There are a number of coaching pathways, licenses, and platforms for coaches to pursue to develop themselves and commit to furthering their coaching education. While these can be great resources for a coach’s development, they only begin to skim the surface of coach development. From what I’ve seen, the very best coaches are the ones that take charge of their own development. Consistently. WIth every session delivered.
This is the golden goose for developing yourself into the best possible coach. There is no substitute for experience and it’s always desired (or required) in order to get the very best jobs in the game. Putting in the hours on the grass (or turf) and delivering sessions again and again can only help increase your experiences in working with players, delivering information and honing your craft as a coach.
If you’re not able to get the experience at the level you’re aiming for, consider gaining experience at that level in other ways. You can gain great insight from observing others’ sessions or shadowing fellow coaches.
While observing and shadowing other coaches can be a workaround for gaining some experience, the bulk of coach development comes in delivering your own sessions. Over and over again, week after week. This is where the fun starts and you can play around with your sessions. Try things. Deliver information in a new way. Change the order in which you introduce concepts. Play with consecutive sessions on the same topic. Or a season plan of revisiting a topic once every month. Don’t be afraid to try new things within your sessions.
By tweaking sessions to see what works and what doesn’t, you can improve little by little. Hopefully you stumble on some great ways to coach. If nothing else, you can figure out what doesn’t work and avoid the same mistake in future sessions.
A lot of coaching courses preach the importance of planning before the session (and rightly so). Failing to prepare is preparing to fail they say. What often doesn’t get reinforced in the same way, is the need to reflect after a session. Figure out what went well. How could the session have been better? Were there any red flags or activities that just didn’t work the way you expected?
By taking the time to think about your sessions critically, you can start to affect the quality of your future sessions. You might deliver that same session again next season, so reflect now and make note of what you’ll do differently next time. (what would you reinforce, how might you change it, was your work/rest ratio right, did the players leave with a good level of understanding?) Alternatively, you might think critically about how you coached, which you can tweak and adjust in upcoming sessions (which is a lot more actionable).
A number of coaches struggle with reflection and can be too close to their session. They may only view it through a certain lens. You only know what you know after all, so it’s important to get others thoughts and feedback on your sessions too. Receiving feedback on sessions can be done in a number of ways. Whether it’s notes from a fellow coach, a conversation (either in the moment or after the session) or video feedback, there are plenty of ways to talk about the session delivered.
The most important thing with feedback is that it’s timely, relevant and actionable. By offering feedback in real time or immediately after a session, you can take it in context of what just happened (rather than try to recreate the picture in your mind). It has to be relevant for the coach to be interested in taking the feedback on board. The best way I’ve found to do this is to discuss it ahead of time and ask for feedback on a specific part of your coaching. For example, can you time my stoppages and offer feedback on my delivery of information? This means that it’s relevant and specific to what the coach is looking to improve. Lastly, making sure that it’s actionable and that you’re able to apply the feedback as soon as possible is key. There’s no point in going to all this effort, if there’s no follow through and attempt to implement feedback into sessions. It might be that the feedback isn’t as useful as you’d have liked (but at least you’ve experimented with it).
You might want to combine this with the experimentation section above, but deliberate practice gets its own section as its more specific than experimenting with what you’re coaching. Deliberate practice is the art of being purposeful within your own sessions. Not just purposeful for the development of your players, but also the development of your own coaching ability. By picking an area of your coaching toolbox to work on within your session, you can create tight feedback loops for yourself. For example, I might deliberately practice the speed of my demonstrations. By spending the whole session focused on not talking when I demo, I can work on painting better pictures for the players and performing them at game speed.
Having the forethought to not only plan out the session for your players, but also how you’re going to develop your coaching ability is the next level in session planning (just make sure the players come first - it’s not all about you…)
While there are many external resources available to the modern soccer coach, ultimately it’s up to you to develop your coaching ability. Some possess coaching tendencies quite naturally, some develop them without knowing it and others just work bloody hard at it. By using the framework above, hopefully you can push your coaching further every time you step on the field.