenties - as a benchmark of where I want to be and although we've only started speaking recently, he's always been a been an example of a guy from a non-playing aspect that has been a trailblazer for young coaches.
So I suppose I haven't had a mentor, but I've always questioned things, literally everything but more simple stuff that was relevant to my own development. For example, I asked myself "what does a guy at Manchester United, Barcelona or AC Milan's youth academy know that I don't?” then tried to find out and learn to get to that level. I’m getting there, but I know I still have a long way to go.
BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
SG: In short, to be a coach that people enjoy being coached by, to coach the players try to play an attractive to watch and exciting attacking game, and look to develop play through the thirds.
Training sessions are normally very technically detailed and with lots of creative freedom for the players allowed in games.
BfF: Is winning important for you?
SG: Not really, players do which is fine but development takes priority for me. I think that winning gives a guide as to the progress the players are making: winning is a by-product of producing good players.
I would rather give the players in game challenges to do and if they all 'win' their challenge, I think that's more of a successful result than winning or losing a match 4-3, especially in the ages from Under 8 up to about Under 15 or Under16.
BfF What are the most important attributes of players in your teams?
SG: Technically speaking : dribbling!
I love players who can dribble, and like to take responsibility with the ball. I had a guy in Switzerland called Dylan Valet who would do a rainbow over an opponent near our own corner flag if unable to pass and I always had a smile when he did it.
I like determined people in my team too, winners. Unselfish players and people with good human qualities who can add a lot to the team through being good team mates, guys who are there to support each other when a bad period happens.
Similarly, I like intelligent players - players who make good decisions quickly and take up good positions to open up passing lanes - guys like Busquets and Messi would be ideal players in my team and when possible, I'll try to have players of that style and find a place for them.
BfF: How much is learned from attending coaching courses and how much is learned by observing other coaches and reading about coaching?
SG: I think it depends on the individual. I’m a visual learner, so I pick up a lot from DVD's and watching sessions being delivered. Unfortunately, I've not had too many opportunities over the years to watch high level sessions, mainly due to lack of finance.
If you go on a course and learn a few new drills, or watch other coaches and learn how to better deliver a session, which is more important to the individual? Some guys like new drills, some like a coaching point, some like a process.
I've read a few books and I suppose that the one that changed my approach more than most was the Horst Wein book on Developing Intelligent Players. I've written 9 books, with 3 more coming and I think I've learned more from writing the books than I have from attending courses or watching others.
I wish I could go back 10 years, read more books, watch more top level coaches and attend more coach education days, but I feel like it’s something I’m making the effort to do more of now and hopefully I'll improve more in the future from it.
BfF: You've coached in a number of countries. How do you prepare for coaching in a different country?
SG: I have, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do it.
For USA, I honestly did no preparation, (I was young and stupid) other than making sure I was capable of coaching well!
I tried to learn about why Americans play the game the way they do, which I think has affected my preparation for moving abroad again.
For Switzerland, I was a bit more mature and having been abroad before, I think I spent a lot of time trying to learn about Swiss culture, the way of life in Switzerland and just general things about the Swiss mind-set before I went there.
Obviously I learned a bit of French before I went and spent a lot of time learning French so I picked it up pretty well while I was there, which helped me in everyday life.
For India, I spent a lot of time reading about how expats live, watching online clips of what Delhi looks like, the religion, the culture, learning some Hindi, and although I thought I was prepared, obviously India is different from any place on earth and nothing, literally nothing, can prepare you for coming here; the place is bonkers, totally crazy!
When I arrived, I was taking pictures of daft stuff like stray cows in the streets, the crazy auto rickshaw drivers, but you never get used to the poverty you see in the streets and stuff like that so although I've been here 9 weeks, I’m still taken aback by general life here. You could live here for 20 years and every day you would come across something that would never happen in the developed world.
BfF: Can you tell us, coaching wise, what was different in each country? And are there universal truths?
SG: I don’t know about universal truths, but I suppose the players in each country all had the same passion to learn and get better at the game. I have found parents input in Scotland, USA and India a lot different; parents in Scotland are quite hard on the kids to make sure they try hard enough to improve whereas American parents blamed the coach for the kids’ failings.
In India, it depends on the mindset of the parents - kids from the rich backgrounds can be a bit more 'needy' than the scholarship kids we have from poor backgrounds, whose parents are constantly asking for ways to make the kid play better.
In Switzerland it was semi-pro players so if they had an issue, they would just say so, and be quite direct about it. I liked that, and it made me a better leader and im a lot more straightforward with people now, especially adult players as its about developing relationships between people.
In USA, I got the feeling that as I was British, I could instantly command American's respect as I came from a footballing area. They really wanted to play a direct style of play as the normal American soccer player is mainly athletic and they felt that if they were faster, stronger and could kick the ball the longest distance, they would win. Unfortunately for them, that's not the case and I always felt that aside from a lack of technique there, the game intelligence aspect was non-existent.
Coaching technique and trying to introduce independent thinking and learning always felt like a bit of a chore to the players - no matter how intensive or interactive it was - as a lot of them would prefer athletic based games where the coach just tells the kids what to do and they do it.
In Switzerland, there was almost no respect for Scottish football, so I really had to earn it by teaching the players stuff and making them better players. I think I made a mark early there by introducing myself in French, being a bit funny then asking how bad my French was. The first training session went well and I think I had the respect of the players within the first hour and we had a great time together, although it didn't go as well as I wanted it to.
Switzerland had much more of a technical focus and the players really wanted to be better footballers, and wanted to play the game properly, which was good from my coaching point of view and something I really enjoyed.
In India, football is still in a very primitive stage so there's clubs opening up and having ambitions to join the I-League (like my company who have just bought the club I am Head of Youth Development of). Most clubs don't have youth systems but have an Under 19 development team as per the criteria but they have a good first team and not much else, probably like what football was in Britain 40 years ago.
For general coaching, there's a cultural thing where there's almost a 'hierarchy' where Europeans are given instant respect and they'll listen to you.
In India, I don't think they know how to become better players, and there seems to be a high tactical focus, which I think needs to come at a later stage, around Under 15/under 16, and technical focus must be the way forward here. That's something I’m trying to change here and the results in a short space of time has been brilliant in terms of technical coaching and playing development.
Unfortunately, India has only had 2 main 'superstar footballers' in Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri, and that’s something that I think if like Japan had with Hidetoshi Nakata 15 years ago, India needs a player like that to boost the game and maybe force the government into building more footballing facilities to increase participation and hopefully the talent pool available.
BfF: Currently you are head of coach education in India. What does that involve?
SG: I have two roles. I’m working for a private company called Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools – who have bought a club called Garwal FC, a big club in Delhi - as Head of Coach Education.
The kids we produce from BBFS will go into the club who will hopefully be accepted to play in the I-League 2 this season and we want to be in the I-League within a couple of years, so I am also the Head of Youth Development for the club and have to develop new playing philosophy for the club from Under 9 up to Under 19.
Obviously we will have scouting criteria in place, and recruit like clubs do around the world but we have a developmental pyramid system in place, a coaching and playing philosophy so most of the kids in the YA will come from the work I’m doing at BBFS.
At Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, my role is to mentor and educate the 60+ coaches we have, and design the curriculum for the 650 plus kids via 3 groups: Basic, Potential and Development kids.
Development kids come on foreign trips with us for tournaments, training camps, for example to places like Varkenoord with the Feyenoord Academy, and we try to expose them to the best learning and teaching environments possible outside of India.
Apart from that I help in the recruitment across the New Delhi area for players and coaches, run coach education workshops for current and new coaches, coaching applicant workshops, liaise with the 1st team staff to promote players from the Youth Academy to first team, do the video analysis with players of all age groups as well as player and Staff evaluations on a 4-6 monthly basis.
BfF: What is the level of football in India?
SG: It’s of a low standard, the I-League is probably conference standard, but again, the game is in a primitive stage here.
At all levels, you have some very, very talented kids but they have no idea on how to play in small groups, never mind a team of 11. The game here has little in-play organisation, despite the tactical focus. Most teams still play a direct 4-4-2 but I think with more European football on TV, that will start to change as the level of coaching and playing improves.
BfF: What is needed for football to grow in India?
SG: A star player, more government and AIFF investment in proper coach education, grassroots football development and an increase in the amount and quality of both indoor and outdoor grass and astroturf facilities. I would say they need more indoor facilities rather than better grass fields as it is too hot much of the time to play at a high intensity.
Also, more clubs need to build from the grassroots up to have more of a talent pool to choose from.
BfF: What do you want to achieve to be satisfied with what you have done in your coaching career?
SG: I have never thought of this previously, so I need to think about it!
I would be satisfied that every player I come in contact with decides to stay in the game via playing, helping or coaching.
Professionally, I have a few Short, Medium and Long term goals that I want to hit but I would be satisfied if I can help produce a world class player, help Scotland qualify for a World Cup as part of the national staff, or simply to have had an enjoyable time coaching around the world.
Stevie Grieve can be followed on Twitter. He has also written a series of coaching books, the latest of which is 'Coaching the 4-2-3-1'. Previous issues of 'The Blueprint According To...' can be found here.