With the training and experiences I have learned from my background of working in the Care industry, where I supported vulnerable individuals and their families, I believe I have formed a decent understanding and awareness of recognizing certain group dynamics; various postures and body language; and how vital is it to have very good communication skills with a variety of people from all walks of life.
With this in mind, something that has always intrigued me is the change in a person’s character when they attend a game of football, whether being a spectator, a coach, a manager or a player.
‘Something happens’ when in proximity of that white touchline marking the boundary if a football pitch.
It appears as though many gentle, genuine and friendly people turn into their negative alter egos when it comes to football matches. It’s something that really does baffle me and I cant seem to rationalise why it happens?
Over the years I have seen hundreds if not thousands of football matches on our wee island, and the football opportunities we provide people to play the game are immense, and these opportunities are growing year on year.
So much in fact that our ‘Voluntary Work Force’ within each football club is stretched very thin indeed. However, that’s another discussion point entirely, and I take my hat off to each of those individuals for all the hard work, time, effort and support they give to prove football for our community.
In regards to our junior games played every Sunday morning and afternoon, as much as I enjoy watching the kids enjoy their football, a question that always comes to mind every weekend is that of –
Are we really providing an environment that is conducive to player development?
Understandably, the tone of the environment can change in an instant. Not just in senior football but around the world at junior football matches too. A wonderful goal; a poor tackle; a goal disallowed; a remarkable save; a decision the referee makes; the conduct and behavior of adults; the list goes on and on.
For me, I believe the simplest way of breeding a healthy environment is not just down the referees on match days, but a huge influence to producing a positive learning environment is down to the coaches or managers of the squads involved in the game.
And at this point, I would like to focus on the Coaches Touchline Etiquette.
Without doubt, the perception of the spectators who get wrapped up in watching the game will usually only see the coach as the focal point before the game; during half time; at the end of the game; and of course when they make substitutions.
With first hand knowledge, I would guesstimate that over 85% of the adults around the pitch would not recognize or hear any technical information provided to the players throughout the course of the game, both that of the players on the pitch, and those who are substitutes waiting for their chance to enter play.
Recently I have had the privilege of having several discussions with numerous coaches around local football clubs and some in the UK via social media about this issue.
These coaches and their experience and knowledge are all different, and it was interesting to hear their points of view.
Some self reflected and thought about their own conduct on sideline during games; other expressed their concern at some real poor conduct by others that they had witnessed; and likewise, some also acknowledged some of the good behavior of certain coaches they had seen too.
Now I can only state factually what I have seen with my own eyes, so will not go into what others have said.
So going back to my original question - Are we really providing an environment that is conducive to player development?
Personally from what I have seen over the years I’m not sure that we currently are.
Don’t get me wrong, each and every week there are some very good things going on around the island. For me, I like to see progress, and with recognising some of the good work that does take place, I also believe there is so much more we can be doing.
Human nature I guess dictates that we always pick up on unruly or poor behavior that is shown. The level of recognizing poor behavior though is different from person to person.
What can be deemed acceptable conduct for one person maybe totally unacceptable for another.
As a Coaching Family though, in my opinion, without doubt we should all be singing off the same song sheet.
Our interpretation of the song maybe different as we all have our own unique personality that we should use to maximize our players development, however, the lyrics of the song should be the same.
And by “lyrics” I am talking about the same rules for all, the same boundaries for all; our coaching morals and ethics the same; sportsmanship and fair play promoted and these are just a few things I think should be really adhered too by all Coaches.
With such vast differences between what one coach deems acceptable and what another does not, maybe the key to this is down to education. Coach education.
Why does the coach want to coach a football team? What are their intrinsic reasons?
Does the coach have up to date a Safeguarding Children Certification?
How does the coach keep up to date with coaching methods and knowledge? How does the coach cascade information and new knowledge they have gained to those around them? (On and off the field)
These questions run through my mind when I witness poor conduct or etiquette on the touchlines.
Things I have witnessed include defensive, aggressive shouting command style coaches that take away any decision making from their players; coaches focusing only on their perceived star players and not showing so much interest on the whole squad; coaches pacing up and down the sidelines and continuously talking to players; coaches deliberately making incorrect offside calls to protect their own teams from conceding a goal; coaches intentionally putting off the other teams players with intimidation and harmful comments about their ability; coaches making some very poor and un called for comments about the opposition teams coach and their team during team talks; amongst many other things.
Sadly, the answers to these questions seem to paint a similar picture.
What I have recognized though, is that there is a distinct correlation in terms of questionable coach behavior on the touchlines to coaches whom have been unable or unwilling to attend any recent coaching courses.
By attending and gaining further coach education, I believe this is a big step to not only to support the coach to develop their own coaching knowledge and skills, but to form a “ripple affect” that would also educate the players and the parents further still.
Therefore in my mind, this would have a huge impact on creating a more player centered and positive environment in which our kids would thrive and develop furthermore.
On the bright side, I have also witness coaches showing true sportsmanship win, lose or draw; being honest in there decisions as match officials; being truthful to trying to improve their players and helping them try to be the best they can be; and having some wonderful communication with the parents and spectators that helps the kids enjoy their game of football!
Sometimes being a coach means you have to be brave enough to challenge poor conduct from adults (in an appropriate way) for the good of the kids involved.
Without doubt, your morals and ethics will be tested, but in my experience, once you stand your ground and stick to your guns on how you would like to produce a learning environment, people respect you more for it, and the kids will get more out of THEIR GAME that we are facilitating for them.
Sometimes, what we don’t know… we just don’t know…. and perhaps this is where others can step in to offer some advice and guidance to help us progress further in our coaching journey.
So to finish, maybe some of the below questions will help you reflect on your own touchline Etiquette and give you pause for thought going forward to think about the environment you create during match days.
• Do you stand with your arms folded?
• Do you wave your arms in disgust when decisions go against your team?
• Do you shout at your players and tell them what to do? (Decision Making)
“Take him on” “Pass it” “Don’t do that” “Take it quickly” “Give it to him”
• Do you yell at your players and tell them where they should be?
“You should be here” “You should be there”
• Do you leave your Technical Area?
• Do you interact with your substitutes about what they see in happening within the game?
(Discussing challenges with them for when they will come on and play)
• Do you criticize the Match Officials in view of the players?
• Do you run down the opposition players or coaches to you team during your team talks?
• Do you praise good play by either team?
• Do you shake hands at the end of the game and positively interact with all players, coaches and officials involved?
• Do you give each of your players equal playing time or each player at least 50% game time?
• Do you provide snippets of technical information to individuals appropriately during play?
• Have you prepared you team in training for what you would like to see during matches? (Reducing anxiety and stress on players)
• Do you let the kids have fun and express themselves without having the fear of making a mistake?