THE SEASON AHEAD
As an inquisitive level 1 coach, heading into my 4th season of coaching, I am drafting next seasons philosophy and plan. I use the word inquisitive as most of what I have learnt is from an open mind and interest in what others do. What works, what doesn’t, what alternatives are there and ultimately is it right for the kids. Like most of us I have drawn on my own experiences, the experiences of my own kids and am lucky enough to share coaching responsibilities with someone who accepts my new approaches and ideas, sometimes on a weekly turn around! As a coaching team we firmly believe that football is a game of problems and we have to find ways of engaging the players to find solutions, but as coaches we have our own problems, such as player retention, player engagement & player development. Through much trial and error, testing of various methods and various successes and failures I am settled on a plan for next season and would like to share with a wider community.
The over-riding theme is ‘Psychology First, Player Centred’ but what does that mean? I’ll start with the second part, player centred. This is simply allowing players to have responsibility for their own development, making their needs the focal point of what we’re trying to achieve. It means the process is a 2-way process of feedback and review and ensuring everyone gets the same level of involvement and opportunity. I feel the feedback and review steps have been limited to date and this seasons plan looks to address that.
Psychology first is a concept that was brought to my attention thanks to a podcast from The Talent Equation, that was a discussion with Dan Abrahams. The podcast recording is also available on YouTube here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRkpBnNllc4. Whilst I’d always understood that a players mindset has a big impact on their learning and performance, I hadn’t ever considered it to be the starting point for training and match days. It had always been, ‘lets come up with an engaging, fun activity and hope they enjoy it’, because it’s the enjoyment that brings out the best mindset, right? In part yes, enjoyment can bring about engagement but enjoyment can also provide distraction and disruption, compared with your aims.
Listening to Dan and reading some of his technique’s was a light bulb moment for me. Getting players to think about their actions, to think about what they want to achieve, to think about how they should behave, following a variety of outcomes suddenly made sense, it’s not so much what they do, it’s how they do it, how they approach it and how they react to situations they are faced with, that matters. Approaching training and match days with this at the forefront of your mind makes you, as a coach, think more about getting the right learning environment, which in turn will make your activity more effective.
With the lightbulb glowing, however, it turned out that this was just going to be the start of a whole new journey of discovery and the second half of the season was spent trying various techniques on an individual and team level with varying degrees of success and failure. We had Red / Green Zones, Game Faces, sessions on focus and visualisation and an emphasis on reaction being more important than the action, in other words an acceptance that actions don’t always go exactly as anticipated but good or bad the reaction is always in our control. Having thrown everything at the team in a short space of time I concluded 3 things needed to change for next season.
- It needed to be more structured and focussed. In going down this journey I’d actually failed to take on board the elements of focus that Dan highlights, largely that we, as humans, have little capacity to focus on more than a couple of things at a time and yet I was throwing a number of psychology techniques at them at any given time!
- I needed a better way or getting feedback from the players about how things are going.
- Parents need to be more involved in the process as it should start at home, before they get in the car on match day or training night.
Whilst starting to consider how I can formalise the approach for the coming season, it coincided with listening the another Talent Equation podcast with Brett Holland. In it he talks about how he gets feedback from players and I have adapted some of his approaches to suit grassroots.
This season we will be introducing 2 forms and a system called ‘The Bloxham Way’! The first form is a feedback form (attached) where we will be asking the players to provide 4 feedback markers at the end of each training session and match day. It provides us with 3 key indicators: where does the player feel they are, does it correlate to where we feel they are and is what we’re doing working for the kids.
If a player claims they’ve been working really hard and has really enjoyed the session but what we’re seeing is a player walking around the pitch, not engaging, looking miserable, then we have a mismatch that we can address with the player and really try and find out what their interpretation of physical effort and happiness is. Making sure a player understands what we’re trying to achieve is the only way that player can achieve the ultimate goals. Shouting at a player to run faster, when they already feel they’re at maximum physical capacity will only have a detrimental effect on the players development. Feedback opens the door for discussion from us as coaches and also parents at home.
The markers follow 4 categories: Physical, Emotional, Psychological & Mental
Physical, Emotional and Mental should be self explanatory so I will focus on the Psychological element.
The aim was to pick a psychological approach that worked for the team and recognise that the other techniques can be held back for individual use. The Green & Red zones were effective for us and consisted of the players, in groups, writing down what an excellent performance, looks and feels like (the Green Zone) and what a poor performance looks like (the Red Zone). By getting the players to come up with the content it meant gives them ownership, they even choose the colours for the zones. We spent a couple of weeks asking players to rate themselves on the green / red spectrum and talk about what they feel they did to be where they are, what could they do to get closer to the green zone and did some activities where we asked them to play as if they were in the red zone to really get them to think about what it looks and feels like to be in a poor state of mind. It’s a very simple tool which we will be using again next season and will also provide us with the 4th feedback marker.
Last years example is attached to this article.
Having drawn up this feedback sheet I realised it’s not far off the FA 4 corner model that includes Psychological, Physical, Social (Emotional) and Technical (Mental) a happy coincidence that means we’re also on the England DNA path!
THE BLOXHAM WAY
The second part of the plan is a matchday tool that combines the Green / Red Zones (Psychology first!) with a motivational, reward system. It will also bring the parents into play as well as giving us feedback on strengths and areas for improvement for players. Once the green and red zones have been devised we will look to group the items into 3/4 categories. Taking last seasons zones we would of had the following categories:
- Support - Are we assisting our team mates in a positive manner.
- Communication - How well are we communicating on the pitch
- Effort - Are we working hard
- Enjoyment - Are we playing in the right spirit with a smile on our face
These will then act as the focus points, during the match, with a clear link back to the psychology behind the red / green zones. Parents and coaches will be handed out score sheets for players and they will be rewarding players with points for each category when they see it happen. The feedback from the sidelines is then a positive one ‘Joe, you can have a point for the effort in tracking back there’, ‘John, great encouragement to your team mates, that’s a support point’. The intention is to focus the players minds on the ways they can collect points, rather than things that we have little or no control over. Every time a player reaches 50 points in a category they will be awarded a category badge to pin to their training jacket so they have a collectable item to claim throughout the year.
An example recording sheet is attached to this article.
By sharing the responsibility amongst parents and coaches we are all working towards a common goal, sideline feedback becomes a positive part of the experience and we also get feedback on what areas of development some players have. For example, a player may achieve 100 effort points over a season but only 10 for communication. Having this highlighted provides an easy way to open up a dialogue with the player to discuss ways they can achieve more communication points, referring back to what it is in the green or red zone that made it a category in the first place. Parents can start players focus on the way to a match as they can discuss what they might do to gain more points for support or effort so before they put their boots on they already have an idea of things they want to do on the pitch, a focussed mind on their goal for that day.
In conclusion this seasons plan is in it’s infancy and will no doubt adapt as we progress. A parents meeting is being planned, before the season starts, which may provide additional feedback to be incorporated but I’m excited to kick this off and get the season going!