1. Start with the Foundation
The foundation is movement. The heroes we have display amazing speed and skill, but underlying these are basic movement patterns without which they would not be where they are. These include rolling, crawling, squatting, lunging and single leg stance. Functional assessments can show the coach/trainer whether these are intact of compromised in very little time with little equipment necessary.
Sir Alex Ferguson said "The first thought of 99% of [newly appointed] managers is to make sure they win—to survive... That’s simply because we’re in a results-driven industry."
But, "Winning a game is only a short-term gain—you can lose the next game." Start with the Foundation.
2. Set High Standards—and Hold Everyone to Them
For all I have said about a results oriented approach to the game, at the end of the day, the 3 points game by game are what its all about. Having coached a youth team, I know how readily players defeat themselves by simply looking at the schedule. Yet there is no doubt that persistence always wins out in the end.
- At the 2013 U.S Open, I watched Tommy Robredo beat Roger Federer for the first time after 10 tries.
- No one expected it, but before all the footballing world, Senegal beat France in the 2002 Soccer Word Cup.
- Nobody could have envisioned the 6-1 thrashing Manchester City gave to Manchester United, nor indeed the famous 'Fergie time' victory over City which saw United walk away with a 4-3 thanks to a Michael Owen goal in the 6th minute of the four minutes extra time that was given!
In the Scot's words:"... we never allowed a bad training session. What you see in training manifests itself on the game field. So every training session was about quality. We didn’t allow a lack of focus. It was about intensity, concentration, speed—a high level of performance. That, we hoped, made our players improve with each session."
3. Never, Ever Cede Control
Although Sir Alex discusses authority in this section, I want to make a note on something which I do not allow in myself or my player. Never lose your temper. If you lose it, you lose the game. What matters is the win, not how big, tough or manly you are. Given that a player faces suspension after 5 yellow cards, to have any of those be for remonstrating with the referee is just plain stupid. The excuse, "It was in the heat of the moment" is unacceptable, and quite frankly, rather pathetic. Arguments, kicking and shoving and all that- those are always in your power to control, and getting yourself booked for those is unnecessary. Players invariably begin to miss tackles, time them late, or intentionally look to avenge themselves on something they think the referee missed. Keeping one's head down and getting on with it is the best way to go- let the football do the talking.
I have begun to pay attention to and enjoy the NFL. It is deplorable to see personal fouls, unnecessary roughness and other things clearly in a player's control cost the team 10 and even 15 yards. The one thing about it is, if you lose your temper, you can see your stupidity in numbers.
4. Match the Message to the Moment
I think a direct quotation will suffice in this case.
"No one likes to be criticized. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player—for any human being—there is nothing better than hearing “Well done.” Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.
At the same time, in the dressing room, you need to point out mistakes when players don’t meet expectations. That is when reprimands are important. I would do it right after the game. I wouldn’t wait until Monday. I’d do it, and it was finished. I was on to the next match. There is no point in criticizing a player forever."
5. Prepare to Win
Previously, I have described the principle of specificity. Basically you should train the way you play. I have seen swimming coaches having their team RUN laps. I was part of a team that ran laps for 75 minutes under the pretext of cardio. Yet no one runs at the same pace during a game. Rarely do we run 50-60 yards in a match, and when we do we sprint, yet we had to pace ourselves to run 10 laps or more. A stranger looking in on the training session would never know whether we were soccer or rugby player. For all intents and purposes, we could have been marathoners for all the specificity we had.
Deliberate practice is about simulating, as much as possible, the conditions of actual play. It's about the feel, the pressure, the intensity, the decisions made under those conditions. Preparing to win complements the idea of setting high standards. The standard of winning and doing everything it takes to win requires that we prepare to win. Not just hope to win, not dream about it- but prepare for it. Its the reason we practice corners, free kicks, 1-v-1, 2-v-1, etc.
Anita Elberse writes: Ferguson was both unusually aggressive and unusually systematic about his approach. He prepared his team to win. He had players regularly practice how they should play if a goal was needed with 10, five, or three minutes remaining. “We practice for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be successful in those situations,” one of United’s assistant coaches told us.
Sprint coach Charlie Francis said that his sprinters rarely set world records at meets. They did that at practice and simply repeated those performances on the big stage.
6. Rely on the Power of Observation
Just this week, a woman who is regularly in the gym arrived for a group training class. She was slightly less conversational than normal, slightly ashen but swore she was fine. As the class go under way, I noticed she was not cleaning in her usual manner. Her snatches were sloppy. Most of all, she was the first to change weights. She's about 65, regularly cleaning 12kg kettlebells in each hand. I watched her go down to the 8 kilos, then the 4's. I changed the exercise, and once she was a fraction of her usual self, struggling to do Turkish get-ups with a 4 kilo kettlebell.
It takes a special ability to be able to see beyond the obvious when it comes to your players. To see the performances you get and be able to understand the reasons behind them without having the athletes confess anything to you. A good coach knows when to push the player, to ask for more from them. He also knows when to back off. Sometimes, given the physical and psychological condition the athlete shows up in, training time is not only wasted time, it could be destructive.
When everybody else went off on a short break before the class proceeded, I asked her what was going on. She's running a 10k this weekend. She said she was nervous about it. More than nervous- she was having nightmares. She tossed and turned about not finishing, about getting lost and having people sent out to find her. Those people couldn't find her. Hers was a case of anxiety, lack of sleep, low energy, and maybe even overtraining. Once again, without observational skills, she may have just been lazy. Demand more from her, she breaks down, she gets injured. This, as they say, is the art of coaching.
Ferguson: The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.
7. Never Stop Adapting
Ferguson: But I always felt I couldn't afford not to change. We had to be successful—there was no other option for me—and I would explore any means of improving. I continued to work hard. I treated every success as my first. My job was to give us the best possible chance of winning. That is what drove me.
By Tasher Adaarewa
Sports Writer-Soccer Coach- Personal Trainer
Full references and more articles by Tasher at