You might be the best qualified, most knowledgeable and experienced Director of Coaching (DOC) in world soccer, but you’re only as strong as your coaching team. No matter how revolutionary your sporting philosophy, groundbreaking your tactics, or carefully planned your long-term vision, you simply won’t succeed in the role unless you surround yourself with quality coaches.
While every coach is their own person, their roles and responsibilities – to motivate, discipline, inspire and improve a diverse squad of players – should be similar. So it’s no surprise that the best in the business share some common traits.
What are the best traits for great soccer coaches?
Every DOC will have their own preferences about the types of people they prefer to work with – more outgoing or introverted; more creative or disciplined; more conservative or risk-taking. But other characteristics are far more universal. Here are the ten most important traits that we believe all great coaches possess:
Youth coaches only get limited time with their players – perhaps two training sessions and a matchday each week. So it’s vital they make that time count by clearly communicating their ideas and instructions to players.
But it’s not just about speaking to the playing squad. It’s also important that they’re able to communicate effectively with their colleagues and the DOC to highlight areas for improvement and discuss best practice.
Able to forge a positive atmosphere
It’s unrealistic to expect that every player at your club or academy will be best friends. But they need to be able to work together effectively on the training pitch and on gamedays if they’re going to improve as players and win matches.
That’s why it’s important for coaches to build a positive atmosphere, in which players enjoy themselves and feel empowered to improve. While the DOC will ultimately be responsible for introducing and maintaining club culture, it’s up to the coaching staff to communicate this message to players and stamp out negative behaviour.
Committed to player development
As we’ve discussed before, coaches shouldn’t be evaluated solely on win/loss ratios. Of far greater importance should be their effectiveness at developing players, in line with performance targets agreed with the DOC at the start of the season.
Developing youth players can be challenging. Young players are rarely consistent; they may make huge strides forward, before reverting to previous behaviours that had seemed to be long gone. Their confidence is easily knocked, which can have a major impact on performance. The coach has to be truly committed to the task if they’re to succeed in improving players.
Just as they have to be superb communicators, coaches must be excellent motivators. After all, it’s one thing to get their message across, but another thing entirely to encourage young players to take it onboard and embrace it.
Motivation shouldn’t just be about rallying around to win difficult matches. Young players need motivating to enjoy and do their best in training; to learn new skills and tactics that may seem confusing at first; and to work more effectively together. If they’re not motivated and enjoying themselves, there’s little reason for them to keep turning up.
Well-versed in the rules and foundation of the game
Obvious as it might sound, a coach should be extremely knowledgeable about soccer. Not only should they have a deep understanding of the fundamentals, but they should have a strong desire to keep learning; after all, the game doesn’t stand still for long. Formations and tactics go in and out of fashion, so for a coach to have the best chance of turning talented players into future professionals, they need to keep pace with soccer trends.
Patient and accepting
Being a coach can be frustrating. As we’ve already pointed out, player development can be a slow process. Youngsters make mistakes – they may even make the same mistakes over and over again before they learn. Results can go against you, even in matches you should have won. It takes vast reserves of patience and acceptance to deal with these hardships and move on, without taking it out on the players.
Good role model
Coaches must embrace their position as authority figures in the lives of their young players. As with any authority figure, players will intuitively learn from the behaviours of their coach, whether positive or negative. If a coach acts aggressively toward a match official, for instance, don’t be surprised to see their players do the same thing.
Part of being an excellent communicator stems from being a great listener. Only through taking the time to listen to their players and gain an intuitive understanding of what they think about a given situation can a coach figure out how best to respond.
It also helps them to overcome challenges. Is a player struggling to pick up a specific skill, adapt to a new playing system, or integrate with new team-mates? Unless a coach is prepared to listen – and, potentially, to read between the lines – they won’t be in a position to deal with the situation.
Able to inspire players
Sometimes, coaches need the ability to inspire their young players to help them cope with challenging scenarios. This might happen amid the pressure of a big game, but it could equally come on a training pitch in the dead of winter, when it seems easier to give up than keep running through that challenging new training drill.
There’s no template for what makes a person inspiring. Some inspirational leaders have been quiet and circumspect; others have been boisterous and outgoing. You might not be able to define it, but when you meet an inspiring coach, you’ll know.
Just as important as the ability to inspire and motivate their players is possessing the energy to roll their sleeves up and work hard when required.
Preparing training sessions, drills and tactical talks might not be the most glamorous part of the coaching role, but all that planning is vitally important if they’re to get the most from their players.
Some coaches will be superb one-on-one motivators who find it harder to forge tight bonds between a group of players.
Others will be true scholars of the game, but will struggle to translate their thoughts and theories to the training pitch.
Few will possess all of the ten traits detailed above in equal measure. But if they have the majority of them, and are prepared to work at the others, you’ve got the building blocks of an excellent coach and a valuable ally in communicating your sporting philosophy.