In late 2015 I had my first ever boxing fight, for a worth cause very close to my heart. But as well as raising money, and testing myself in a high pressure situation, I learned alot about coaching too.
I spend a lot of my time, focus and money on learning and practising my futsal coaching, outside of my 9-5 in learning my craft in marketing.
It’s something I’m still deeply passionate about. I want to help continue the great work in New Zealand in building the sport of futsal, and opening opportunities for young New Zealanders to dream and go all the way to futsal world cups and professional careers. Every step, every experience I have overseas, is another bonus I can eventually take back home.
It gives me a fearless ambition and an insatiable hunger to learn and experience more. These are all experiences I simply wouldn’t have received if I stayed in New Zealand.
Coaching with Sala Schools, Egerton FC and doing my courses through The FA keeps me more than busy. But sometimes, I learn the most about coaching in those few situations when I am the player being coached. I should do it more.
If I want to be a truly player-centred coach, instead of just imaging, I need to be the player sometimes too.
I did this in the completely foreign context of the sport of boxing; with an eight week intensive training programme culminating in my first ever fight.
It reminded me and really emphasised what we need to consider for the player.
The first, and possibly most important, was the coaching philosophy.
I was coached by Ed Kelly and his two old boxing pals Steve Feeney and John Hilliard. The first thing that struck me, wasn’t anything that they specifically did or said. It was more of what they didn’t do or say. It was simply the fact, or at least my perception, that they weren’t there for their own egos. They weren’t there to listen to their own voice or be the centre. They were there to build up the athletes. The opposite might be to knock them down to feel better in oneself.
By definition, player-centred coaching is putting the player at the centre. It’s aiming to fulfil the players’ needs rather than their own. They were good people who were there to share their deep passion for boxing with others. Ed was a man of few words, which meant when he did speak, he had something valuable to say, and we listened.
The second strong learning for me emphasised one of my strong philosophies for working in sport and particularly with youth. Being player centred is the modern approach and looks to fit the needs of the players and empower them. But being people-centred for me is even more important and looks at sport within the context of life, and the athlete within the context of the whole person.
It’s the realisation that maybe we can used sport as a training ground for life, and build good people. It’s being human and connecting with humour, and advice and showing you care for them as people. One of my favourite quotes of my coach education so far is “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
I don’t think this can be faked, at least over the long term. If you are there for the good of the players as people, it will show. And if you aren’t eventually this will be evident to the players too. With Ed, Steve and John, it showed. They all had work and families and were giving up their time for us.
Process Over Outcome.
A results-at-all-costs approach simply doesn’t fit with a philosophy of trying to encourage good, persistent, honest, considerate people. Both these things can’t be achieved simultaneously. We must choose.
If results are all that matter, we will try to deceive referees, use negative tactics to upset opponents and use whatever strategy would give us the best chance of winning this game now, which may be in conflict with the long term development of the player. In the context of futsal or football, a focus on long ball may limit learning in build u play and short passing.
Teaching or forcing two-touch can be premature and restrict the development of ball mastery. Even though it might make a team successful in short term results. It can also condition a fear of the ball. If a young player is told to move it quickly as soon as they receive it, how can they fall in love with it and master it? How will they recognise when to take a player on? Let alone get the chance to practise it and develop those skills?
If the communication and focus of the coach is only on the result, what happens when the team is losing every week? They will feel useless and want to quit. But if our focus is on learning and the process to get there, we can celebrate learning milestones along the way. This in turn gives us the best chance of positively affecting the scoreboard and ‘winning’ in the future.
This was clear in Ed’s approach. I can’t remember the other team, the ‘Blue Team’ being mentioned. No goals of smashing them, or winning our bouts were mentioned. The focus was on technically and physically learning to box. The craft of boxing in itself, not the result of winning a fight. The fight night was simply a chance to show and practise this.
The environment that Ed, Steve and John created is the same environment I want for my players. Considering what is best for the players, focusing on the art of the process, and ultimately developing and encouraging good people through futsal. The focus is on technique and learning the craft and the sport is a metaphor and training ground for life.
The kicker is this: focusing on these three things gives us the best chance of getting the result.
If I do all that, any results on the scoreboard, any national championships, will be a bonus.
Why do you coach?