Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The problem with overcoaching during games.

So difficult to let go ....

Your goal is for your players to learn and enjoy this game, not to act out your instructions like puppets or FIFA 2014  game avatars.

During training, your session delivers your content.  You work together through drills and exercises
to apply the content and observe their basic abilities.  You organize functional sessions to allow them to apply their techniques with the presence of opposition, and observe.  Assess their learning so far.

Getting into small sided games at training allows you to observe them in a game situation where you start to
let go and allow them to show you what they've learned and if they can apply it.  Here is the final piece of the puzzle, to apply what they've learned and do it under pressure.

You then decide ... do I reteach this next session?  do I progress?  do I revert back a bit?  You're getting them ready to play so you are moving in that direction.  The communication is mostly two-way, but you start to let small-sided-game be more hands-off in terms of coaching and let the game be the teacher and provide feedback to you on their level of retention and application.
... you need to let them show you what they can do.  You need to let them play
When game time arrives, this is where you get a true assessment of their learning.  Unlike school, where your evaluation is a black &white numeric indication that is recorded, sports has many intangibles that can be used to help assess.  Coaches do not need to let score be their only indicator.  If your score is your only indicator, your players are in trouble.

At some point in the process, a coach needs to step back, stay quiet and let the players play.  How will you know if they are learning?  How will you know if your program and/or coaching are effective? How will you know if they are comfortable making decisions and if they are equally comfortable trying something new after failing?

We are going to avoid the whole discussion of developing more confident players who love soccer and become better at decision making and adapting to fluid situations on the field.  That's a gimme.  Let's focus on how letting the kids play affects your development as a coach.

If you are over-coaching, yelling out endless directions and making decisions for the players, are you getting a true indication of their abilities?  Can you truly see if they can apply what you have been relaying at training? Here are some barriers to them showing you what they've learned when you over-coach:
  • It's stressful for them and their decisions are affected.  Application of learning will not be on display.
  • It's stressful for you and you forget what you're looking for.
  • They are afraid to take a chance and express themselves through their ideas.  You lose potential moments where you can observe application of their learning.
  • You are making decisions for them, essentially "writing their test" for them. 
  • You don't see what they see at that instant ...  so how can you make a decision for them? If you make the wrong decision and they lose the ball, do you take the blame?  If they ignore your instruction and their decision works, what is your reaction?
  • If you over coach, players will actually look and listen for you as the ball is travelling towards them,  before their first touch, out of habit.  This will negatively affect their first touch and give you an inaccurate representation of their abilities.  If their first touch if off, the subsequent play will also be off.  Is that what you want to happen?
I am not talking about coaching that revolves around offering information to fix shape, adjustments to positions or positive reinforcement ... I am talking about direct commands regarding decisions with the ball.

If you've developed a good relationship with your players and set a good environment in your program, they will want to show you how well they can play. If they are afraid to make a mistake then they will never show you what they know.  What do you need to happen to determine if they are learning?

Sounds easy, doesn't it?  It's not.  I am human too and it's not easy to shut up during a game and be methodical in your choices regarding when to talk.  I have sinned many times, but also know the good feeling when I let the kids decide their actions.

Ideas I've picked up over the years:
  • Write it down on your game plan to remind yourself.
  • Set a protocol with your assistant to remind each other if you're going overboard.
  • Have a very specific set of questions for your personal reflection and read them before the game
Make this something to work on for your own personal development.  It's difficult, but important.  God knows that I know it's difficult.  If I had to rank what's difficult to learn as a coach, this may be in the top three.

But what if you let the kids play and make their own decisions ... and they lose?  That, my friend, is your fear, not theirs.  You fear what your team parents will think.  You fear what your prospective players will think before tryouts.  You fear what your club might think if you lose.  You fear what the expert critics on the Internet forums will post.  You might have to admit that what you did in training or how you delivered it was off target.  It's these fears that cause the over coaching.  All of those fears severely hinder your development as a coach.

If you want your players, your team and your coaching to improve, you need to brush those fears aside and let the players show you what they can do.  You need to let them play.  It's a big moment in a coach's personal development to find that peaceful state of being on the sideline and observing.

OK, so during the match you used your eyes and ears more than your lips.  Great.  What information did you gather?
  1. Was the game enjoyable for your players?  For you? Be honest.
  2. How were your players' competencies on an individual level?  Were they comfortable receiving the ball? Decision on first touch? 
  3. Did everybody on the field "want" the ball when it came to them? 
  4. Did your players know what to do?  Without your specific directions, did they try to solve problems and execute?
  5. Were small groups of players competent in getting through a situation together? ie 2v1, 2v2, 3v2, 2v3, 3v3, 4v4
  6. How were they as a team? Did they look like a team?  Was there co-operation between players at a level appropriate for that age?
  7. Did anybody make an unexpected play through a decision they made on their own?
  8. Did anybody have a great idea but unable to execute because of technique?
  9. Did anybody play in a robotic fashion to not make a mistake, but displayed decent technique?
  10. Did they execute any new ideas presented to them at training? (did you allow them to play at training so they can execute the new idea before showing up to game day?)
  11. Did anybody become robotic and predictable after making one mistake?
  12. Etc etc etc.
These are some of the observations you make during a match that could affect the content of your training sessions.  You should be able to take the possible answers for every question and respond with how your training and game day environment affects it.

One of your discoveries could be that you might also be over coaching during training and not letting them play enough.

When you get to the point where you see and nurture the links between the training environment, your game time observation and the comfort level and effectiveness of your players, you're taking a huge step forward as a coach.  Letting them play freely is a major component of that.

Coach your shape. Make adjustments.  Reinforce ideas from training.  Make notes for half time.  Cheer, applaud, smile ... but let them play.