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When Rob Maaye started a new thread asking what we might say to our younger selves at the beginning of our coaching journey, I had so much to tell myself, it's turned into my latest blog. Plenty of things that would have been good to know but maybe it's been more fun and more beneficial finding out for myself?
So, you’ve stumbled across a local football tournament and been really impressed at the set-up. Your knee has decided that you’re no longer able to play and you’ve found yourself working in the office on Saturday mornings, in the absence of a proper hobby or motivation.
You’re about to make a decision that will be life-changing. A decision that you will never regret, although often you’ll come close. It’s a decision that will ultimately make you a better parent, although your family will be affected. It will bring you a new set of close friends but you’ll also meet people you struggle to understand.
You currently claim to ‘love football’. It will seem strange to you years later that you once spent your time shouting at the TV. You’ll start to wonder why you screamed at players or referees at live matches. You’ll begin to understand after several years what the game is actually for as it starts to coincide with your love of community. Football will matter less and less, even though you’re surrounded by it every day. Helping young people to achieve, whatever their challenge, will become far more important than the game itself. You may not believe it now but I doubt you’ll watch many games on TV in years to come. It’s time to forget about everything you think you know about football and start afresh. Learn about working with kids and how to engage them. This will be more useful than trying to second guess the England manager.
Seek out qualifications and I know you’ll take them seriously. You’ll find out early on that they are only a framework to operate within and encourage yourself to experiment and explore. There will be guys at the FA who will help you greatly. Try and learn as much as you can from them but don’t get caught up in trying to impress them just for praise and recognition. They will prefer you to take responsibility for your learning and you must decide what works best for you and how to improve it. Challenge yourself on the courses and pick difficult tasks and topics. Remember, you’ll be coaching in front of people who can give you valuable feedback. Don’t take easy options. Try out something that you’re not fluent in and be prepared to fail a little. Then, if you listen carefully, you’ll learn something.
The coaching course will be full of different people with different ideas and agendas. Some want the badge, some want to learn. Some share your total commitment and some are very much part time weekend coaches wanting to do the best they can with what they have. Make sure you respect and learn with everybody. You don’t have to be the best in the room. Understand that as soon as you can.
In your higher level courses you’ll perhaps spend time with coaches sporting badges of professional clubs. Try not to feel inferior (even if some treat you so) but try and see what you can take from them in terms of experience and ideas. Some of these guys will have a deep knowledge that will help you and jealousy is a weakness you must avoid, even if you feel that some are undeserving of their self importance. You’ll wear your Grassroots badge on Day 1 but on Day 2 you wear your ‘working kit’ (you're now getting paid now and again) with a Premier League badge and see a different attitude from some towards you. Later you’ll learn this says more about them than it does you. You’ll see that the candidate on the course that seems to want to learn the most is an Ex England International. You’ll appreciate the mindset that got him there as he applies a thirst for learning and inspires you. You need to understand that confidence isn’t about who is the best in the room. Confidence is not comparing yourself in the first place. Be the best you can be. The job will never be finished. Respect and admire many at the elite end of coaching but have the same feelings about those who work at the lower levels. See it as a team game and revel in your own particular role in that structure.
Help to run clubs and teams and enjoy that community. There are friends that are in the local club or joining later that you haven’t even met yet. Football will bring you together with families just like yours and your friendships will become about much more than football. Research terms such as ‘ownership’ and ‘delegation’. Get parents involved early, even if you don’t feel like letting too much go. As you learn about developing players in the long term, share that knowledge with players and parents, rather than keep it to yourself as one great master plan. Not sharing will cost you players at various points, although you suspect that the parents probably wouldn’t have bought into the idea anyway. If you get the privilege to hold office at a club, try and realise that not everybody sees things your way or shares the same passion. At times,it might feel that you have to do everything but be wary as it might just have been your attitude that made it that way. Also, recognise when you’ve stretched yourself too thinly. Make the best of your time. Your strengths will be spending time on the grass with the kids. Don’t resent it when others are better at fundraising or paperwork than you are. You will be better deployed elsewhere. Leave them to it.
Have Water Fights, Ten-Pin Bowling nights, Christmas parties and weekends away with the team. This time will be short and you need memories, not trophies. Football is a social game. Not every team will understand that but if you accept that a team belongs to players and parents, then yours will. Let the kids own the sessions. See what it is that they want to do and what they want to learn. Listen to their ideas as perhaps they have thought of things that you haven’t yet considered? It’s their game and you are just a facilitator. Also, you have to recognise that children grow up. Make sure that the activities you arrange and language you use grows up with them. Talking to teenagers has to be different than talking to 8 year olds. Please learn this lesson before it’s too late but if a particular journey comes to an end, you must have made sure that you have done your absolute best with the experience you have.
Get onto Twitter as soon as you can. Join coaching groups and networks to see what ideas are out there. Stop reading football biographies that churn out the same soundbites. You will learn far much more by following your tutors, mentors and peers than you ever will by learning the life story of ‘Pep’. Get into books that can help you. Psychology could become a passion. Find out about ‘Chimp Management’. Learn about Mindset but above all, make your own opinions on how to use the information to your advantage. Message the author only if they can add value and not in the hope of a Retweet. Just because sycophants go overboard on a new book, doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you.
Experience is vital and once you find out the decent guys to follow, you will learn more than you can ever imagine. Use the tools you learned on the courses but add to them with the thousands of hours of others experiences you can find dotted around. Copy nobody but listen to what they have to say although be wary as the number of followers isn’t always an indication of sensible and useful information. As your experience builds, try and find the confidence to share your thoughts. Admit your failures and see them as opportunities to learn and improve. Be brave enough to post them and you’ll find plenty of empathy and occasional ridicule. Listen to both! Your mouth already knows what’s in your brain. Your ears and eyes will aid you far more. Get out there and watch coaches. Good coaches and others not so good. Get around other sports and see what styles and language they might use and when you think you’ve got everything sorted, get someone to film you and start all over again!
But above all, remember those closest to you and the sacrifices they make. Never forget the support you get from your amazing wife as you pursue your passion. Tap into her knowledge as early as possible and respect that she works with kids professionally. Not recognising her knowledge and experience early could be a costly mistake you might regret. Value her! She is far more than somebody who is prepared to keep dinner on hold four evenings a week as you discuss coaching theory whilst leaning on your car. You may come across Autism, ADHD and other conditions as you take further roles and she can help you more than you know. Tell her regularly how valuable she is and how you appreciate her, rather than just buying flowers at the end of each season. Right now, you perhaps don’t ask her opinion enough. By the time you write this, you’ll know that getting her thoughts before posting it will be vital.
Your daughter doesn’t like football. It doesn’t matter how much face paint you put on her or how many ‘Michael Owen’ songs you taught her early on, she just doesn’t like it. My best advice to you, my younger self, is to let her follow her path away from football. Your other great passion is music and you never know, if she finds this passion you might go on to sharing this with her. You might discuss lyrics which will help her as she deals with growing up. She might travel to gigs with you when she’s old enough and this could provide you with a wonderful release from session plans going round and round your head all day. You might come to realise how important getting away from coaching might be from time to time and this is also your way of keeping your relationship with her strong when she moves away. Perhaps she’ll develop a love of psychology to take her to University and you’ll spend hours discussing theories and essays, helping you to understand more about how kids learn. Wouldn’t that be good?
If you end up coaching your boy, remember his relationship with you is not the same as the other players. Be a Dad first and a coach second. If you intend to treat him the same as any other player, do just that and don’t sacrifice his playing time because that’s the easiest option. You will have to make decisions later on and hopefully you’ll learn and stick to your Every Child Counts belief that football is there for every kid to enjoy. Never forget how your own coach made you feel when you were not good enough to play. However, be aware that these decisions won’t be well received by everybody. Be aware that whilst you learn from your mistakes, your kid will hear about them more at school. He is the one kid that you set out to do it all for. You want your boy to have a better experience than you did as a young footballer. As you go forward be very careful. Make sure that the one kid you set out to help the most isn’t the one that’s enjoying it the least. However, if this does happen, try not to worry. If things go well and you’ve done a decent job, you can sit back and watch as he starts his own coaching pathway, earlier than you did. You’ll find yourself feeling prouder of him than you could ever have imagined as he takes a group of his own. When he gets to that stage, hopefully you’ll be typing a letter to your younger self having learned that the best way to help him will be to let him find his own way. He’ll ask for your help as and when he needs it? When he becomes the best coach in the family, which he surely will, you’ll have done a fine job!
I hope this letter finds you well, younger self. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things occasionally go wrong. They are the Learning Opportunities that you will hear about soon. Just don’t make the same mistakes over and over. If you change little and learn from the same mistakes then you’ll be a happy and contented man in ten years time, looking forward to the next steps. Whilst, I know WHAT WENT WELL. I’ll leave you to work out EVEN BETTER IF…..
You’re doing the right thing! Learn fast, my friend. Here’s to the next ten years!
Sorry you’ll never read this!
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Absolutely love this blog Rich...fantastic read!
Rich, really enjoyed the blog. It reflects my own experience of children . Daughter more interested in dance, son who followed me into cricket. He played at a good level and as a Level 4 coach he is now working full time in cricket. Yes as you say very proud.
Good for you and good for him!I often think that as coaches, we are trying to produce the talent for the future but we are far more likely to produce the next generation of coaches. In my case, I'm hoping my boy becomes the best version of himself, which will hopefully be an upgrade on his Dad!
Wonderful story, Rich.Do you think that “you then” would have listened to “you today”?As you say, though - “…maybe it's been more fun and more beneficial finding out for myself”!
Hi Andrew,Now, there's a question!I've always been keen to learn but early on, I'm afraid it would take somebody with a 'badge' or some trophies to keep me interestedUnfortunately, back then, my self proclaimed 'knowledge of football' would have be starting most sentences with 'Yes,But...', especially when I was trying to be the best in the room, instead of the best version of me.'New me' listens and reads as much as possible and then applies the filter to everything. Basically, if a brand new coach reviewed some of my work, I would now be happy to listen and try to understand what they saw.'New me' would definitely like a letter from 'future me' and take it seriously but I still think it's only guidance. Learning for yourself is always the best way?
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