Is this how a good coach looks like?

Is this how a good coach looks like?

A few days ago I received a question that I still do not know how to answer. It was an old player I had in a previous team, which now is a student of the new football / soccer coach education, who wondered “what is a good coach”. Despite my years as a coach, I have to admit that the question caught me off guard.

What is a good coach?
A few years ago I would have been much more sure about the answer.

When I started my career, the answer was plain and simple that “a good coach is a coach who win games”. Rather one-dimensional, I think today, but I thought so then. Then, I thought that football / soccer was only about winning. Today I’m older, maybe not necessarily wiser, but more versed in how complex the issue really is. Above all, I have encountered coaches who I thought were skilled instructors, but they have not always succeeded on the pitch. The same goes the other way, I have met some coaches which I thought was incompetent, yet time and again manages to win games.

Obviously I no longer think that it is enough to win games to be a good coach, but I would still like to throw in a disclaimer. What is a good coach is to some extent a subjective question. Different people respond differently depending on the role one has in this context. A player certainly has a completely different view of the matter than a coach colleague, to take one example.

However, I want to write a nuanced post of what a good coach might be.

Far too often, I end up in discussions where people compare resumes and titles with each other to decide who is a better coach. Is Brian Clough better than Lars Lagerbäck? Clough has won two European Cups, but on the other hand, Lagerbäck made brilliant results with small resources in the national teams as Sweden and Iceland. Clough has never coached a national team, Lagerback has not coached a club team at top flight level. It differs 30-40 years between their two greatest triumphs. Can you even compare them?

These discussions have a tendency to stick to the number of trophies, but is it really just the price cabinet that decides whether you are a good coach or not? Should not conditions, or what level you are on, play a part here? Or what the purpose is of your coaching deed? Is it better to win titles in a team like Manchester City, with virtually endless resources and huge potential, than to remain in division 3 with a team that does not even own their own football / soccer pitch?

Many issues, of course, that creates shade to the main issue. It is not quite as simple that a good coach is a coach who win trophies, there must be other factors as well.

Let’s say we have a coach who works with children. This coach cannot win any Champions League trophies or World Cup-medals. Is it just that the coach should be compared to? Or are there other values? Maybe that many children continue with their football / soccer well into the adulthood, or that the children learn something new about football / soccer on the next training session?

Play with the idea that we compare Pep Guardiola with a football / soccer coach for children aged 6-9 years. Although both have the same title on their business cards (football / soccer coach), it is in many aspects different jobs. The other one coaches elite players at the highest top level, the other one coaches toddlers at the grassroots level. You cannot compare them. But both can still be good football / soccer coaches.

I read a study a few years ago on what the adult players wanted from their coach. It was all kinds of possible options they could answer. A tactical genius. A good educator. And so on. However, what stood out was that the most important characteristic was that the coach would be socially competent. It was by far the most important point. On a good second place, but still far from the first, was that the coach should possess football / soccer knowledge.

To be “socially competent” or “possess football / soccer knowledge” is a very vague concept, but it’s still interesting answers, although the survey was not very scientific and is a few years old. But somehow it testifies that there is not a clear answer to the question of what a good coach is.

For me, the leadership philosophy is important here (you can read mine here on my website), a document that I think all serious coaches should write. A text describing what you think is a good leader, an idol image after how I should act in my role as a coach. It is obviously extremely personal, but then you at least have a map and compass of what you think is a good coach.

So, after all this waffle – What is a good coach?

My answer is that there are probably as many answers to that question as there are people on earth. So it is very subjective. Some want a socially competent coach, others want a clear instructor while someone wants a tactician.

But one thing I want you to take with you after reading this post – When you compare coaches, define first what you think is a good coach. And understand that the issue is much more complex than to simply discuss the size of the prize cabinet.