That latter ability used to be described as the capacity to motivate players. What those managers did, however, was more than that: they could understand what drove their players and acted in a way that built up that drive. For most of them, all of this either came instinctively or else had been shaped by their life experiences.
Today’s managers and coaches, however, do not have to rely on fate or fortune. There is now a whole discipline – sports psychology – that is devoted to helping coaches deal with players and their mentalities. That is not to say that to be a good coach you need to know whatever a sports psychologist knows but it is essential that one is at least aware of how to deal with different issues.
This was best explained by Dan Abrahams, a sports psychologist and the author of the book Soccer Tough. “I believe that a coach must be creative and to do so they must seek as much information as possible in the four major areas; technical ability, tactical ability, physical conditioning, and psychological strength,” he said in an interview with Blueprint for Football.
“A coach must understand the physical talent but what is often overlooked is mental talent. The kids that are naturally gifted in terms of concentration, discipline and dedication; that is something important that is often ignored.”
“The other thing is being a 1 percenter: I want them to leave no stone un-turned. Find all the 1% shifts you can to help your players excel.”
Quite frankly, it isn’t good enough for a coach to simply give up when a player seems to hit a mental barrier.
“Too many coaches say that they have players that have lots of physical talent but 'he doesn't want it' and there's nothing that can be done. That is rubbish. Of course something can be done. This is where I get back to seeking that no stone is left un-turned. Going to FA modules, reading books like mine can help you get a better understanding. But don't just stop there, put into practice what you read.”
And Abrahams agrees that the ability to leverage psychology is what distinguishes the great from the good.
“All managers do psychology within their role and some are better than other. A key factor is the culture they develop within their club. If you look at the leading managers - Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger - they've developed different cultures but also sound cultures that help develop their team and their commitment. They've built a culture of success and achievement.”
Join Blueprint for Football Extra to ensure that you don't miss future articles and get the full transcript of the interview plus a free e-book in the process. Other Blueprint for Football e-books available here (international version here).