As a Director of Coaching (DOC), one of the most significant impacts you can make on your club is to introduce a new playing philosophy.
Whether you’re looking to update an existing system or implement a philosophy at a club that’s never had one before, this is your opportunity to stamp your imprint on everything from the way training sessions are conducted, to the sort of coaches you hire.
It’s not an overnight job, and there can be plenty of false starts along the way. You may need to update your approach over time. And you should expect to encounter some friction along the way – not least if results on the pitch don’t go your way at first. But the rewards are worth it. Read on to find out how to do it (and why it’s worth putting the effort in).
What are you hoping to achieve by implementing a new playing philosophy?
When it comes to introducing a new philosophy at your club, you should expect to field a lot of questions – from coaches, players and parents – about why you’re doing it. You need to make sure you have a satisfactory response.
In essence, your philosophy should ensure a consistent approach from one age group to another. It’s the glue that holds your club together, stopping each coach from guiding players in a different direction.
However, it’s not just about the way you train or play. A philosophy should also encapsulate the attitude you want to see at your club. Particularly with younger age groups, you should be aiming to instill a life-long love for the beautiful game.
It’s unlikely you’ll achieve this by enforcing a “win at all costs” mentality. Your philosophy should focus on enjoying soccer, highlighting the importance of playing as a team, rather than concentrating too heavily on results. Trust your approach; the performances will come in time.
Steps to developing your own philosophy
No two DOCs will share an identical philosophy. Your approach to the game will be shaped by your own learnings and experiences. However, there are some common steps that can be followed to help you define your playing philosophy:
Learn from your peers
Watching and speaking to other coaches and DOCs can be a vital step in developing a philosophy. Seek out peers who have been through the same process. Ask about the challenges they encountered along the way and the things they’d do differently next time. Even if you don’t agree with their methods, it can help to clarify your own approach.
Take advice from the experts
From managerial autobiographies to self-help guides from successful coaches, countless books have been written on the pitfalls of building and implementing playing philosophies.
While many experiences encountered at the top level of the game will obviously differ from running a grassroots club, there’s also plenty of crossover – elite managers still have to lead a team of coaches, keep a squad of players happy, and take responsibility for performances. There are far too many good examples to list here, but a few of the best include:
- “Leading” – Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Michael Moritz
- “Masters of Modern Soccer: How the World's Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game” – Grant Wahl
- “Pep Guardiola: The Evolution” – Martí Perarnau
Choose a system you believe in
There’ll come a point where your philosophy will be seriously questioned. Perhaps results haven’t gone your way; perhaps parents believe the “old” way was better; perhaps your coaches are struggling to understand the change in direction.
That’s why it’s important to develop a system that you truly believe in, and that reflects your own thoughts about the game. Whether you naturally favour fast counter-attacking, a high-energy pressing game, or a patient, possession-based approach, this should be reflected in your philosophy. If you don’t buy into it completely, don’t expect anyone else to.
Make it happen
While a philosophy won’t be successfully implemented overnight, that’s no reason to put it off indefinitely. Rather than trying to get everything right first time, be prepared to introduce an early version and concentrate on improving through regular iterations. You’ll learn far more from seeing your philosophy in action than from attempting to anticipate theoretical problems ahead of time.
Applying your philosophy to different age groups
While your playing philosophy should span the entire club, it will require subtle adaptations to make it relevant to each age group. After all, you can’t expect the same message to resonate with the under-sixes and over-13s.
At The Coaching Manual, we prefer to group players into broad age ranges – five to eight, nine to 12 and over-13. This allows for the fact that youngsters develop at different speeds. The following pointers should help you position your philosophy across the different age groups:
Players in this group probably won’t have played soccer in a club environment before. That gives you a major opportunity to shape their thoughts on the game. Above all else, concentrate on making their experience fun, with little focus on results (whether positive or negative).
Your youngest players should be encouraged to want the ball and to express themselves, rather than instructed to play in a regimented way. This will reap rewards down the line when they progress to older age groups.
Competition, both among team-mates and with opposition teams, becomes much more important as players advance to this level. Use this to your advantage by instilling the value of playing as a team, rather than trying to do everything as individuals.
Positive feedback is also a key factor among this group. Coaches should use it to highlight examples of your philosophy being put into practice, whether in training or on match day.
As players get older, the basics of the game start to become second nature. They’ll need a new challenge to keep them interested.
This is the time to introduce more in-depth knowledge about the tactical side of soccer. Explain why you’re playing in a certain way and encourage discussion. The more advanced their understanding of your approach, the better they’ll be at putting it into practice on the pitch.