Serialised Dissertation Pt. 6 – Results and Analysis Pt.2 – How Do Coaches Develop Leaders?

Here’s Part 6 of my dissertation breakdown, which continues the analysis of our information and interviews, with a focus on how coaches develop leaders.

Be sure to check back each week for more information!

HOW DO COACHES DEVELOP LEADERS?

Once coaches had defined leadership, they were asked the following 2 questions which were then followed up appropriately by the interviewer:

– Do you develop leadership through your coaching?

– Do you consider the transfer of these characteristics to life outside of sport?

All the coaches interviewed believe that in some way they impact upon the development of leadership in their players, be it through their everyday actions, deliberate interventions or taking ‘teachable moments’ in and around their sessions.

A breakdown of some of the strategies are listed and categorised into some emergent themes in Table 5, with further definitions of the categories below.

Player and Coach DiscussionCoach BehavioursCreating Player Ownership
1 to 1 ReviewAllow player ownership of learningAllow player ownership of learning
Build relationshipsAllow space for growth and mistakesCreate a chain of accountability and mentoring
Consider other leadersBuild relationshipsCreate a Leadership group (player or coach nomination)
Create, values, objectives, shared language, and definitions togetherCoach drives standardsCreate, values, objectives, shared language, and definitions together
Outline Positional communicationCoach education on leadershipEquipment ‘jobs’
Players led and present analysis (individual and team)Coach needs to be authenticPlayers communicate with coaches (not parents)
Recognise positive behaviourCoach needs to step backPlayers input to tactical plans and set pieces
Removal of hierarchyFocus on most capable playersPlayers led a specific section of games (i.e., ¼)
Understand player in other contextsRecognise positive behaviourPlayers led and present analysis (individual and team)
Use of psychologistRemoval of hierarchyPlayers led section of training
Use teachable momentsSecond coach focus on leadership in sessionPlayers led team talks and debriefs
WorkshopsUnderstand player in other contextsPlayers led warmups
Creating Player Ownership (Game Specific)Use teachable momentsPlayers select the team
CaptaincyVary coaching stylesResponsibility for Communication
Play player more centrallyNon-Football ActivitiesClub Programme
Players input to tactical plans and set piecesAway daysClub buy-in is required
Players led a specific section of games (i.e., ¼)CookingClub life-skills programme
Players led team talks and debriefsGuest speakersWorkshops
Players led warmupsSocial events 
Players select the teamStudy leaders/teams 
Varied challenge for players (age groups)Tasks on leadership 
Table 5 – List of Themed Strategies for Developing Leadership

Creating Player Ownership

The creation of player ownership returned the most examples and varied through group leadership, responsibility for kit and equipment right through to individual responsibilities and selecting a starting team for a game. Within this premise, there is real value in the idea of players having a real impact with their decisions, in-line with previous research, rather than factors that may or do not influence the performance or experience of the team.

Throughout the conversations, a few varying anecdotes and examples were given across all these examples, but it is worth highlighting some interesting examples from the sample.

The first example comes from AC7, giving players ownership by allowing them to select the team for and tactics a game, encouraging them to make decisions due to the limited time they had to do it and further pressure from peers within the environment. This task was given to two of the groups ‘leaders’ who also took it upon themselves to speak to other team members, more senior team members and inform players why they were making their decisions, with an example of one of the players showing a great example of caring leadership to boot.

“In terms of leadership, as soon as they came in, we didn’t tell them until the day either to really put them on the spot. We showed them what [Professional Club 4] do and how they play, just to remind them because we’d already done on the Monday and then I left them to it […] They travel with the 18s as well. […] They’ve had less than half an hour in the indoor just like trying to plan and they get on the bus, and they change formation five times. Change the starting line up about seven times. And then as the lads are talking about it [Player 2] and [Player 1] obviously in charge of what the other lads have around them. […] they’ve got the 18s in their ear […]. Yeah, so they must have changed about five or six times because of stressing right out and they’re like ‘AC7, What about this?’ Well, I want you to explain to the player, And I was just like ‘totally up to you’, and one of the 18s were playing down with us so they’re panicking because they didn’t want to tell an under 18, you’re not playing, or he’s not going to play a full game

[…]

Actually, it was like to [Player 2], for example, it was one of the nominated leaders I had, been brilliant. […] for a 16-year-old lad to be saying, and this is on the video, you’d like bringing somebody off, he’s doing a plan of who he is bringing off. Or he’s like, he’s proper saying to them on the video. He’s like, ‘oh you had done really well there. Honestly, so good like, you’ll come off, you’re probably going to come back on like in the second half, Where I thought you were doing this really well’, like when I’ve seen that back on the video, like I didn’t see it live, When I see back on the video, I pulled them out. I told him I said, ‘look, wow that is top, top I said like coaches of my age wouldn’t even do that. Like, we just say, oh, you’re going to come off’. He’s going to say, I asked him I said oh, ‘why did you approach it like that?’ He said, well ‘I, did genuinely think he had done well, but I just thought it would lessen the blow that he’s coming off’. So, I said Look, I said ‘that’s really like high level leadership like for an under 16’. It’s a culmination of all our work.”

AC7 mentioned a leadership group in the above quote and SV4 added detail as to how their leadership group was selected, and what it gives the players ownership over, in the quote below. These include team talks, daily meetings, managing group behaviour and peers voting for their own leaders in the group. It’s important to note here that the players selected are likely always with the group (i.e., not moving up and down age groups) and that they want to hold leadership positions.

“We formed or the boys themselves formed the leadership group under our kind of, you know, this is what we’d like to try and do, lads. They vote who was on that. […] they were all second year’s last season, the first years voted as well. So, it’s their pick. So that we go to them with everything, really. So, we have a daily meeting in the morning, set out the day for them. And then the next day, the following day, we’ll review the previous day if there’s anything that went on or anything. And then we have a general chat, and they can we see them as go between, you know, back to us, did the lads enjoy the session, blah, blah, blah, blah, all those sorts of things, but also things that go organizationally that they can talk to the lads about rather than it being from us. We just see that as a way of developing them as people. Yeah. Also, then when we have problems on the pitch, but when we want to get messages on there go through those type of channels as well. So, they can then grow themselves, can’t they? Yeah. So, then kind of that started at the start the season. And then we kind of came to October November and we were like ‘ how are we going to follow this up?’ So, then we got first years to pick amongst themselves three lads. So those three lads join the leadership group on an ad hoc basis. And give them some idea about what would happen in their second year where they would have more responsibilities. So yeah, that was quite that kind of evolved throughout last season, really the leadership group. And although we’re struggling, everybody’s struggling with COVID and self-isolation. We’re at the end of the second week of preseason this week. So, we’ll be picking that kind of leadership group, sorry, the boys will be picking that kind of leadership group next week.

[…]

That the three lads who we started off with last season had strong voices already, and the respect of the group and they wanted to be involved with it. And so, there’s no good involving somebody who doesn’t really want to be going that way. So, they kind of pick those and help the squad out was they become big voices through the season for us. They didn’t really leave us a lot in terms of playing 23s football, which wasn’t good for them in terms of some of their football development, but they got loads of development because they were always in our group they always played and funnily enough, there was only one member of the second-year group who didn’t get a two-year contract in the last season. But the proof in the pudding is in the eating a little bit.”

Another element players were given ownership over was analysis of games, both individually and for the team to then have an input into their tactics. There is an element of responsibility here as any player who does not return clips will not receive the same level of support as a player who does and so immediately there is an element of players ‘taking autonomy over their own learning’ as CF5 puts it.

“We very much tried to create an environment of autonomy, autonomy, but challenge for the boys. So, we set high expectations for the boys, but agreed expectations, both players and parents, and so hopefully have them on board for that. And so, boys taking autonomy upon their own learning. And being we describe it as leaders of their own destiny. Yeah, so that’s a bit of a fluffy term. But, and a little bit around, like the Hudl work that we use the online analysis tool for them is that they’ve got, they have to lead upon their own feedback on that. So, they, they create their own clips, they send it to us, we then provide them feedback on the back of that. And so, if they don’t send clips to us, sometimes they won’t get feedback on Hudl, they still get it on PMA, but they won’t get the added work around Hudl. And rightly or wrongly, and I think the boys quite quickly, they learn that as well. And they think actually someone else is getting more than I’m getting.”

Player and Coach Discussion

Across the examples, every coach had initiated discussions with their players around what leadership looks like in their context, where it was going to support them and why players were set certain tasks to develop leadership, if they were. Without this engagement and players being unaware of the ‘why’ – the coaches believed that there was risk at the learning being lost or unrecognised by the player. In some situations, these conversations were structured and regular, or often the learning was found in ‘teachable moments’ such as recognising good behaviours and commending players for them there and then or at the next possible moment.

For players and coaches to hold high-level discussions on this, there is a dependency on coaches having the skillset and/or knowledge to manage this conversation which could vary from coach to coach. In some of the clubs this was carried out with a psychologist who was able to specialise in life skill development with individuals where coaches could maybe focus on technical or tactical skills.

The aforementioned ‘analysis’ often leads to these player and coach discussions, but many of our coaches noted that this cannot be done without building a relationship with your players first of as SW6 put it in the below quote ‘connect before you correct.’

“The single most important thing in learning not just leadership in learning is getting to know your individual get to know the individual within the team, what makes a tick b tick c tick and d tick. You have got to connect with them before you correct with them.”

Furthermore, on the idea of creating relationships and coach/player discussions, CB3 discussed the notion of first defining your buzzwords within your context and with the help of your players (in this case integrity) so that you can be sure of a shared understanding of terms and then positively reinforce when you are seeing them.

“Yeah, I think we do. I think the majority of that probably, is a little bit of that will relate to leadership, but it definitely relates to sort of teaching psycho-social skills on the whole. Like, I know, resilience is a bit of a buzzword, but we’ve tried to define what resilience might look like within our club in [Professional Club 2]. Yeah, so a couple of things like never giving up, sort of continuing to apply yourself when times are tough. So, there’s been times where, yeah, the players have experienced a tough game, they might have been playing a cat one club, and they’re getting a bit of a beating, we will definitely positively reinforce the actions of others that linked into those characteristics that we were looking to develop, whether it be resilience, or in, yeah, obviously related to leadership a little bit. And I think that’s what I’m trying to get out when I say it’s emergent. So yeah, if, for example, we are working on leadership that week, and there’s an instance that is particularly identifiable or a good example of what we considered to be leadership within that week, it’ll be raised and sort of positively reinforced.”

Coach Behaviour

Along with coaching knowledge, general coaching behaviour was a major outcome from the interviews in way in which coaches can impact the leadership skills of their players. Topics included: coaching styles i.e., looking at more ‘guided discovery’ than ‘command’, stepping back and allowing players to lead and creating a ‘safe’ and ‘humble’ environment where failure is okay. But an overarching factor was how the coach can engage and support players as without that connection between coach and athlete, each of our coaches believed that any work in the field of life skill or leadership development would have been futile without it. SW6 used a great phrase in ‘connect before you correct’ which I thought was a fantastic way to reference this. SV4 also noted that authenticity is important for coaches, and so that is something to take forward into action for coaches, ensuring that the interventions they choose are truly right for their players and environment whilst appearing genuine too.

CF5 discussed coaches’ behaviour in how they conduct themselves in and around sessions at the club, whilst building and maintaining relationships. Much of this is around being a role model of the behaviours you want to see in your players, being vulnerable to your own mistakes and ensuring that it’s still a two-way conversation with your player.

“But we have to be that for myself as a role model is having to have that balance between being that friendly coach, and that someone who can, you’ve got to show an area of vulnerability yourself for them, as well to allow them to open up to you. But then also having high standards and expectations and knowing that they can’t cross the line with certain things where you are still professional relationship with them…. I think very much everything has to be a two-way conversation with them.”

To follow on from that, SV4 notes that your style must be authentic and that these examples cannot be carbon-copied elsewhere as players can recognise a coach that is potentially not ‘being themselves’.

“Everybody does it, how they do it, it’s very individual, this sort of stuff is we’d all we’d all talk about ownership and leadership, but it would, it’s not necessarily a framework around it for me. Sometimes it’s just about a feeling and a conversation. So, nobody can really replicate it and do it exactly the same. […] And I think that’s very important, because it has to be authentic. Because one of the biggest things working with players they can smell when it’s not authentic. Yeah, it’s not me or you are delivering it, they can smell it, that somebody asked them to do or told them to do and they don’t believe in it doesn’t quite have kind of fit right with players and young lads can pick it out, no problem at all.”

Developing a Club Programme

Leadership featured as part of a wider life-skills programme in the interviews with 3 of the coaches at clubs with the largest budget (comparable to other interviewees) and was reliant on staff availability and time. There was also an important note within this that the whole of the club must buy-in to creating a programme and sticking to it for it to fully influence the players and staff around you – a programme that isn’t consistent throughout a players’ pathway may not be fruitful in future as the priority for life-skills development drops.

An example of a planned club programme comes from CB3 where the club has 6 ‘social characteristics’ which it focuses on throughout the season. As much as CB3 says that many of these moment in-session are more ‘caught’ than ‘taught’ there is an example of how this could look in a training session when leadership is the characteristic objective.

“I think that there are planned instances within the program where you might be working on things that lend themselves to developing leadership and leadership in one of our six socials, not values, but characteristics that we looked to develop. So on them weeks, it will be sort of supporting players to be more player led in the sessions, one of that be ‘right Kieren you’re going to pick the team for the game at the end, the only the only the only thing you have to do in order to like earn the right to pick the team is when you put someone in a position, you have to tell them as to why you’ve put them in that position, what can they do positively in that position?’ So yeah, whenever it sort of crops up as a as a factor, which is probably once every six weeks, it will be looked at a little bit more.

[…]

So, if we’re doing if we’re focusing more on the team aspect, rather than the individual, so if I think off the top my head, if we’re working on team compactness, which is one of our, one of our topics, it might be the leadership ability to verbally communicate to the opposite side player to tuck in, to ensure the team compact. If we’re looking at setting the trap to press high, it’d probably be the first defender who leads that press, for example, sort of explaining to the rest of the group that if that player makes the decision to press, everyone sort of has to lead, and well, everyone has to follow the lead.”

Non-Football Activities

Another theme with budgetary restrictions as it means that some are unable to do ‘the best’ activities due to what a club can allow them to spend. However, COVID-19 had a positive impact in this field as referenced by JB8 where online sessions such as quizzes and cooking classes allowed coaches to vary the work that they were doing with players in terms of their own responsibility and actions at home and away from training but interacting with them in environments and times they wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to do so. Cooking was a popular reference within this as players needed to have ownership over ingredients, cooking and ultimately ensuring their whole family was fed – something that time just wouldn’t allow a coach to impact upon in non-pandemic times.

Finally, many of the coaches referenced non-football activities as a means of exposing players to leadership and life skills opportunities away from the game with the hope of transfer on to the pitch. In this example, JB8 uses online lessons (due to COVID) to try the usual analysis sessions – much like AC7 and giving control and input to tactics, but then also cooking and quizzes whilst also trying out other sports environments to test the players in an area they may not have experience in.

“A lot of things we did off the pitch, that develop that leadership. So, one thing we really like doing is providing video of an opposition and breaking it down. So, I would give it out, maybe potentially four groups and a group of 16. So, we’d have four groups of four, give them a laptop, each and maybe one group has attacking one team as defending another team has transition other team has set pieces, and their job then to present and design the counter plan for that. So, we give them defensive clips, they would have to create the attacking game plan for us and vice versa. And I would intervene, maybe you can ask some questions and things like that, but then that creates an environment how are we going to play this game? Why are we going to play like that? What’s it going to need? Why is it going to mean that? So, it starts to get the culture and that they’re in control of the situation. […] And usually I’ll include three or four, their ideas will probably go in my game plan for whatever it is, but they feel like they’ve been involved in it, and they agree with what we talked about. So, I’ve done that to train leaders. Another thing we’ve done is we actually cooking classes through lockdown. […] Every other Sunday, and the kids had to take responsibility for buying the ingredients from the shop, finding the funds to buy the ingredients, because they probably haven’t the money themselves, checking in at the right time. So, they were on the right team to call. And then also on top of that, cooking it and feeding their family because they’re made sure that they did it for family. So, I think that led to leadership traits as well because they had to learn to follow instructions. They had to learn if they were going to put their own twist on things which they’re allowed to do. And then that allowed them to almost be competent at something off the pitch that allowed them to have confidence in themselves. So yeah, a few things. I learned some quizzes, things like that during lockdown, and different sports, took them to play basketball, to play softball, different things as well, different motivations, which allow different leaders to come out.”

The next feature will complete our analysis and pick out any additional or anomalous findings in our research.

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

Serialised Dissertation Pt. 8 – Discussion

Here’s Part 8 of my dissertation breakdown, which begins to review what we’ve looked at so far. Be sure to check back next week for the final instalment! DISCUSSION TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS In interesting element within these strategies is to