How can we utilise sources of learning outside of formal coach education?

Person A: Of course Argentina are underperforming, Messi is a lazy git!

Person B: Now that’s not fair, there’s no way anyone could perform under the pressure he’s under

Person A: Pfft he’s been at the top level all his life, he’s done it in CL finals, he can handle it

Person B: Maybe he’s struggling with the Russian climate?

Person A: Looks like he’s had a bit much of the local cuisine to me.

Coaching people is a complex interaction, requiring knowledge of social, psychological, physical, technical and tactical elements, which is a lot to cover on the 3 day course you attend to receive your license. Conversations about football often veer from subjects as varied as nutrition to confidence to physiology to culture, with little depth or insight into any subject. When people within the game talk about psychology, they refer to “winning mentality”, and “wanting it more”, without delving into the wealth of knowledge around each of these subjects. Sky Sports will often ask for Geoff Shreeves’ opinion about an injury, despite him having no medical expertise and no insider information. Why not ask a sports physio or a doctor specialising in sports injuries?

I’ve worked closely with physios in the past, who have guided my warm ups and cool downs to help players avoid injuries. They’ve given me exercises to better utilise the back muscles, which are not commonly injured but play a large role in preventing injuries to other parts of the body, so my players spend less time out injured. Physiology specialists have been really useful in helping me understand how strength and power is practically applied, as being able to deadlift 300kg barely matters if your running technique is poor.

“You play football with your head. Your legs are only there to help.” – Johan Cruyff

Psychology is an enormous part of performance, yet the art of “man management” is generally considered to be a mystery. More and more clubs are hiring sports psychologists to get specialist help, and many of their methods can be employed at grassroots level. Giving players pre-match routines can help avoid distractions and keep their focus on what’s important, and visualisation can help striking technique massively. Maintaining confidence is absolutely vital, and can be done by setting achievable but challenging goals. A player’s state of mind is influenced hugely by their coach, so the coach should strive to understand how this process works.

Being a great player doesn’t equate to being a great coach, because you have to be able to teach. Teachers spend hours a day breaking down subjects for their age group, repeating their ideas so many times that they optimise their delivery until it’s engaging and easily digestible. They also meld different fields, as they often have to manage behaviour in their environment, and understand the needs of their students. Child development experts can be vital for understanding youth players, as they process information very differently to adults and therefore need a different approach.

Neil Lennon raised a lot of eyebrows when hiring Jim McGuinness, an Irish GAA coach with no football background, as a consultant when coaching Celtic. But evidently he felt that many of the skills that made Jim a success at another sport were transferable to football. Football is a dynamic sport, involving many different types of physicality and technique. How much could Aubameyang learn from Usain Bolt? Many coaches have studied the All-Blacks rugby team for their team culture, bringing the ‘no dickheads allowed’ message to a range of sports.

The armed forces are another popular source of learning pilgrimages, with the Royal Marines giving a talk at a recent FA event on the subject of understanding your environment. The takeaway for football coaches was that it’s often best to focus on the larger objective and give individuals greater rein to decide for themselves how to achieve that, rather than micromanaging every aspect.

Clubs at the top level are increasingly looking outside of football for knowledge. They leave the psychology to psychologists, and the nutrition to nutritionists. In other matters the coach takes advice from other experts, and tries to interpret it in a footballing context. As grassroots coaches we fill many roles, we have to be the player’s psychological support, and may have to give them dietary advice. Let’s get informed.

Useful sources:









Movement specialists:




Academic Research:




Sports Psychology:




All Blacks interview:

Marines speech at the FA:




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