Head Coach of Auckland City FC in New Zealand’s National League, Jose Manuel Figueira discusses the core principles around his methodology. Jose outlines ideas as to how you can create high quality practices that are demanding for your players and ensure a positive learning environment.
Recently I have gone through a major development in terms of my coaching philosophy and also in the way I plan, develop and deliver my coaching sessions. With all the fantastic resources accessible to us and the community of forward thinking coaches on Twitter alone happy to share advice and experience, I feel that the modern coach has no excuses to give their players the best experience of their lives. After all we are coaching the greatest sport on the planet and the players we work with regardless of the level deserve to be inspired and fall in love with the game for the first time or all over again.
My aim this year has been to base a large part of my coaching philosophy around what I call my “Four P’s of Coaching”.
In today’s fast paced world that demands immediate results and instant success it is easy for coaches to fall into the same trap. It seems that many of us are so desperate to see improvement, learning and results from our players that we often lose sight of how and why we are working with our players in the first place. It is important we do not lose focus of the necessary stepping-stones we must take to ensure we create the best environment for our players.
“If I have ever made any valuable discoveries , it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent” – Sir Isaac Newton
Patience as a coach is crucial. With all the planning, research and countless hours we spend off the field preparing training sessions and development plans for our players we believe instant success and improvement should be a given. Out on the grass our expectation is that all players understand what we want from them, how they should behave, to be attentive to the learning points we are trying to feed them and that by the end of the session everyone has made progress…however is this unrealistic?
As coaches we need to remind ourselves that without patience in our approach, and patience in our players development the environment we create can without our intention be filled of stresses and strains. Do not be demanding and driven by instant results!
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas
For me coaching is an art form; the players are your subject and the training field is your canvass. There are many different types of artist who have their own techniques and styles, but what they all have in common is their ability to produce spectacular pieces that inspire. As coaches this is what we must strive for when we are on the field with our players!
Like painters every coach is different, with their own style, philosophy and outlook of the beautiful game. The key element that resonates between us all however is the reason we are coaching: “to improve, inspire and grow our players both on and off the field”. How exactly we do this can vary, just like the many hundred of books, resources and session planning tools out their available to us – but like the artist it is how we put it all together and present it on the canvas that separates the best.
Are your activities engaging? Do they revolve around the ball? Are they challenging the players? Do your players have to make multiple decisions? If so, then you’re halfway there! It is vital that your training environment and session activities are based on these cornerstones, with this base you will help to grow players that are free thinkers, able to identify and evaluate problems and make them technically better. However there is one final question that holds the whole foundation together: “Is this game realistic”?
- How many pictures was Xavi exposed to?
- How many pictures do you think were painted for Xavi in training?
The foundation of all my session planning and activities are based around this foundation. The question I ask myself with nearly all my activities is “does this happen in the game”? Right from individual techniques, to group skill and unit tactical work I try to take a snapshot from a moment of the game and reproduce it in my activity. With this method I believe that it will not only help with a more natural progression from training field to playing field for your players, but the identifying, evaluating and execution of technical and tactical decisions made by your players will be clearer, more confident and quicker. Remember the outcomes may still not be correct due to a technical breakdown but if there is clear understanding and evaluating from your players you know they are on the right path.
I also believe using this foundation will help to produce and grow players that are multi-functional and able to execute a number of techniques under the constantly changing key stresses of game play – space, time and pressure. These elements are constantly changing during a game, so it makes sense to expose your players to that same stresses in training, right?
Be a painter; inspire your players to be creative, free-thinkers. Just like when looking at a piece of art everyone has their own feelings, thoughts and emotions – give your players this power on the field and watch them change the game!
Have you ever noticed midfield players who under pressure or in tight space always pass the ball backwards and never try to turn and/or break lines with passes or dribbles?
For me, this is a clear example of players who have not been exposed to these key game stresses and pictures during training – they are having to “think on their feet” and instead of looking to be assertive and a game changer they immediately regress into our natural human instinct of not wanting to look silly or makes mistakes.
All of this however takes time, and whilst I have already mentioned patience I believe that allowing them to practice it is crucial. Do the activities you set up for the players allow maximum practice? Are they getting enough repetition so these skills become engrained?
I feel some coaches are too worried about seeing and finding improvement so they can progress activities and move on in their session plan that they are in fact neglecting the learning process of players. Just because a player may check his shoulder once, receive on the back foot and open the play out does not mean this skill/technique is engrained. As coaches we need to have a keen eye to observe is learning and understanding has taken place, but also have the tools in our locker to adapt the practices so that players get to experience, evaluate and execute this specific technique in a number of different scenarios.
The more pictures you can paint and the more time you allow players to practice in your training sessions the better they will become in the long run. This practice time acts as a memory drive that when on the field during game play they can access the necessary “data” to aid them with decision-making.
Providing that you have followed the previous three “P’s” then your players should be well equipped to deal with the decisions, puzzles and stresses the game presents to them. The hope as a coach is to see a clear sign of learning and improvement from the players. This means seeing them execute intelligent game decisions on the field that can change the game…however big or small they may be it is a sign they are beginning to produce!
Coaches, let us not forget however that game time is not just about seeing if our players have improved and that the weeks learning has become engrained. We all know that every game played throws up a whole new plethora of techniques, skills and game intelligence learning opportunities for our players, it is this game experience that help us development our training development plans but most importantly provide us with a new inspiration for us to “paint” on our own blank canvasses on the training field.
I have found that using the four “P’s” has really helped me to focus in on the important core elements of the game my players need to work on. While I always dedicate time for the players to enhance their general ball mastery and comfort levels on the ball, when it comes to my technical, skill and group tactical work I now have a much greater idea of what I need to design for my players to allow them the best opportunities to practice game specific techniques, skills and decision-making on a regular basis.
Understanding and identifying when learning is taking place takes a keen eye, but if we building environments for our players to walk into where they are practicing and experiencing moments that will reproduce themselves come game day then we are on the right track when it comes to our roles in the development of the beautiful games next generation.
Be patient with your players, paint them something that will inspire them, allow practice to take place and watch your players produce on the pitch!