Roles, Responsibilities and Characteristics of a Coach

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In present day society there are many characteristics, personality traits and responsibilities that an individual must interconnect, balance and perfect if they are going to fulfil their full potential as a coach and provide their players with the highest level of guidance possible. Many assume that a great coach is great because they have all in-depth technical knowledge and the ability to spot and rectify faults. The technical knowledge and other occupational requirements are important and they are the qualities instantly analysed when observing a coach. However these qualities are only the tip of the ice berg, with many others not instantly visible. The coach will also possess personal traits that compliment their occupational attributes, resulting in a greater coaching performance. The major qualities in each category are discussed below:

Personal

The majority of individuals can be taught to coach. The time and effort taken to learn the technical knowledge will vary but everyone can improve their coaching up to a certain level. However it is their personal characteristics that will decide whether players will relate to them in the first place. If their persona is correct then it will lead to greater player reaction (up to a certain ability level). Therefore an appropriate place to start would be by analysing the personal characteristics an individual should posses as the foundations regardless what level they are coaching at.

A Good Communicator

Unquestionably one of the key attributes all coaches must have is the ability to convey their ideas and instructions to their players. As that is essentially the basis of what the profession of coaching is. A coach must therefore have the ability to communicate and connect to everyone they come into contact with within their role. Coaches should be able to not only communicate to players clearly on the training ground or pitch but must also be able to talk to them as humans off it. Communicating does not just mean that they should be able to talk; they should also have the ability to listen to others. As communication is a two-way street. If the speaker feels you are not listening to them then they are less likely to pay attention when you start talking.

Nowadays it is important that coaches realise just how many different groups of people they actually interact with, as one bad experience with any of them could result in employment problems. Coaches do not just communicate with their players but also (not all applicable for every club or team set up) employees, fellow staff, parents, employers and in some high profiled cases agents, spectators, shareholders and various aspects of the media.

Their communication style, content and language used should be appropriate to the level of the player’s ability and their ages. A 10 year old should not be spoken to the same way as a adult and vice versa, this may seem obvious yet it still occurs too often. One major criticism of coaches is that they want to be friends with the players so they engage in informal chats about girlfriends and nights out, some with players as young as the age of six.

Another crucial element of communication is the body language employed. As the majority of what an individual is saying is not conveyed in their words but their body language coaches should adopt a body language that mirrors the message they are trying to get across.

Open-Minded

Research and innovation is constantly varying the procedures coaches should carry out and implement. Some changes are forced upon coaches while others are suggested, for example using sprays instead of ‘ magic sponges ’ and attending a child protection workshop, respectively. These alterations are implemented to improve and enhance the individual’s performance, enjoyment and safety when participating. Consequently a coach should be open-minded and willing to alter their approach, and at times their own beliefs to incorporate the changes. Coaches should not dismiss a new or improved concept just because they have been doing it a certain way for the last 10 years and never adopt the attitude ‘ well it never did me any harm ’ as it only has to adversely effect one player to alter their perception of football and, in extreme cases, their life.

No coach is perfect and the better coaches realise this, they are the ones who have the desire to continually learn. If a coach really wishes to enhance their own ability they must be open-minded to seek both advice and criticism from all of those around them, as well as keeping up-to-date on literature and practices.

Fairness and Equality

Discrimination can come in many forms. It is essential that as a coach the approach and attitudes adopted are fair and equal towards all of the participants, especially if working with young and impressionable players. Discrimination can be in the form of the obvious racist, sexist, homophobic and ageist but there are overlooked ones such as ability and background. Better players may adopt an ego and expect preferential treatment over the rest of their team mates; this should not be allowed to happen. The same rules and discipline should be the same for every individual. Amount of game time allowed to each player is also a form of discrimination, if a player is left out every week because they are not as good as the rest or only receive a few minutes this is unfair on them, even greater importance if the player is still young (although this factor can be affected and determined by a pre-agreed club policy and practices, or code of conduct, document).

Discriminatory jokes and comments should be banned and none should be uttered by the coach or the players involved. Any comments that can be deemed offensive, even if the individuals it’s aimed at accept it, should be challenged. Such comments can seriously effect a person’s motivation and enjoyment of football, and their lives in general.

Patient

Patience is an attribute that is becoming more and more rare as the evolution of modern day society has led to life in general moving at a higher pace. Whatever service or product an individual desires they can now get it instantly or at least the next day. This immediate solution to demands is not present in coaching. Players are not personal computers that can be up-dated in an instant with new software so that they can complete new tasks and experience improved performance on old tasks. Players need to undergo a learning process and every individual learns at a different rate no matter what level of effort the player puts in. This is because not all individuals will start from the same level of experience or have the same developmental speed. Therefore a coach must understand that with a diverse group of learners some will require a fuller explanation while others may need a number of demonstrations to fully comprehend the topic, so adequate planning is required to ensure all the participants’ needs are considered and prepared for. In addition to noticing appreciating players’ experience different learning curves is the actual implementation; a coach should remain relaxed and positive when an individual and/or group fail to learn at the desired rate is key. They should not ‘ snap ’ , sulk or throw tantrums at the players as this will not positively improve the situation, it may result in the team ‘ switching ’ off and stop concentrating all together and in some cases lead to the coach losing some of the respect previously gained.

Approachable

Although it is appropriate for a coach to maintain a degree of separation from the players it is also imperative that the players feel that the coach is approachable. So that when a player wishes to express concerns or fears they know that their coach is willing to listen and offer a warm, helping reception. It is common within society that humans will seek advice and guidance from those they feel close to and/or respect. This leads to the possibility that some players will approach the coach with questions and queries about all kinds of issues. The coach should be able to interact with the player so that they are capable of aiding them as an individual and as a performer, some topics may include;

As a Player As a Human Being
Physical Lifestyle
Tactical Attitude
Technical Morals
Psychological Career and/or Education
  Personal (Family, partners etc)

As many of these factors can affect a players ability to perform it is crucial that the coach assists and supports the players as much as possible. Problems will be discussed and overcome a lot quicker if the coach makes the players feel that there is an ‘ open door ’ attitude and that they are readily available whenever a player requires guidance, as well as the items discussed remaining confidential.

Being available is only half the task. The player must also feel that the coach is actually taking an interest and listening, this process becomes harder when the player is actually criticising the coach. Either way the coach must be willing to talk the issues out.

This is by no means an exhausted list and does not even touch all the personal qualities that combine to determine the success of a coach. Others that can be added to the list include; Caring, sense of humour, supportive, honest, respectful and understanding.

Occupational

The personal qualities of an individual only forms the basis for their potential coaching ability. They then need to possess some qualities key for the occupation of coaching. The standard of these qualities, in conjunction with those outlined previously, will determine the ability of the coach to what level they are able to progress.

Organised

There is nothing worse than watching a coach rush around trying to organise a group within a completely disorganised set up. To succeed at any level the coach must be able to plan and organise a structured session, where the content easily flows from one task to the next.

Responsible and Reliable

It should be clearly obvious that the coach should be present at every session and should provide cover for the dates they are unable to attend. If they do not then players may be left unsupervised and in a potential danger. The coach should also be on time, ideally they should arrive there before all of their players. This then allows them time to organise and set up the session and also mean that there is supervision from the moment the players turn up, reducing harm and disorganisation.

Their actions and attitude should always provide their players with a responsible example to follow.

Positive

Regardless how life is treating the coach away from the pitch or the manner in which their group is behaving/performing the coach should remain as positive as possible. This is especially crucial when working with young and impressionable players. This does not mean players can not be criticised for performance, attitude or behaviour, but the coach should aim to keep the criticism as constructive as possible and not just throw insults or negative comments at the individual. The latter can lead to arguments, loss of respect and disharmony within the set up. On an individual level a negative approach can affect their enjoyment and motivation to participate in the sport, along with insecurities and unhappiness arising from personal, hurtful comments.

Presentable

A person can be as untidy or unkempt as they wish within their personal life but for a coach they must be as presentable as possible in every training session, game and club related affair. Not only does this create the correct impression of a coaches approach to their role it also signals to the players what is expected of them. A presentable personal attire would consist of appropriately controlled and conditioned facial hair and hair style accompanied by correct clothing and footwear. A coaches equipment is also governed by the term presentable. It is accepted that not every coach or club can afford top of the range equipment, so at the very least it should be safe for use.

Knowledgeable

Some coaches knowledge can be broad and extensive, while others may just have a specialist area or topic that they excel within. The fundamentals for their knowledge are the same; the ability to highlight successful performers while identifying and rectifying any mistakes. The more experienced and superior the coach will be better at the basics than novice coaches, and be able to correct and improve a players performance in the least intrusive manner.. The information provided will also be accurate and more comprehensive (as to why that course of action is required) than that of an less experienced coach. The use of a question and answer approach will increase the involvement of the players and as a result greatly improve their chances of understanding a topic, as the knowledge of a coach is more effectively passed on.

There are a number of roles that coaches are not only required, but expected, to undertake. To fulfill them all entails the ability to balance the majority, if not all, of the characteristics that have been outlined so far.

In addition to their main role of conveying information regarding improving their technical and tactical ability the other functions a coach have is to act as a:

Fitness Trainer: not only to the physical elements of a player but also their psychological fitness as well, so that they become a healthy all round human being as well as a player.
Social Worker: modern society and especially the sub-cultures within it have meant that the availability and usage of drugs (both illicit and recreational including binge drinking) is increasing. Players may face temptations and peer pressure to partake in such activities, the coach should be there to guide them into making the correct decisions when these choices occur. Eating disorders, which in the past have been viewed as a major cause for concern amongst young girls and women, are now equally relevant to young boys and men. So this is another genuine issue for all players. As magazines and television promote thin and toned individuals, resulting in players wishing to look the same. Coaches may have to appropriately manage such a situation.
Motivator: this is due to the fact that players are human and will occasionally adopt a laid back approach to training (group and individual) and at times to matches. It may be required of the coach that they need to increase the effort and intensity that the players are exerting (to adequate levels regarding age, ability etc and not beyond). Coaches should refrain from just using insults, bad language and threats to achieve this, instead establish the factors players hold highest to focus concentration and energy.
Role Model: being in a position of responsibility and power will immediately place the coach in a situation where players look up to them and learn acceptable behavioural traits from them The younger the player or the higher the aspiration for the coach the player has the more impressionable they become. The coach should therefore act in a way that promotes a positive and acceptable conduct.
Friend: in a set up where there are many coaches or the players are young there is the possibility that the coach may become friends with some of the players. This is beneficial when it comes to the players coming to talk to you but there must exist the divide between coach and player on the professional side.
Disciplinarian Manager: who creates and lays down the law to all the players in a universal way, no biased, discriminatory or favoured way.
Organiser: not just of session but also of trips (team building, education and tours), games, facilities, meals, accommodation, transport and match day equipment (kit, goal nets, corner flags).

Many coaches fail to realise the range of roles they have and the degree of importance that each one has. However this list has broadened as developments and recent research has been conducted. More recent additions to the role of a coach is to act as a sports scientist due to the increase in the involvement of technology and science.

As well as a life planner: It may seem years off for those working with kids but a huge problem for players, especially those who participate on a full time basis, is the ability to cope with life after football. When they are retired and unable to compete any more. This period is known as career transition, and the causes of it (including unemployment and injury, in addition to age) mean it can affect any player at any time. Coaches must be aware of this problem and be able to assist and support the individual plan and cope with the situation.

Through the combination of a coaches characteristics and roles it is possible to create a list of the key responsibilities of a coach.

  • To educate players through communicating ideas and concepts
  • To improve players technical ability by applying knowledge and skills
  • Promote fair play and laws of the game
  • Gain trust of players, parents and fellow employees
  • Establish and outline realistic goals and objectives
  • Continually learn
  • Delivering and controlling sessions in an organised, effective and, most importantly, safe manner

The occupation of coaching may now seem a daunting task as there is so many separate requirements and requests being made on the coach. In spite of this every coach is different and each will have their own personal and occupational traits that will allow them to effectively complete their duties. There will also exist areas for improvement but with guidance and educating these weaknesses can be overcome. Not only is each coach different, the teams and clubs worked with can be completely diverse, and as a result each will require the coach to adapt their approach and employ the best techniques possible to meet their needs.

The curriculum vitae of a football coach no longer includes just ‘teaching people football’ but a host of other qualities and responsibilities, that many do not realise they are undertaking. It is true that because of this the coaching profession can be viewed as a demanding one but it is also a highly rewarding one for those with the correct approach, desires and work ethic.

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