How to Develop a Soccer Coaching Philosophy
When you think of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, and even Sean Dyche at Burnley, you can immediately envision the type of soccer that their teams play.
This is because they each have a distinct philosophy and belief in how the game should be played.
While Klopp favours gegenpressing and overwhelming his opponents, Guardiola's teams typically control possession and cut through the opposition with deft and incisive passes.
In stark contrast, Dyche's Burnley are renowned for their direct and combative approach.
As a manager it’s important to have a soccer coaching philosophy as this outlines your vision for the team as well as your values and soccer principles.
This dictates everything from your training sessions and style of play to the team talks you give, the players' behaviour, and the expectations you have for the season.
So, how do you go about developing a soccer coaching philosophy?
What principles do you want your players to follow?
And what objective do you want everyone to work towards?
Before starting off, it’s important to note that there is no one correct approach and that every coach and team is different.
In addition, a soccer coach should never stop learning and trying to incorporate new approaches, ideas, and strategies when appropriate.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how you can develop a soccer coaching philosophy!
What is a Soccer Coaching Philosophy?
First of all, what exactly is a soccer coaching philosophy?
Well, you can think of it as a blueprint to success as it will impact your whole approach to coaching the team and the values and principles you want your players to embody.
It should not only include the style of soccer that you want your team to play, but also the expectations you place on the players in terms of their behaviour.
Besides influencing how you set up the team, the tactics you use, and therefore the drills you run in training, your philosophy will also impact how you yourself behave and act as a coach.
This means it really does have a profound impact on almost every aspect and approach you take.
All coaches, players, and people are different, so in any league you are going to find a myriad of different thoughts, beliefs, and philosophies on how the beautiful game should be played.
While some coaches focus on immediate success and winning at all costs, others place more importance on developing well-rounded players and people.
While the playing style and expectations placed on the team and players may vary depending on their abilities, you can still have them embody the same values such as hard work, discipline, teamwork, and a willingness to learn.
By coming up with a set of principles on how you want your team to play, behave, and act, you give all of your coaching sessions and matches a meaning and a goal.
So how do you come up with a soccer coaching philosophy? And what are some things you should think about when doing so?
How to Develop a Soccer Coaching Philosophy
At some clubs there will already be strong traditions and an accepted playing style in place before you arrive as well as clear expectations of what the coach should deliver.
At Ajax and Barcelona, for example, there is a distinct culture and identity to the first team and this is reflected and replicated throughout the academy in the younger age groups.
In other settings, you will have much more freedom to determine your vision for the team and how you see the players developing and progressing both on and off the pitch.
Here are a few things to think about:
1. Have a Long-Term Objective
As a lot of coaching focuses on short-term goals, it’s a good idea to have an objective in mind that the team can work towards in the long-run.
This helps to define training sessions and gives you a goal that unites everyone.
While it’s all good winning game after game, you do want to think about what is best for the players and their development in the long-run.
Is it worth winning every game in U7’s if a number of players aren't going to get to play and fall out of love with the game?
2. Reflect on What Your Values Are
While abilities vary drastically from player to player, team to team, and age group to age group, the values you embody can often stay consistent throughout.
Think about the behaviours, attitudes, and actions you want to see from your players and make sure you promote them throughout your personal interactions.
It is no use forcing a style of play on players who are just not suited for it. as this will detract from their enjoyment and love for the game.
Instead focus on what you and your team stand for, whether that's hard work and discipline, teamwork and inclusiveness, or passion and dedication.
3. Tailor Your Playing Style to Your Team and Players
While you may want to replicate Klopp's gegenpressing style or play with a one striker system, the demands you put on your players and the playing style of the team depends very much on their age and ability.
Developing a soccer coaching philosophy is a two-way street as you interact with your players, assess their capabilities, and adapt your approach correspondingly.
Although formations and tactics are obviously very important, your overarching philosophy encompasses much more than just playing 4-3-3 and dominating possession.
4. Think About What You Want the Team and Players to Achieve and Learn
When you start coaching your players, have a long hard think about what exactly it is that you want them to achieve both as a team and individually.
While there are a myriad of different drills and skills that your players can work on over the season, you ideally want them all to contribute to them achieving their long-term objective.
This could be for the players to understand the value of hard work, dedication, and being a team player, or improving their decision making and soccer intelligence.
It could also simply be for them to make friends and enjoy playing soccer.
5. How Can You Reflect This in Your Training Sessions, Actions, and Behaviour
Once you have your long-term objective in mind, as well as your values, playing style, and aims for the players and team, it’s time to translate these ideals into reality.
How are you going to communicate your soccer coaching philosophy, methods, and beliefs to your players and their parents?
Your behaviour and actions all need to be coherent and clearly communicated for the team to buy into what you are all trying to achieve together.
By explaining your reasoning and rationale as well as conducting yourself in a consistent manner, you can breathe life into your philosophy and make it a tangible thing that people buy into.
6. Take Responsibility for Your Philosophy and Be Accountable to Others
As you have communicated your coaching philosophy to the players and outlined your objectives, motivations, and thought-process, you must live the values you espouse and be a consistent role model for the team.
As you are the driving force behind the team's identity, your actions and behaviour reflect whether you yourself believe in your philosophy on how the game should be played.
Expect to be challenged or have players become disillusioned and disinterested if you yourself do not live up to your values and take responsibility for your philosophy.
7. Be Flexible, Changes Things Up, and Don't Be Afraid to Experiment
Soccer coaches and players are constantly learning about new techniques and tactics and so you shouldn't be afraid to adapt your methods if that seems pertinent.
Try to keep learning all of the time, both from professionals and your players themselves, and see what works best for the team and the individuals you are working with.
As long as you communicate the reasons why you are trying something new, the players should buy into it if you explain it clearly enough.
This flexibility is key to all coaches and the key is determining when the time is right to change things up and experiment.
8. Welcome Feedback
Never be afraid to listen to opinions and what people think about the team, the players, and performances.
While it may be frustrating to have a parent question your methods or approach, it’s important to get feedback from all sources on what is going right and what could be improved.
Use this to hone your soccer coaching philosophy and make sure that what you are doing is understood and appreciated by everyone.
How to Learn about different Soccer Coaching Philosophies
When trying to develop your own philosophy it’s well worth learning as much as possible from those around you as well as other managers and teams from around the world.
Here are some ways in which you can learn about different approaches, beliefs, and playing styles:
1. Speak to Your Club
When you first start out coaching at a club the representatives will likely tell you straight away what they expect from you and what your aims for the season are.
They may even ask you to replicate a certain playing style or encourage certain behaviours.
As they will also know all about the players' characteristics and abilities in your team, you must speak to the club and other coaches that may have coached them to see what awaits you.
Clubs are generally very supportive of their coaches, and so they should be your first port of call when developing your own coaching philosophy.
In addition, you should also ask whether they can send you on a coaching course to hone your skills and increase your knowledge and confidence.
2. Take a Soccer Coaching Course
Taking a soccer coaching course is another fabulous way to learn more about different coaches and clubs' approaches to the beautiful game.
While some courses focus more on setting up drills and running training sessions, others give you a deeper insight into tactics and playing styles as well as the philosophy and beliefs behind them.
It’s well worth looking into soccer coaching courses that are taking place in your local area.
3. Observe Other Coaches and Their Training Sessions
Another great way to pick up tips and tricks on how to act with your players, what values you want to reflect, and just your general approach to soccer coaching is to watch how other coaches coach their teams.
Observing other coaches' training sessions is a fantastic way to gain new ideas and see what methods work for them.
You can then try and replicate these with your own players, depending on whether or not you think they would be appropriate.
Besides teaching you methods that you may want to use yourself, you are just as likely to also observe playing styles or beliefs that you want to shy away from.
Both are equally important to learn about.
4. Don't be Afraid to Try Different Styles
While the core of your soccer coaching philosophy should largely remain the same and be based on your values, your playing style and training ground drills can be tinkered with.
As not every set of players will be able to replicate Guardiola's incredible passing teams, it’s a good idea to try out different tactics and strategies.
Experiment a bit before settling on a playing style that suits both you and the players you have at your disposal.
5. Read/Watch/Learn All The Time
Besides speaking to your club and other coaches as well as taking courses yourself, you should also read about and watch all the soccer you can.
Watching soccer matches allows you to see how different managers set up their teams depending on their opponents and the occasion.
You can also see their different player-management styles and how they communicate with and give instructions to the team.
Another useful thing is to read managers' autobiographies or coaching books as these can give you a greater insight into their approaches and the particular playing style and philosophy they espoused.
On top of all of this, there are now absolutely loads of blogs and YouTube channels which analyse teams' set ups, playing styles, and philosophies.
This is another valuable resource that you can use to broaden your knowledge.
What to Do with Your Soccer Coaching Philosophy
Funnily enough, coming up with your soccer coaching philosophy may actually be easier than living up to it during every training session and match of the season!
While coming up with your philosophy takes time, it really is just the beginning as you then need to encompass it, enact it, and refer back to it all the time.
As such, you should...
1. Use it in Everything You Do
Your soccer coaching philosophy will have a profound impact on both you and the team.
It should influence each and every training session as well as the way the team sets up and plays each weekend.
In addition to this, the values and behaviours you instil in the team should be reflected by both you and the team on a weekly basis.
Your soccer coaching philosophy should be prevalent throughout the season and be used to guide the team towards a certain objective such as improving the players or mastering a certain playing style.
2. Explain and Communicate Your Philosophy to Others
It is not enough to simply have a philosophy and set of values as you need to be able to clearly explain them and have both the players and parents buy into what you are trying to achieve.
It’s a good idea to think long and hard about the coaching philosophy you settle on, the reasons for it, and how you expect yourself and the team to embody them.
By clearly setting out your philosophy at the beginning of the season, you will give every training session a meaning and help players to understand what you are all working towards.
3. Stick to Your Guns
There will almost certainly come a time during the season when things don't quite go your way and players and parents start to question certain decisions or methods.
While you may need to tweak your approach slightly, you shouldn't abandon your philosophy for a quick fix.
Instead refer back to your team's long-term goal and see whether you are on track towards achieving what you all agreed upon at the start of the season.
Although losing matches can be demoralising, it may be that your players are replicating the playing style you ask of them but are just struggling to turn performances into results.
As the philosophy impacts every part of a coach's set up, don't be too hasty and reflexively ditch it if things are tough for a while.
4. Analyse and Reassess Your Philosophy
Having said that, there does come a time when you need to realise that a certain playing style or tactic just isn't going to work with the players that you have at your disposal.
As a coach, you need to realise whether sticking to your guns is now doing more harm than good and detracting from your players' enjoyment and progress.
While the values you embody and expect to see from your team shouldn't in theory change all that much, the team's formation, line up, and playing style should be much more flexible.
If appropriate, talk with other coaches, parents, and the players themselves to see what they think is going wrong and where you can all improve together.
5. Keep Learning All The Time
As already mentioned, there is an incredible amount to learn about soccer coaching and the beautiful game is constantly evolving and adapting.
Try and keep abreast of new developments and incorporate any new strategies and approaches that you think would fit your team and philosophy.
Never be afraid to try something new and see how your players and team react to a new formation, tactic, or style of play.
A soccer coaching philosophy is essential because it ends up dictating and defining every training session, line up, and approach to the beautiful game.
While the values and principles that a team and coach live by are key, it’s just as important to be able to communicate this vision and get everyone buying into what you are trying to achieve.
As we have seen with Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola in the Premier League, both managers have stuck adamantly to their playing philosophy and style while still incorporating new elements and strategies when appropriate.
Consequently, you should always keep trying to learn about new methods and approaches which you can add and include in your overarching philosophy on how the game should be played.
While it does take time to come up with your own soccer coaching philosophy, having one, sticking to it, and getting your team to buy into your vision, really is the key to success.
Great article, very insightful.