Sunday, April 19, 2009
Does being a great player equal success as a coach?
From the Evansville Courier Press
April 19, 2009
When asked about helping select a coach for a youth soccer team, it was suggested to look at hiring a local college player. When I asked why they would want a player, the parent responded ‘well he’s a good player, so he’d probably be a good coach’.
It is not uncommon to associate that a playing pedigree would immediately translate into coaching success, but in most cases, being a successful player has very little to do with finding success as a coach.
What should be the criteria in hiring a coach or manager, whether it be in youth soccer, other sports, or even in business - Should the candidate have experience? Should the candidate have proper training? Should he be recruited from the same industry (former player)?
It would be challenging to think that you could be a successful coach if you didn’t have experience playing the game at a comparable level that you are being asked to coach at. Saying that, a comparable playing level would be relative to your own understanding of the game. It is more important having actually played the game (understanding how the game is played, the tactics, the rules) and dealing with players at that level (man-management) than it does to have had a certain level of success as a player.
It used to be a common argument in hiring coaches who hadn’t been standout players that the players would not have sufficient respect for a coach who was asking them to do things that they have never attempted themselves. Coaches gain more and more credibility by practical coaching experience – players will follow a leader who knows how to get their team success, and has shown that they have done it prior.
By seeing the success of a number of top coaches in different sports, it leads to the conclusion that there is absolutely no link between an individual’s ability to play well and his ability to manage well. Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan and Italian National team manager who did not have much of a career as a player, was famously quoted as saying ‘You don’t have to have been a horse to become a good jockey’.
In most cases, the former players who have success in coaching were probably those who were tacticians as players – either because of a specific role they played on the field or court, or because of their lack of athletic ability or technical skill, needed to be more cunning to survive.
Former Glasgow Celtic and Scotland coach Jock Stein was described by Tom Campbell and David Potter in his biography:
“Every club he (Stein) played for appointed him captain and allowed him to discuss tactics with the manager. He was also known as a thoughtful player, and to be frank, with his limited skill, he had to rely on cunning and knowledge of the game in order to survive. This meant that he understood more about the basics of the game than many of his more famous contemporary players who tended to play instinctively.”
My guess is that the same way that Stein is described might also be the way that these great American professional sports coaches or managers are described:
• Baseball’s Mike Scioscia: world series champion with the LA Angels of Anaheim – defensive specialist as a player, who’s career batting average is around .250
• Basketball’s Phil Jackson: NBA champion with the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls – defensive specialist and key reserve as a player
• Football’s Bill Belichick: Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots – played football, lacrosse and squash as a collegian at Wesleyan University
For as many great athletes who made the smooth transition to coaching, there are probably twice as many who couldn’t make the grade. Losing patience with players who weren’t as athletically gifted as they were becomes a major frustration, and ‘do like I do’ isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In fact, too much ability as a player can surely sometimes be a disadvantage when that person becomes a coach. If something comes naturally to a person, it can be difficult to convey that to someone who does not possess that same innate skill.
I once witnessed a former player who embarked into coaching observing one of their own players who was unable to perform a particular technique. His response was to step in, perfectly demonstrate, and then demanded ‘that’s what I want…now do it.’ He simply could not understand or empathize with the plight of the less talented individuals.
When looking at sending your child to play for a coach, regardless as to whether it be youth soccer or in a different sport, make sure that your coach has the proper coaching pedigree.
Posted by Mike Jacobs at 12:40 PM