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"Before you can coach others first you must learn to coach yourself" Johan Cruyff

I attended a coaching course early in my coaching career and one of the first questions I was asked was "what is your coaching philosophy?".

My initial response was what do you mean 'philosophy'? What the hell has that got to do with coaching. I just want to be able to teach players how to play the game.

As with most things in my life I needed experience to make me realise the value and importance of creating a coaching philosophy and truly understanding it and how I go about staying true to it through my coaching.

Our coaching philosophy is our own personal set of beliefs and values that underpin how we actually coach the game. We might have competitiveness as an element of our philosophy and as a result winning will have a higher priority. In contrast, another coach may have humility as an element of their philosophy and as such building an environment where being humble and level headed is a priority.

Some coaches fall into the trap of thinking this is all 'airy fairy' stuff. It matters, and it matters a lot.

A coach may say they are all about player development, fun and building good humans. That seems like a fantastic philosophy. Yet, they sulk when their team loses and then they give them a lecture on how badly they performed and how hard training is going to be during the week. Their actions and behaviours don't reflect their philosophy, and this will result in them losing respect and the trust of their players. They are saying one thing and then doing the opposite. From an outsiders point of view they are going to find it hard to build a reputation of being a good coach, and from their own internal thoughts they are going to continually be in conflict. What they think they are and what they actually are will be poles apart and this will cause them stress and frustration, unless they lack self-awareness. Without self-awareness it is highly likely that they will be taking that frustration out on their players and not understanding why. With self-awareness they are going to be confused because they will have an idea of their actions and behaviours and how they are not reflecting what they say their philosophy is.

That sounds all quite dire, but it is a reality and a trap some coaches fall into. However, if they can create an accurate philosophy that reflects who they are and how they coach then they can be true to themselves and provide an effective coaching environment for their players. This can be the case, for example, if their philosophy is all about being competitive, and having winning and performance as high priorities. By understanding this and being completely self-aware around their behaviours and actions they can create a high performing environment with the aim of winning consistently and have this reflected in their philosophy. It includes the ability to work to their strengths and to surround themselves with people who not only add to their strengths but fill the gaps in their coaching because they bring something different. Their co-coaches can bring the fun element or the player development philosophy to the team, and this is where effective coaching teams and staff become brilliant because as a whole they cater for the entire playing group. Their diversity encompasses all player types and gives everyone a philosophy they can warm to and be motivated by. The competitive coach will relate to the players who always want to win, the fun coach will relate to those players that need to train with a smile on their face and a regular laugh, the development coach can cater to those players that thrive on knowing they are improving day in and day out.

This reflects the need to have a congruence of philosophies between coaches. Being totally comfortable with their own coaching philosophy but also understanding their co-coaches philosophies allows them to create an effective holistic program for the players.

What then happens when the philosophy of the entire coaching staff can be bundled into a small number of elements? There is the risk of not being able to fully engage some players within the squad, and this can then impact the whole squad. As such, a coach needs to be able to be self-aware enough and understand their philosophy so well that they can tweak how they coach and broaden it's impact on as many players as possible.

If we refer back to the competitive coach who loves to win and focuses on brilliant performances, can they engage with a player who doesn't have such a competitive nature and who looks for fun and enjoyment in their performance? They can if the coach can harness their own desire to win and rephrase it for that player. Can the coach message the performance in a way that resonates with the player? Can the message be received by the player so that it sounds like it is fun and that it is not about the result but the enjoyment of a brilliant performance. This way the player doesn't feel the pressure of having to win but can relate to the enjoyment of performing well.

The process of becoming more self-aware can be time consuming and requires a lot of self-reflection, but extremely valuable in relating the philosophy that sits in your head to the actions and behaviours you show to your staff and players. When these match up and are obvious to all and you can then surround yourself with staff who are equally self-aware and clear in their philosophy then the result for your team will be immense. Your players will understand where you are coming from and your motivational drivers and your expectations around performance.

If I played the game 'what I know now I knew back then' I would have reacted a lot differently when I was posed the question "what is your coaching philosophy?" in that coaching course. I would have also saved myself a lot of confusion as I developed as a coach, but I am glad I had those experiences where my philosophy varied to my actions and behaviours because it allowed me to learn and to develop and to do so in a way where the lessons really stuck. I now have a completely different outlook on my coaching philosophy, and what it means to me and my coaching, and I am still learning how to best share that with my staff and players.

How does your coaching philosophy relate to your behaviours?

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