Be The Best You Can Be by Roger Wilkinson

All coaches whether grass-roots or professional search for those special ingredients that will make them outstanding and successful. There is no shortage of advice and courses for the novice coach and so their biggest problem is to sort through the avalanche of detail to determine what is relative and important to their development.

Here I want to share some insights after over 25 yrs of coaching and being privileged enough to work with and observe some of the world’s best coaches.

Special Coaches

Here I identify the 3 key elements that we can identify with special coaches and how the novice coach can learn from them.

1. Playing philosophy

Develop a playing philosophy –have a playing vision so you know what good football looks like and then break it down in to the tactics and skills needed to make it succeed. Now the coach has the base for programming their coaching.

Developing the philosophy is not easy for the novice coach it will take time to study great teams and players but by observing live games and videos of these teams and by observing and questioning experienced coaches the time will be well spent and will be worth it. Everything stems from the coaches playing vision.

2. Programming the work

The special coach programmes his/her work so that the players develop in a systematic fashion. The game style should be introduced in easy to learn progressive stages that ensure the players fully understand the skills and tactical understanding required of them. The coaches methodology is graduated to ensure the players are successful in reproducing these skills and tactics required at each stage before moving on. EACH SESSION SHOULD BE THE FOLLOW ON FROM THE PREVIOUS SESSION AND THE PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT SESSION. The best examples of this in the modern game are the Dutch.

Michels a pioneer of the Dutch method

3. Coaching methodology

When the special coaches work it is almost as if they have choreographed the session so that the players move smoothly through the learning stages. They make it look easy when of course it’s not. The secret of their methodology can be further broken down into 3 key factors:

a. Knowledge– Having sorted out their playing style the coach meticulously establishes the technical and tactical detail that allows successful play to happen. This can be anything from body positions, foot movements, degrees of touch on the ball, angles, weight and disguise when passing and establishing sophisticated rotation as a team when in possession of the ball. Soccer is NOT a simple game but great coaches break it down in to simple learning modules. They can do this because they have studied the game and have the knowledge. The novice coach needs to make the time for this back ground research. THE COACHING BATTLE CAN BE WON BEFORE A BALL IS KICKED IN PRACTICE.

b. Preparation – this is the same for coaches of all levels but the best coaches really do follow the rules. It is important to have the right equipment – from the right amount of balls, cones and bibs to portable goals. This will make sure that every player in the session is catered for and is fully involved in the session. It is crucial that the practice areas are realistic to the game and the abilities of the players.  Areas must also be clearly marked and the number of players must be appropriate to the size of the area. However the most important factor is REALISTIC practices that include skill and tactical information where every player is involved whether on the ball or off it. In other words throw away the static drills where players are standing in line waiting for a turn. The special coach prepares their work in three fundamental stages.

Small group work – Where players usually start with a ball each and work in a grid area intermingling and learning to stay with the ball and make decisions on time and space. The advantage of this type of work is that the players whilst learning their skills in the close proximity of other players, must be alert and keep their eyes up to develop the vision and awareness to look for safe spaces. YOU CAN`T DO THAT STANDING IN A LINE .

Small area work – Where gradual opposition is introduced to ensure the players can successfully reproduce the skills they have previously rehearsed. With very young players it may be 5 v 1 in a 20m x 20m grid.  With older players it could as tight as 3 v 3 in a 15m x 15m grid. To be a special coach you have to be able to manipulate the playing numbers and size of area to challenge the players but to also ensure success.

The game stage – Where the results of the work in the small group and small area practices are tested and assessed. The game can be small sided or the full game depending on the age and experience of the players. The game in itself is a learning system and the coach may divide the pitch in to halves or thirds in order to bring out the understanding required by the players. CLEVER UNDERSTANDING OF THESE 3 STAGES IS WHAT IDENTIFIES THE SPECIAL COACH.

Venables - ahead of his time

c. Delivery– To coach successfully the coach must deliver the key points in logical easy to learn progression, this is the secret of the special coach. A simple example of this is you often hear novice coaches saying” when you get the ball get your head up to see where you want to pass” in fact the sequence is not receive, look and pass it is LOOK, RECIEVE, THEN RUN WITH OR PASS THE BALL. A coach may be making relevant coaching points but if they are out of logical sequence they are harder to learn, and make sense of. The special coaches have great observation skills. Because of their research, knowledge and preparation they see things the ordinary coach misses. Part of this observation may simply be that they stand in the right position to coach where they can see all of the practice area. LIMITED PLAYERS ARE SOMETIMES KNOWN AS BALL WATCHERS THE SAME APPLIES TO NOVICE COACHES they cannot help themselves following the ball and only coach what they see around the ball. The special coaches have tremendous communication skills. When showing examples to their players they demonstrate correctly to show the skill or tactic desired and when giving verbal demonstrations they use words and IMAGERY that stimulate the players understandings above the ordinary. They have a way of keeping the players eye contact and attention – no effective coaching can take place without that. Special coaches display enthusiasm and transfer that enthusiasm to their players, this builds confidence as well as skill in their players.

In conclusion the grass-roots coach can learn so much by watching, studying and imitating the habits of the great coaches. In the modern era there is easy access to videos and DVDs of top coaches working, organisation like Premier Skills also regularly put on exhibitions and seminars where top coaches can be observed. So, there is no reason why any coach has to settle for ordinary when they can aspire” to be the best they can be.”

To discuss any ideas or thoughts in this article contact Roger Wilkinson at roger@premierskills.com

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8 thoughts on “Be The Best You Can Be by Roger Wilkinson

  1. Roger,

    I have spent five years coaching youth football and although I believe had all the pieces, articles like this your blog are putting the jigsaw together.

  2. coachandy, I’ve been coaching for 20 years this year.

    I have, until fairly recently, always been seeking the ‘final piece of the jigsaw’ – you know, the one that makes you an ‘expert’ or very close to it.
    I now recognise (and have for a little while) that there is no final piece – all that happens is that for every extra piece of information you have or experience you gain, you actually realise that there is even more stuff that you don’t know or don’t know well enough.
    The picture is never completed, I have decided, it just gets brighter and more detailed with each passing day (and you find extra pieces you didn’t even know you were looking for!!).
    The day I stop learning and discovering as a coach will be the day I pack it in (or they take me out in a box!!)

  3. Anybody reading this will be advised to take on board the most fundamental piece of advice that Roger dispenses:

    Avoid any practice (eg. drills) that does not put players into DECISION MAKING football related activities.

    All practice ought to be game related.

    This is particularly so in the developing years from 6 – 16.

    Adult based ‘blocked’ practices that are drill like are not appropriate for child footballers.

    Game like “variable’ practice has now been accepted by researchers into motor skill acquisition as the best way for learners (children in particular) to become proficient in the technical and tactical requirements of modern football.

    Abandoning those books that promote drill and converting the drills into game like practices is the new challenge for modern coaches when planning coaching sessions.

    Fortunately it is not an insurmountable or intractable problem as more and more coaches are joining the Wilkinson Mantra to coach using the three steps that eh advocates.

    Bob, Auckland, New Zealand

  4. Anybody reading this will be advised to take on board the most fundamental piece of advice that Roger dispenses:

    Avoid any practice (eg. drills) that does not put players into DECISION MAKING football related activities.

    All practice ought to be game related.

    This is particularly so in the developing years from 6 – 16.

    Adult based ‘blocked’ practices that are drill like are not appropriate for child footballers.

    Game like “variable’ practice has now been accepted by researchers into motor skill acquisition as the best way for learners (children in particular) to become proficient in the technical and tactical requirements of modern football.

    Abandoning those books that promote drill and converting the drills into game like practices is the new challenge for modern coaches when planning coaching sessions.

    Fortunately it is not an insurmountable or intractable problem as more and more coaches are joining the Wilkinson Mantra to coach using the three steps that he advocates.

    Bob, Auckland, New Zealand

  5. Interesting read John.

    What I feel many pro coaches forget is at grassroots it is hard to plan anything fully. How often do players not turn up without a word. The last 4 weeks I have had 15 lads at training, so planned a session yesterday using all 15, only to find that 6 did not turn up for different reasons.

    • Dave Williams, you are spot on but that is now the art of coaching. I’m fortunate enough to work in a professional environment but even still we have players drop out and trialist thrown in at the drop of a hat. so part of the journey as a coach is learning to be flexible. Adapt your organization and structure but make sure what ever objectives or key points you set out to achieve you still do. Stick to your theme but be flexible in your structure. You can only gain this with experience and sometimes you’ve GOT TO GET IT WRONG TO GET IT RIGHT.
      Happy Coaching and good luck.

  6. Roger,

    A lot of great points here. Really enjoyed the read.

    I cannot agree strongly enough with the need for “game-like” activities that incorporate both the technical and tactical elements, as opposed to stationary line drills. I am involved with Australian Rules Football (AFL) and often see the same issue.

    I also thought the point you made about great coaches being able to observe “off the ball” action rather than just “on the ball” is really important to. Again, in my sport many coaches struggle with this and therefore never build the real knowledge and understanding of the game that will allow them to be expert coaches.

    Look forward to more good posts!

    Mark Upton
    http://teamsportcoaching.com
    twitter:uppy01

  7. Our society is too well regimented and the freedom youngsters need is almost gone. Also its become a business and often children are the losers in this mix. With it the trappings of competitions, cups, coaches and the latest gear.
    I have gone to Brasil over 40 times and its the “non-adult coaching” that amazes me. Their soccer IQ is extremely high even at a pre-teen age.
    Graham Ramsay

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