This blog is an excerpt from the ebook, Performance Soccer Coach: A Guide to Positive Player Development by PDP Editor, Dave Wright. Click here to download your copy. Find Dave on Twitter @davewright07.
Chapter 2: The Best in the Business
“I’ve never played for a draw in my life.”
– Sir Alex Ferguson
If you examine some of the great coaches in sporting history, the likes of Vince Lombardi, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Sir Graham Henry, all of these men are phenomenal leaders who put their teams first and showed passion for creating exceptional cultures using contrasting styles.
In American football, Vince Lombardi was a legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers where he won five league championships (including three straight) and the first two Super Bowls in history throughout the 1960’s, is known by most coaches as a leader of men. His inspirational quotes that seem to pop up everywhere are one of his many legacies. Lombardi was known for creating cultures that involved sacrifice and hard work. These things are often a hard sell to players, but Lombardi had the ability to bring teams together and was the master of the goal-oriented team approach. In modern times, he may not be the success he was during his era because of his command-style approach and the changing nature of the modern athlete, but there is no doubt that he was a legend of the game in his own era.
Pep Guardiola is the product of a culture developed over many years at Barcelona, firstly as a player, then as a manager. He is now plying his trade at Bayern Munich with good success. Throughout Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona, the Catalan club won two UEFA Champions League titles, were victorious in La Liga three times, and won numerous cup titles. Barcelona has a possession-based approach from youth players in the famed La Masia Academy to their first team, which is consistent all the way through the ranks and built on playing in a certain way, sticking to a positive philosophy, and letting the game be the teacher. Guardiola had phenomenal success due to his understanding of how to implement this philosophy combined with his direct, passionate, command-style approach to the way he wants to play whilst man-managing an incredible team of superstars.
Mourinho and Ferguson are both ferociously passionate men who constantly put the needs of their teams first and show genuine love for their players. Both of these coaches have had phenomenal success, Ferguson over more than a quarter of a century and Mourinho for the last decade at the highest level with different clubs. He holds the unrivalled record of having won league titles with teams in four different countries: Portugal, England, Italy, and Spain.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a great example as a leader in the sense that he made decisions throughout his tenure at Manchester United to move players on at the peak of their powers (think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo). This was not only because it was good business, but also because he believed these players had offered what they could to the team and perhaps their presence was no longer an asset due to their high profiles. He put his focus on developing players through the club (obvious examples of this being the class of ‘92, which included the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Beckham, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil). Alternatively, he tended to bring in younger players who could work to his plan.
Sir Graham Henry is a living legend in rugby union. He was the coach of the Auckland NPC team, winning the competition four years in a row domestically before he led the Auckland Blues to back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997 in the Super 12. Henry then became the Welsh coach in 1999. Such was his success in Wales that he was nicknamed “The Great Redeemer.” He was then invited to coach the British and Irish Lions in 2001 before returning to New Zealand in 2004 for a highly successful eight-year tenure as the World Cup winning All Blacks coach. Henry’s success was built on the idea of making better people (not just better players), creating world-class environments, and combining this with strong technical knowledge and support staff. Importantly, Henry overcame a catastrophic 2007 World Cup where the All Blacks were knocked out in the quarter-final – their worst result in history. Despite this, he finished with a winning percentage of 85.4%, which was built on 88 wins from 103 All Black test matches. Culture is what All Blacks teams are known for, and Henry was a master of it. The environment he created has since been carried on by current coach Steve Hansen, a man with a win/loss record even higher than Henry’s in his tenure to date.
Phil Jackson, it could be argued, is one of the most successful coaches in any sport. He was the Head Coach of the legendary Chicago Bulls, a title-winning team of the 1990’s, before heading to Los Angeles and taking the reins of the LA Lakers; he brought success with him wherever he went. After winning six NBA Championships in Chicago, he picked up five more in Los Angeles over two tenures. He preached the power of mindfulness, selfless team play, and used Eastern philosophy as methods to draw the best out of his players, earning him the nickname of “The Zen Master.”
More recent football success stories involve men like Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, and Ronald Koeman at Southampton, who have all had great success within their own environments. All three of these coaches have a very different approach. Simeone, for example, is the personification of what can only be described as a “pit bull.” He is passionate, robust, emotional, systematic, and tries to nullify his opposition. He currently has a winning percentage of 64% – exceptional in football. Rodgers, who emerged through the English Academy system via Reading and Chelsea but gained profile through his time at Swansea and then his move to Liverpool, learnt his trade from men like Mourinho but brings his own attacking style and calm, personable approach to his trade. Koeman is a Dutch legend, and in the 2014/15 season, took a Southampton side – who were decimated by transfers in the lead up to the season and expected to be fighting it out at the bottom of the Premier League – into the top six at the time of this writing, and is proving himself as a manager who can maximise the attributes of every individual at his disposal.
When looking at the records of these men, they all scream success at the highest level in what could be argued as one of the toughest results-based businesses in the world: professional sport. Your career can literally hinge on a single result, a single play.
So, what do they all have in common? They all understand how to build environments conducive to success, where players believe in their philosophy and excel in terms of their own personal performance, and as a result, many of them have built teams that were deemed to be the best in the world at the time.
In football, regardless at what level you coach, the game is the same: two teams, a rectangle pitch, and two goals. Whether it’s a small-sided game of 7 vs. 7 at U10 level or a senior first team match of 11 vs. 11, with the right processes and application, you, too, can build an environment that encourages success, develops players, improves them as people, and is highly enjoyable. From my own experience and research, I aim to elaborate on the key factors involved in building these environments and the challenges of coaching at various levels with youth players.
Develop your own style.
Research and study the best in the business.
Build an environment that your players can enjoy and excel in.