“I would unashamedly ask for and steal the ideas of others.” – Craig Brown CBE
Former Scotland manager Craig Brown CBE is not ashamed to say that he was always prepared to ask for ideas and steal ideas from other managers and coaches, and he’d readily ask players to tell him about other managers’ methods. He uses the word “steal” mischievously but what he was really doing was learning from the experiences of others, and demonstrating a key trait of all successful coaches a managers – ongoing curiosity and a desire to continually look for ways to improve.
Lessons Learned from Other Coaches
A manager that Craig was particularly interested in learning from was Brian Clough, and one of the ideas he adopted from him was “no square passes.” He says,
“Clough felt strongly that a square pass was easily intercepted. If players did it in training, they were fined £25 and if they did it in a game they were fined £50. This ‘no square passes’ was a tactic I unashamedly stole and started to use myself.”
Another manager that Craig learned from was Willie McLean. He says,
“I was assistant manager to Willie and he had great ideas. This was in a time when teams used to go out onto the pitch separately and he would say, ‘We never go out first; they wait on us.’ Sending the opposition out first was a simple thing, but it was a small psychological thing that could make a big difference. I know it’s something that Alex Ferguson did after half time. He’d send the opposition out first to wait on them – especially on a cold day. Another thing he did was have his players run in off the pitch at half time, they didn’t walk. These were ideas I took and used myself.”
The Psychology of Substitutions
A management problem that all managers face is having to tell a player they’re being dropped. How and when to break this news is a management skill that Craig has seen done well and not-so-well by managers over the years. He says,
“If you know you’re going to drop a player, you should give them maximum warning. I hate to see a sulking substitute, and you don’t want a sulking player around the team, so give them time to sulk at home. A sulking substitute can be disruptive: if you’re on that bench, you’ve got to be a supporter, not a sulking substitute.”
To illustrate his point, Craig tells the story of Italian international player Del Piero. He was the star, but he was on the bench when young player Totti took his place in the team in the European Championship in 2000. When Totti then scored, Del Piero was on his feet punching the air. He says,
“That’s the attitude you want from every player on the bench. I think substitution tells you a lot about a player. An unfavourable attitude can be seen in the way they warm-up off the bench. If they’re resentful, they’re not putting effort into it, they’re not focused. In a World Cup, you can have players that are stars in their club on the bench, and they’re not used to being there, so it’s a tell-tale sign of how they behave on that bench and it’s very revealing how they respond as a substitute player. At an international level, they’re used to being the big shot, they’re not used to being on the bench, so this makes it a psychological challenge for a star player to be taken off.”
To deal with this management problem, Craig has learned the importance of communication skills. He says,
“Players want to be told straight whether they’re playing or not, they don’t want to be mollycoddled. Players – and many supporters – tend to think that substitution is the result of poor performance or injury, but there can be many other reasons. Those reasons need to be communicated to the players.”
The bottom line is that as us all Craig’s success is built on the success of others, and the success of those he learned from was built on the success of those that went before them.
Are you curious to learn from others, and are you taking steps to develop the skills you see in those you admire?
Do you listen to my full podcast interview with Craig click here or listen below?