Thinking Outside of the Penalty Box
Posted by Dean Holden at February 21st, 2013
by Paul Dalglish, Feb 2013
It is time to start thinking outside of the penalty box, if we want to improve within it.
I grew up in the insular world of Football. Some of my earliest memories as a young boy involve travelling with my Dad to Anfield during the school holidays, waiting for him to get changed and then heading to Melwood in the car, where I would get a ball (an adidas tango to be exact) and boot it against the wall for an hour or two until training was over. Once training was over, I would sit with my Dad and the other players on wooden benches overlooking the training ground and enjoy a cup of tea that had been brewed in big, silver teapots. Forget Powerade, the sports science of the day said tea was the hydration drink of choice. After the tea break was over, we would jump in the car and go back to Anfield, where my dad would send his boot boy to the local chippy to get me my lunch. For as far back as I can remember, up until this very day, I have been involved in football in some way, shape, or form. After I had been coaching for a few years I realized that to be successful I had to leave my comfort zone, I had to look outside of the game for knowledge.
Most ex-players (like myself) that become coaches only know football. Most of us have never had the privilege of a higher education. As a result of this we are naturally narrow-minded. Most of us look to the only thing we know for solutions. We look within the game. Many ex-players, that transition into coaching, have a history like mine. They sign with a club at 9 or 10, go full time at 16, and then turn pro a few years later, where they enjoy varying levels of success before embarking on their coaching journey. Most ex-players know the game but the game is only a small part of coaching. Just because you know the game, doesn’t mean you know how to teach or manage a group of players.
If we are going to improve the game, we must look outside of the game. We must look into the world of business and education where much more informed people than ourselves have developed ways to manage and educate. If you have read the book ‘Good to Great’ you will understand the terms ‘level 4’ and ‘level 5’ management. If you haven’t, then I will give you a brief summary. Both are equally brilliant types of leaders in the business world, and both produce exquisite results for their companies with one major difference. ‘Level 4’ managers attribute all the success of the company to themselves, which is fine, until they leave. Studies show that after they leave, the company finds it more difficult to continue their success after the mercurial leader has gone, a Jose Mourinho type of manager.
‘Level 5’ leaders on the other hand, are more like a Pep Guardiola, they make people believe in the culture and philosophy established, not in them as a manager, allowing the company to continue with success after they have gone. Think about yourself as a coach, or if you don’t coach, then think about the manager of your team. Does he work for himself, or the club?
We can make ourselves much better coaches by looking into the business and education worlds for inspiration on how to teach and manage a group of people, than we can by studying tactics if you already know the game. Think about how much sports science has evolved over the last 40 years. Think about the difference in the education world that you went to school in and the education world that you send your kids today, and then compare that to how much tactics have evolved.
Lets look tactically at Liverpool Football Club over the last 40 years. During the last few months we have heard that it will take time until the players learn a new style of play. The younger, new breed of supporters, have eaten this up, giddily talking with their friends about tiki taka football as if it was this new, never seen before way of playing. The truth is, the tactics are pretty similar to the ones used 40 years ago and many times since. Last weekend Liverpool produced a good display against the champions in a 4-4-2 formation, with one wide player tucked in (Henderson), and the other playing wide (Downing), with one forward high (Sturridge), and one dropped off (Suarez). The older generation of supporters can think back to 40 odd years ago when they saw the same system, with Case tucked in and Heighway playing wide, Toshack high with Keegan dropped off. My generation remembers, Houghton tucked in with Barnes playing wide, Aldridge high with Beardsley dropped off. I know the game is much quicker now due to the advancement of sports science and there are slight differences to each team but the point remains, not too much has changed tactically in 40 years.
Football tactics have only really been re-branded in the last 40 years with new words. Years ago it was “deep lying forward” or “2nd striker”, today it is “false 9.” In the future who knows what the position will be called. The product will probably remain very similar but the packaging will completely change.
To become coaches of the future, we must look outside of football. We are teachers of a subject that hasn’t really changed that much. As well as studying tactics, spend time educating yourself on the way people learn, or look to business leaders to see how to manage a group of people. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you don’t know how to teach them. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are if you don’t know how to manage.
If we want to be better coaches, it is time to start thinking outside of the penalty box.
The Power of a Coach’s Words
Last night I had a life changing experience; from this day forward I will approach my job as a coach with an added responsibility, due to the realization, of the magnitude of influence we have over the impressionable young people we work with.
Last night I attended a remembrance service for a fantastic human being, Murray Hanson, a colleague I worked with at Lonestar soccer club. The service involved fellow coaches talking with great emotion about how thoughtful and loyal a friend they had in Murray. Former teammates describing how fierce a competitor he was during his playing days. We heard how he loved the Austin lifestyle, the live music, the beer, running around town lake, and most of all his walk down to his favorite coffee shop every morning to take on the challenge of completing the morning crossword. The way the people who knew him most purred about this great man, filled me with a little regret, that I didn’t get the chance to get to know him more. He would have been a great friend.
Although touching, this wasn’t what changed me; this wasn’t what hit me like a bolt of lightening shooting straight through my body. What changed my outlook on youth coaching was hearing the kids talk about their former coach. Boys and girls of all age groups, and ability levels spoke from the heart about how Murray’s positive attitude inspired them to live their lives a different way, inspired them to be better people. No kids spoke about how Murray, taught them how to perform a turn Messi would be proud of, or a finish that even Ronaldo would stand up and applaud. Up until last night, I believed our role as youth coaches was to make better soccer players but I was wrong, our role is to inspire children in a positive way through soccer, regardless of their ability. Just because a kid can’t play to the level of another, doesn’t mean they don’t have the same sensitivity to criticism and praise. We must always remember the kids we coach are kids first, soccer players second.
Please let me share with you the story of a young girl, who will remain nameless, that shot the bolt of lightening through me. An emotional but strong young lady stood on the stage waiting for her chance to speak about Murray. The previous speaker finished and she approached the stage. Calm but with tears in her eyes, she told us, how she was a short chubby girl who didn’t like running much, so, she decided that being a goalkeeper was the best position for her. She reminded us of her rather strong dislike for running, especially during pre-season boot camp, the time of year all youth soccer players dread, especially in Texas in the scorching summer heat. She had already been running for some time, when she ran past Murray.
‘5 more’, Murray shouted. ‘I can’t’, said the short chubby girl. Murray smiled but then his face straightened as he firmly said, ‘don’t ever say you can’t, don’t ever let me hear you say you can’t’. The girl inspired by coach Murray finished the remaining 5 runs but more importantly left the practice facility with a new, found attitude. Fast forward several years and this young girl is now a young lady, standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people with her can do attitude, telling us all, how those inspiring few words from coach Murray changed her life, and inspired her to become the lady she is today. Last night this fine young lady told us, if it were not for Murray inspirational words changing her outlook on life, she wouldn’t have earned a full soccer scholarship to a D1 school. It is remarkable to think of how much those few words from a coach, could impact a young person’s life in such a positive way.
The reason I have written this blog, is to remind coaches of the influence we have over the young people we coach. To make you aware of the power of your words, as easily as our positive encouragement can inspire a young girl to live her life with a new found, can do attitude, our negative words can crush a youngsters feelings, destroying their self esteem. All I ask is, please remember this isn’t about soccer, this is about being role models and inspirations to young people for years to come, it is about teaching values, soccer is just the vehicle we use to achieve this. If we can make our kids better soccer players in the process, then that’s just a bonus.
Thank you Murray Hanson for inspiring me to think about youth soccer in a different way. May you Rest in Peace.