Chances are that, as the Director of Coaching (DOC), you’re the most experienced person at your club – certainly from a sporting perspective.
You’ve seen it, done it, and bought the T-shirt. If one of your coaches encounters a challenge, you’ll probably have dealt with it before.
That puts you in a fantastic position to help your team overcome problems. But consider this: if you’re always the one who provides the answer, how can you expect your coaches to learn? When will they ever be able to stand on their own two feet?
Which is where mentoring comes in. Rather than giving your coaches all the answers, as a mentor you’ll help them to unlock fresh perspectives and steer them toward their own solution.
Why do soccer coaches need mentoring?
Your coaches aren’t the finished article. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some will thrive when they’re leading training sessions but struggle to plan a curriculum in advance. Others will be the exact opposite.
Whatever their skill set and experience level, the best way you can help them is through being a good mentor.
Research from the English FA shows the clear benefits of mentoring in a soccer environment. Of all clubs involved in the association’s Coach Mentor Programme, 99% said they saw an improvement in player experience after working with an FA Coach Mentor. What’s more, 68% of coaches said they felt more motivated after going through the mentoring process.
Different strategies for mentoring your coaches
It’s all well and good understanding the benefits of mentoring. But how does it work in practice? If you’re new to mentoring, or if you’re unsure what approach to take with a specific coach, what can you do to build a stronger mentoring relationship?
While the “right” method will naturally vary from one coach – and one DOC – to another, these tried-and-trusted strategies are an excellent starting point:
Build their all-round confidence
Even great soccer coaches sometimes doubt their ability or question whether they’ve made the wrong decision. A little self-doubt and introspection is natural in any profession, but in soccer coaching – where pressure to deliver results is often extremely high – it’s all too easy for a coach to face a crisis of confidence.
As a mentor, you can help coaches recapture their lost confidence by steering them in the right direction when it comes to making decisions. Don’t tell them exactly what to do, but reassure them that the solution they identify is worth pursuing. If it doesn’t work, encourage them to understand what went wrong, and how they can avoid the same issue in future.
Help them make useful connections and expand their network
Part of learning and developing is about broadening your horizons. You can only go so far by listening to the same perspectives over and over again. That’s as true in soccer coaching as in any other walk of life.
You can encourage your coaches to identify valuable new perspectives and take onboard new opinions by helping them to expand their professional networks. Perhaps a coach is struggling with a specific part of the job – let’s say they’re finding it hard to motivate a new group of players. You used to work with a coach who was a fantastic motivator, equally effective across all age groups. Why not put them in touch with one another?
Once they’ve spoken, be sure to ask your mentee what they gained from the experience, and what actions they’re planning to implement off the back of it.
Discuss career direction and help them to reach their goals
Helping your coaches to develop is one of the most important duties of a mentor.
This goes beyond the work you do as part of your regular one-to-one process – setting goals, agreeing measurable objectives, and regularly checking in on their progress. Rather, it’s about listening to the career challenges they’re facing, and providing a sounding board for potential solutions.
For instance, let’s say a coach wants to take on more strategic and organisational responsibilities. To that end, you’ve asked them to contribute to the creation of a new season plan. But they’re not sure what approach to take. Encourage them to talk through different tactics, running over the pros and cons of each, until they’ve identified the direction that works best for them.
Utilise feedback to help the soccer coach improve
While mentoring definitely isn’t about giving your coaches all the answers, it can absolutely be useful and relevant to offer your own opinion on their approach.
However, it’s important to provide feedback in the right way. Don’t dismiss a potential solution straight off the bat, even if you’re convinced it’s the wrong way to go. Instead, ask questions that guide your coach to make their own decision. If you disagree, explain your outlook, ideally backed up by real-life examples. But be prepared to be flexible – this isn’t about doing things your way, whatever your opinion.
Give them the tools to reach their own conclusions
For mentoring to work effectively, it’s vital that your coaches have the tools and knowledge to find answers for themselves. Otherwise you’re just acting as an autocrat, telling them what to do. That might be effective in the short term, but in the long term it’ll hold back their development.
Resources like The Coaching Manual’s vast library of professional-quality coaching sessions are a fantastic starting point. They can help your coaches to consider new techniques that they otherwise wouldn’t have considered – techniques that have been used previously to nurture the careers of players like Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana.
The approaches detailed above can be a big help to any DOC mentoring their coaching team. But there’s another key factor to mention: a mentoring relationship simply won’t work if the coach in question doesn’t want to be mentored.
Mentoring isn’t for everyone. Some people simply don’t have the patience to methodically talk through all their options before reaching a decision. They’d rather trust their own experience and instincts. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’ll save a lot of time and effort by avoiding mentoring relationships that are doomed from the outset.