Developing a coaching philosophy is one of the most important projects you will face as a Director of Coaching (DOC).
It’s a fascinating, exciting task, giving you the opportunity to stamp your unique footprint on the club. But it can also be extremely demanding and time-consuming.
What’s more, given the pressure to achieve results on the pitch, it can be tempting to abandon your approach altogether following a run of disappointing results.
Given the scale of the project, many DOCs make the mistake of defining their coaching philosophy, rolling it out across the club, then never thinking about it again. That’s the wrong approach. Your coaching philosophy should be viewed as a constantly evolving document, with room to integrate new ideas and adapt to unforeseen challenges. Read on to find out why:
What is a soccer coaching philosophy?
“Coaching philosophy” is an impressive-sounding term. But what does it actually mean?
In essence, your coaching philosophy will define the specific principles upon which every player at your club is coached. As such, it’ll need to span all age levels, while paving the way for progression from one age group to the next.
Ultimately, you want everyone at the club to be coached in the same style, rather than one team playing a possession-based game and another being coached on direct, counter-attacking soccer.
Why you should keep your coaching philosophy fluid
You might imagine that once you’ve defined a coaching philosophy, you’d want to keep it in place for as long as possible. It’s a big piece of work, after all, and you don’t want to abandon your plans midway through the season. However, in reality, there are many advantages to keeping your coaching philosophy up to date, such as:
1. Player development goals change over time
Obvious as it sounds, at the start of the season you simply don’t know at what rate your players will develop.
No doubt you’ll have agreed on objectives with your coaching team, but it’s important to leave yourself room for manoeuvre in the event that you end up significantly ahead of – or behind – schedule.
Let’s say your coaching philosophy is geared toward encouraging players to spend time on the ball and play with creative freedom. You might have objectives in place for a range of metrics, like ball retention and time in possession. You may also set your coaches targets to spend a certain proportion of training sessions on possession-based drills.
Now, let’s imagine you’re well ahead of those goals within three months. Wouldn’t it be better to set some more demanding ones, rather than to continue with what you’ve got?
2. New coaches and players possess different strengths and weaknesses
However strong your retention, at some point you’ll have to cope with players and coaches leaving the club and newcomers joining in their place.
Naturally, these new arrivals will have their own ideas about the game, strengths and weaknesses on and off the pitch, and personal development goals.
Broadly speaking, you’ll want your coaching philosophy to remain largely the same, regardless of the personnel involved. After all, it’s one of the strongest weapons in your arsenal when it comes to attracting new talent.
On the other hand, it stands to reason that if the makeup of your club has changed substantially, you’ll want to revisit your philosophy to ensure it’s still relevant and fit for purpose.
3. You’ll never get everything right the first time
No one expects your coaching philosophy to be the finished article. In fact, if you’re insistent that it needs to be perfect before it ever sees the light of day, chances are you’ll never finish it. Far better to roll out a philosophy that’s along the right lines, then update it over time.
This approach also has the advantage of allowing you to try out your philosophy “in the wild” before you’ve committed too strongly to it. That way, you can iron out creases as you encounter them and gradually work toward perfecting your vision.
4. Playing conditions change throughout the season
While it might be admirable to commit to an attractive, high-tempo passing game focused on playing through the thirds, it simply might not be practical to play in this style all year round.
Adverse weather conditions can make some coaching philosophies impractical. It’s much harder to stretch the opposition by making intelligent, diagonal passes if you’re playing in gale-force winds. Similarly, it’s extremely difficult to maintain a high-intensity pressing game when it’s hot and humid.
Failing to adapt to external factors – such as the weather, or the quality of your playing surface – isn’t a sign that you have total faith in your coaching philosophy; it’s just burying your head in the sand.
5. External advice can help you think in new ways
You might recruit a new senior coach with particularly interesting views on the game. You might speak to your peers at other clubs. You might read a particularly good blog or book, or watch an informative video.
There is any number of ways that you can adopt new views and change your mind about things that previously appeared to be set in stone. That’s why your coaching philosophy should give you the scope to iterate over time. If it’s too rigid to allow for improvements once you’ve already rolled it out, you’re significantly limiting its potential.
Conclusion: Focus on marginal gains
Where any long-term strategic plan is involved, you should focus on making gradual changes over time, where necessary, rather than regularly trying to take huge leaps forward. It’s far simpler to make 1% improvements in 10 different areas, than a 10% improvement in just one area.
Once your coaching philosophy has been in place for a month, review its effectiveness:
- To what extent has it been successfully adopted across the club?
- Is it clear from watching your teams in action that they’re playing to a defined coaching philosophy?
- Are your coaches bought into your philosophy, or are they sticking to their old methods?
- Can the same be said for your players (across all age groups)?
- Have there been any unintended consequences of introducing a certain style of play?
Give honest answers to questions such as these, and update your philosophy as necessary. Repeat this process at regular points throughout the season and you should end up with something that’s far better than your original effort.