Don MacNaughton Coaching

Player to Coach: The Changing Skill Set

“All learning has an emotional base.” – Plato

If you’ve been playing football for 20 plus years and you now want to channel your passion for the game into coaching,often the most challenging aspect of the switch from player to coach is developing a different awareness of the game.

The Helicopter View

As a player, the focus is mainly going to be on your own performance as part of the team. The knowledge and experience you have is effectively in your muscles and therefore subconscious. For example, out on the pitch you’ll make split second decisions – do I go inside the player, do I go outside; do I make a long pass, do I make a short pass; do I follow the striker, do I not? – and these fast decisions are predominately made without conscious thought in the moment. This means that taking steps to become a coach may be the first time you’ve thought about the game in different ways.

As a coach, you’re developing a  different level of tactical awareness. You’re thinking about shaping; thinking about how a move in one position will affect other positions on the team. Making this change and being able to switch to a helicopter view of the game is a crucial step in becoming a coach.

The Hidden Challenges

Making changes in your mental game can be a much tougher challenge than making changes in your physical game. For example, if a physical improvement needed to be made such as developing greater strength, a weights programme can be prescribed and increases in strength are going to follow, but what about improving mental skills?

Improvements can be much harder to measure; they can appear to be invisible.

To work on improving mental skills, I might ask a group of coaches to think about the managers and coaches that have influenced them in the past and consider about how they might apply those influences to their own coaching practice. This is an exercise that requires thought – you have to think about it, and it’s fair to say that not everyone sees the relevance of doing it straight away. But, here’s why:

Most players have experienced the reality of running out onto the park some Saturdays feeling ready to take on the world, and then the next Saturday running onto the park feeling scared they might make a mistake. If this resonates with you, just think about it for a moment. Nothing has changed in your skill level. Some days you get up feeling great, others you get up doubting yourself. The difference is has a mental and Emotional element. The mental element of the game, the hidden part, is really important, but it’s hard to measure.

Emotional Intelligence

Football today is a fiercely competitive game for players and coaches, and information is everywhere. It’s emotional intelligence, the human part of coaching, that can separate the great coaches from the good coaches and taking time to develop it can really add to your coaching practice at every level.

In essence, emotional intelligence is an ability to reflect on yourself as a coach (or a player) and notice your strengths and weaknesses, not just technically and tactically, but also in terms of history and experiences. Where are your biases? What do you tend to go towards or back to? Answering these questions helps to build greater understanding, and it instils a habit of being curious about people. When you’re a player, most of your focus is on your own performance, but by expanding your view, you see how your performance ripples out (like dropping a stone in a pond) onto other players and positions in the team. Emotional intelligence as a coach is being curious about what makes sense for other people: what are other people’s lives like; what are other people’s values and beliefs like?

As an emotionally intelligent coach, you see the influence your words and behaviours have on those you coach.

When you know yourself and you understand your players, you’re in a position to make adjustments that matter. Can you make slight adjustments in the language you use or your actions to get the best out of the player in front of you? It’s understanding people and knowing yourself that allows you to adjust the way you communicate with each individual player to inform, motivate and inspire.

The physical game may have been put on hold while the world deals with the coronavirus crisis, but the mental game is not constrained by any lockdown measures.

Now is the time to work on the mental skills that will help you to make the transition from player to coach – and become a great coach.

For the last 17 years Don MacNaughton has worked with thousands of players and coaches on the mental side of their game .If you are interested in working with Don at an individual level please  email donald@zonedinperformance.com

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