Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Clinic: Effective Coaching

Todays article is written by GB Lions Sneior Head Coach Mike Callan and based on the presentation he gave at the North West Coaching clinic:

I have been coaching for what in the game probably wouldn’t consider a long time.  I have been doing it for only just over a decade.  There are quite a few aspects of coaching that get me excited, but none so much as going to or speaking at Clinics.  There is just something exciting about going to talk about football for a day with other coaches and the likely possibility that you will come away a better football coach that is exciting.

For the last three years I have been lucky enough to be asked to speak at the BAFCA NW Clinic that is run by a good friend of mine, Simon Purcell.  And I have to say, it is one weekend on the calendar that I truly look forward to.  The previous years I have talked about scheme on Offense, Defence and Special Teams.  I have gone over fundamentals with defensive backs and special teams players.  These are the bread and butter of football coaches.

Photo courtesy of Graham Beardsley
However, this year, Simon threw me a bit of a curveball.  He wanted me to speak on how to be an effective coach.  It took me a bit out of my comfort zone, I will not lie, because I think to myself that there are so many coaches out there who I have learned from and I aspire to.  I wondered if I was of calibre to be delivering this type of talk.  I decided that I was going to deliver it, but at the same time speak on how to be ‘more’ effective as a coach.  As coaches we can always do something better each time we step on the field and that is what I hope to get across in this piece.  These are just a few guidelines and there are probably hundreds more out there to be debated, but in the interest of time and space, I believed these were important to touch on.

There are a number of ways to be an effective coach and we have to realize that we can all be one.  We can all be effective as long as we realize what we have to work with and that we focus on using our strengths.  Before we start it is important to lay some ground work. I know there are thousands of ways to be an effective coach, but these are the points I want to emphasise:
  • Be grateful for where you are
  • Be thankful to those that gave you this opportunity
  • Never be satisfied with where you are - Continue to Learn & Teach
  • Gain the respect and trust of your players and keep them safe at all times
  • Appreciate successes whether they are small or large
  • Make your players better in their lifetime
The first thing I believe is that it’s important to work within your own style of coaching.  Coaches all have role models and coaches that taught them how to coach and ultimately we use those as guidelines.  However, it is important to be true to yourself and work on your own style and your knowledge so that it is effective for your players, your entire team and the game.

A very important part of being a coach and finding your own character is to have strong support, not only from the team, but also at home. It may seem a strange topic to talk about, but having a family that accepts the lifestyle of being an American Football Coach is amazingly supportive. I will even take this time to thank my wife and family because they too have had a role in developing me into an effective coach.  Their support has been tremendous and without them, you just never know where you would be. Your family will always be a prominent part of who you are as a coach!  

Knowledge Development

There are three types of knowledge development that we have as coaches.  The easiest one is understanding football.  We can go out and coach what we know and be confident in that.  We can go out and learn if we don’t know it all.  We can find loads of information from the internet, books, and watching tape of NCAA and NFL games.  I consider the most important way of developing knowledge is going to clinics, calling up our other coaches on the phone, sending them an email, Skype, etc., and talking about football with others who share a passion and knowledge of the game.  We can learn and develop our knowledge in football easily.  The information is out there.

The second part of that development is for coaches to develop knowledge about their players.  Football is one of the only places we can take a group of people and teach them as individuals as well as a whole.  Each person is different and thinks differently and is motivated differently.  We need to make sure we can teach them and get them ready to play as a group on a field, working together.  We need to build the trust with those players that we are putting them in a position to succeed.  That is a hard job.  I just remember an old coach telling me that good coaches are major figures in these players lives for now and years to come.  I believe that if you are effective coaching your players, developing your players and building a trust with your players that you will be more to them then football coaches.  You will be leaders, you will be motivators, and you will be people in their life that will look up to and respect.

The final part of knowledge development that I thought it was important to discuss is the development of knowledge itself.  Coaching can be a pretty cruel world from time to time and there are quite a few things that can go against us.  We ask ourselves tough questions from time to time: Am I good enough?  Do I know enough?  Am I communicating what I need to?  To be honest, it is not all doom and gloom, but sometimes the answers are not what we want to hear.

On top of this, football is an emotional game and with that comes feelings that can sometimes get to us.  We can easily get down on ourselves if we are in a particularly bad run of form.  We can easily lose our emotions, either on the side-line, with a player or other coaches, but we have to hold ourselves to a higher code.  I am guilty of some of these things, which is why I talk about them and believe even I need to improve and get better.  However, it is important to know, that when we look at ourselves we understand; we are not perfect, but we will learn from our mistakes or that we do not know everything, but we will find the answers.  The team takes the lead from us and how we carry and think about ourselves will come through in them.

The best advice I ever got as a young coach was don’t be a spectator.  As a football coach you need to be looking at the detail and not the ball.  I take this into every game and even when I break down film or watch NCAA/NFL games.  I am not the casual fan anymore.  I am a coach and I need to make sure I am watching for what I need in order to put my players in the best position possible.

Following on from that, I believe to be an effective coach you have to be able to prepare thoroughly.  I try to prepare harder than any player or coach on my staff or team.  The reason I say this is because if I am doing it, they will be doing it and we all prepare equally as hard.  Football is a game of adjustments and I believe the coaches that adjust the best and the fastest win the game.  In the UK, we are an amateur sport and though we have limited practice time and only play about every other Sunday, this is not a sport that you can just show up on Sunday and play and expect to be effective.  You will get out of the game what you put in and as coaches; we should want to win every game.  I prepare every week like it’s a Final.

As coaches it is important that we focus on communication.  Things that have stuck with me as a coach are am I over coaching or under coaching at times?  It is hard at times to decide, but there are situation where we use too many or too few words. Living in London and coaching in the UK has lead me to many encounters with players where English is not their first language, so it is important to clarify and make sure you are communicating properly for everyone.  

My favourite part of communication is making sure we are communicating in a productive and positive manner.  No player will ever talk back to you if you praise them too much.  To be effective, we need to be able to use that positive technique and allow it to work for us.  It’s important to know that your players do feel like you are noticing when they are doing the little things right.

Before I finish I will talk about two things that have always been done around programmes I played for or coached at.  The first is the harder one to establish, but if it works, it breeds success.  I say ‘Build the Family’.  Families are great to study because no one gets to choose your family, but when push comes to shove they are there for you.  Families have natural leaders, close knit relationships, some scraps and fights from time to time, but they also enjoy each other’s company and breed competitiveness.  As coaches, we are the heads of those families.  And as I have explained it to other coaches, sometimes those leaders need to make choices that are not liked by all but are for the benefit of the entire group.  However, there is a natural respect for that  and as there is the belief that the family has been built the right way and is adhering to the values and beliefs that everyone follows, that football team can become a positive and productive force.

Photo courtesy of Luke Plastow
Finally to be the most effective coach you should always love the game and have fun.  At the end of the day this is a game and it is supposed to be fun.  It is a great game and there will be some great things along the way to celebrate on the football field. You can get excited from time to time! I am probably one of the most excitable coaches in the UK, but there is not a day that goes by where I don’t love football.  It is the reason that I want into my old High School that day in August and asked if I could coach.  And I am so glad that they let me.

In conclusion, there is no mathematical method to being an effective coach.  Some days may call for more motivation, while the next needs better communication and yet the next may be more knowledge.  However, in my mind everyone can is an effective coach if people around them get better because of them.  We all want our players to get better and to love the game they play.  We are all going to be effective coaches.  Our job is just to get better, get smarter and be more effective tomorrow then we were today.

Get better every day!


  1. Great article Jon and Coach Callan!! Was even better in person though so get along to the next regional clinic!!


  2. THanks for coming up coach, enjoyed your talks.


Popular Posts