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So you want to be a football coach? - Ian McClurg

This article was first published in These Football Times in February of 2015, written by Ian McClurg.

DURING THE LAST FEW WEEKS, I have delivered coaching development lectures to students at Penn State University and at a small club in south-western Ontario, Canada. The students at Penn State University were a young, aspiring group of coaches hoping to graduate from college and pursue a professional career in the game. The group of coaches at St. Thomas Soccer club were volunteer coaches looking to continue their learning process prior to the upcoming season.

Even though the groups were different in both demographics and had different motivations for improving their knowledge as coaches, my key messages were the same:

  • Make sure that at every opportunity the young players that you are coaching are learning and also having fun.

  • Have a good understanding of your coaching goals, your own personality and what your coaching philosophy is.

I’m not sure how many coaches sit down, reflect on their own coaching philosophy, and then put their thoughts down in writing. This was something that I did as part of my early coaching education. Back then, in Canada, we were required to take courses in the NCCP, or National Coaching Certification Program, that were based upon the theory of coaching in all sports, together with your own sport’s specific courses. I thought that this was a tremendous introduction for new coaches, as you had the opportunity to study alongside coaches from many different sports and learn new ideas, which you could use to solve similar issues within your own sport. Football is now embracing this cross-pollination much more willingly. It was a great advantage for me to draft my own coaching philosophy before I started because it gave me a set of values, beliefs and principles that I could consistently apply to the various situations I’ve faced over the years. I have used my coaching philosophy to arrive at decisions on how to deal with players, parents, colleagues and organizations I’ve worked for or alongside. Central to any coaching philosophy should be the values and behaviours you wish to impart upon your players. They are, after all, a reflection of your work, even when it involves them overrunning the ball and losing it trying to be creative on the field. In an effort to help new coaches develop their own coaching philosophy I want to share a helpful document by Bo Hanson, a four-time Olympian in rowing from Australia, and a well-known coaching consultant: Hanson outlines a five-step process listed below which can help all aspiring coaches, or even experienced coaches, develop their own coaching philosophy statement. Here’s my summary, with some of my own examples added in: Step 1: What is most important to you in your coaching role? These values represent things that are not negotiable for you and should define the main objectives in your coaching. What are you trying to achieve? Hanson has several questionnaires that will help you communicate your values. They may be random thoughts at the moment or values you have used for years but have never sat down and documented. Either way, the questionnaires by Hanson may help. I did not complete these questionnaires when first developing my own coaching philosophy but what was important to me in all my coaching roles was that I was developing players who would be capable of playing the game with skill, creativity, vision and passion. Rather than coach players to win things I was more interested in helping players to develop to play at higher levels of the game. I have always had strong opinions on how best to achieve this and knew early on that I wanted to have a high level of autonomy in my work so that I could implement my own beliefs with no limits or interference from others. Step 2: Learn from your own experiences This is an important step as it lets you reflect upon your own experiences as a player and even as a coach. My own thought is because you continue to learn every day, as a coach and as a person as you face new experiences, you should be sure to sit down every year and review your coaching philosophy statement to add to or refine it. Over the years I have done this with my own statement. The core values and principles have not changed but my work in putting it into play has changed in order to communicate it better and I have added to it. Step 3: What is your own coaching style? Every coach should have a style that reflects their own personality. When I was seeking advice from experienced coaches prior to becoming a coach, the best advice I received was to be yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not; your players will quickly see through this. It is important that coaches understand and are secure with their own coaching style so that we are better positioned to adapt to different situations. As I`ve mentioned earlier, coaches should be player-centric in their approach. Identify four distinct coaching styles (Conscientious/Dominance/Steady/Influence) which should all be demonstrated for the most effective coaching — depending upon the situation you face. Most coaches have no problem demonstrating the “dominance” traits which are results and authority-based but you will face situations with players that will require “steady” attributes that involve being relaxed and a good listener. The art of coaching is to know when to use which approach, given the situation you place. Step 4: Discover your coaching philosophy This step is where you review the information from the previous steps and document the behaviour you wish to exhibit consistently, how you wish to conduct yourself and how this behaviour impacts on your athletes. This is a good opportunity to document how you wish to measure success in your coaching endeavours. Hanson’s website provides many questionnaire templates that can be used to help document this. Step 5: Keep it visible and alive This is the final step in the process where you are encouraged to complete your coaching philosophy statement, keep it visible to both you and your players, and incorporate your findings into your everyday coaching life. I would recommend that all coaches download the free assessment guide at and take a moment to complete the exercises to either develop your first coaching philosophy statement or refine your existing one. I have enclosed mine below as a sample to help with the exercise and hope that it helps you in your own coaching journey. My Coaching Philosophy Success for me as a coach is to develop young players who can play the game with skill, creativity, vision and passion and help them to transition to higher levels of play. It is also important that the players who I work with develop good life skills and become individuals who are humble, take responsibility for themselves and demonstrate respect for themselves, their colleagues and their family. My coaching philosophy towards development is based on inspiring young players to be the best that they can be. This can best be achieved when we remember that football is a game. It is not about wins and losses. It is about teaching young players to be open to learning, having the courage to try new things and challenging themselves to becoming better and to find new solutions. I accomplish this by maximising contact on the ball and teaching the players how to make their own decisions through small-sided games. I have strong beliefs on the type of training and the environment required to accomplish these goals. It is important for me to have autonomy over the type of coaching work I do and to continually challenge myself to improve both as a coach and person.

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