Google+ Blueprint for Football: October 2016

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.