To provide exceptional learning environments for young players, we need high-quality coaches. But coaches, like players, require guidance in order to develop and improve their performance. In fact, the principles behind coach and player development are often quite similar. In this article, Lee Hodge, experienced coach educator and Head of Academy Coaching at Plymouth Argyle FC, discusses these similarities, as he explains the fundamentals of coach development and capability building within a club setting.

In This Article

How to Effectively Support Coaches

Keep It Simple

When it comes to supporting coaches in their development, Hodge’s first piece of advice is to simplify your approach. “When I started, I probably overcomplicated things,” he explains. “I had lots of ideas and wanted to help everyone, but, while some coaches were really enthusiastic, others didn’t buy into it.

“Over time, I realised the importance of keeping things simple — of first figuring out what each individual actually needed. Now I observe coaches, talk to them, and learn as much about them as possible. For example, what do they feel about themselves? What do they think their strengths and potential areas of development are? This knowledge then guides my approach.”

Build Trust

Next, Hodge asserts the need to build trust with coaches. “You need that trust — for coaches to know that you care about them and their development — if you’re really going to help them,” he says. “Start by finding out what’s important to them — things like their needs and aspirations — and creating bespoke development plans.”

Hodge also reminds coach educators to set their egos aside and accept when their approach isn’t working: “Understanding when you’re not the best person to help an individual, and being brave enough to seek help from someone else, is also really important.

“Sometimes we build positive relationships with people quite quickly, but other times it might take longer. We need to be patient, and always show that we have their best interests at heart.”

Establish Effective Review Processes

Finally, Hodge emphasises the importance of creating effective review processes. “There are numerous ways to do this,” he says. “I could tell a coach that I’m going to observe them, and simply watch their session; I could have their session filmed, so that we can both watch it back; or I might work with them to plan a session together.”

But, however we decide to observe coaches, our approach to delivering feedback is arguably more important. “I want the individual to reflect on their own session first,” Hodge explains. “So I speak to them positively and encourage them to watch their session back. Then we meet and discuss it a few days later — and I ensure that I hear their thoughts before sharing mine.

“From there, we can discuss the things that they really want to go and develop.”

Essential Attributes for Coaches

So what key attributes should we help our coaches to develop? Again, Hodge prioritises an ability to build positive relationships: “Coaches must be able to develop trust with their players and connect with the group — to really connect with every individual in their team,” he says. “Coaching works when we create positive relationships.”

Hodge also underlines the value of knowledge, noting that players are likelier to trust a coach they believe can help them improve: “Players need to know that you know about the game,” he says. “The best coaches possess good knowledge. They are really curious and have a real thirst to learn.”

Furthermore, Hodge calls for coaches who can energise every session. “We want coaches who radiate energy and enthusiasm,” he says. “Those are the coaches who players want to be around, and who make players want to come back.”

“This is a key principle in coaching,” agrees Dan Cooke, Coaching Advisor at PDP. “Behaviour is contagious — particularly with younger players. So if we’re clearly positive and pleased to be there, that will likely impact the children’s behaviour as well.

“For example, if they arrive at training and we’re standing on the sidelines with the balls in the bag, that might negatively impact their enthusiasm. But if we have a ball at our feet and we’re smiling, they’ll probably want to grab a ball of their own and start playing. That’s the kind of joy we want them to feel when they arrive.”

Advice for Coaches and Coach Educators

When advising coaches and coach educators on how to create the best learning environments for young players, Hodge reiterates the importance of passion and enthusiasm: “I want to learn constantly. I watch games most nights, or read, or watch videos of different sessions. I think that’s why I received various coaching opportunities early on in my career; I was curious and constantly asking questions.

“And when I coach, I’m very energetic. I tell stories and use lots of rhyming; I try to make learning ‘sticky’. Ultimately, the most important thing is to remember who we coach, and to think about how we can positively affect them.

“However we do it, we must make playing football the best part of their week.”

The Key Points

  • We should take a bespoke approach to coach development, based upon the individual needs of our coaches.
  • To effectively develop coaches, we must first build positive relationships, centred upon trust.
  • The best review processes encourage self-reflection in addition to providing feedback.
  • Coaches should possess a thorough knowledge of the game — and a desire to constantly learn.
  • Energy and enthusiasm are essential to engaging players and encouraging positive behaviours.
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