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Improving Decisions by Ben Thomas

For some of us who grew up playing sports other than soccer, the coach runs centre stage, calling the plays in sports like baseball, football, and basketball. In soccer, the players are in control of their own destiny on the soccer fields regardless of age or ability. As I've heard it back in Britain "soccer is chess in motion."

In training its important for coaches to put players into situations that force them to improve their vision and decision making, without coaches constantly telling them where to run, when to dribble, pass or shoot. Players already have to process a great deal of information. Let them run the practice a few times and then step in to give them guidelines rather than give them all the information at once. Teach them bit by bit: HOW to pass, WHERE to pass, and WHEN to pass, then add the movement off the ball. For a player's overall development, it's important for the coaches to facilitate the learning environment without controlling it. Coaches need to put players in control and give them confidence that they can play without guidelines from the side during a match. Players need to know what they are going to do with the ball instead of worrying and kicking the ball anywhere or running into players instead of space. Once they start doing this consistently, then as a coach we know that we are creating the right environment for them in training and player development.

"I Coach, Therefore I Think"by Karl Spratt

Developing a Coaching Philosophy

As coaches we are often asked about our philosophy on the game and this philosophy is often spoken of in very specific contexts such as a preferred formation, tactical thinking, or how to get the best out of players.

"To Get the Right Answers You Have to Ask the Right Questions"

Coaching philosophy refers to the principles, knowledge, and beliefs which guide coaching practice. I first become interested in coaching philosophy as an undergraduate sports and exercise development student. As I studies the different disciplines of the course, I was conscious that science does not provide us (the coaches) with all the answers, but I was also aware that ideas, values, principles, and experience effect coach behavior (unconsciously or consciously, overtly or covertly). For example, Jock Stein, Bill Shankley, and Alex Ferguson (the most successful managers in British football history) all have related their coaching and management values to their working class upbringing. Even with all the scientific information available today, we as coaches are still left with mainly philosophical questions. Football, like most team games is too dynamic, turbulent, and complex to base all our decisions on empirical (tried and tested) science or the experience of others.

From studying a little further into philosophical areas within sports coaching, it appeared that there were many philosophical areas for coaches to explore. Here are some examples to questions that should be addressed for you to formulate and communicate your own coaching philosophies.

Metaphysics: the nature of things


What is football?


What is coaching?


What is a good performance?

Axiology: The value of things (what is important?)


What do we want to achieve?


Is competitiveness good for youth players?


What are the important roles of a coach?

Ethics: How should people treat themselves and each other?


How should players be treated at football clubs?


Should young players be exposed to competition and to what level?


Is sportsmanship important? When/why?

Aesthetics: What is pleasing to the senses (expression, artistry, beauty)


What is aesthetically pleasing in football?


What is being expressed?


What am I as a coach expressing?

Epistemology: What we know and how we know it (knowledge)


Do former professional players make better coaches?


What knowledge or insight transfers from playing to coaching


Does this knowledge transfer automatically?

Football, like other sports, is widely acknowledged as an art, a form of expression. Whether you agree with this or not, we as coaches often make clear statements of our values, meanings and knowledge either consciously or unconsciously through all aspects of our practice (e.g., team selection, the motivational climate we create). This applies to all levels of the game.

What Ive found from studying this aspect of sports coaching, is that primarily we must reflect upon the material world, our own experience, when we consider ideas, we can only gain a very clear idea of where we want to go, and how best to get there through a rigorous examination of our knowledge, principles and experiences.
A coach whose practice is closer to his/her principles will strengthen his/her belief and commitment, the two fundamentals of achievement within sport. Once a greater meaning has been established, goals can then be set and then be pursued more vigorously. If these principles can be conveyed to your players and they can identify with them, it follows that their belief and commitment will also be strengthened.