Here we cover creating a routine for what happens when the game finishes. This starts with team meetings, their importance, length, and content. We will also give you some ideas for an appropriate cool down and stretching routine. Finally, we will discuss unexpected situations that can occur and how to deal with them.
Another area of debate is the post-match meeting between coach and players. When the team has lost, this often takes the form of the coach pacing around apportioning blame and promising lots of fitness practices the following week. Meanwhile the players stare at the ground, shutting it all out. If that is how it works, surely we should ask whether there is any point in meeting with players right after the game, when emotions are still high on both sides? Don Revie (famous manager of Leeds) used to say that “there is nothing for you straight after the game” for this reason. Jose Mourinho goes as far as making it a golden rule that he doesn’t review games at their conclusion.
The goal for us as coaches is to review what happened in the game while it is still fresh, but at a time when emotions have subsided. Former Arsenal and Spurs assistant coach Damien Comolli says that Arsene Wenger tends to wait 24 hours before debriefing players. This might be possible when you have professionals, but is it practical for youth soccer? If your game is on Saturday, you probably can’t talk about it until practice on Monday night or later. We have tended to find that the older the player, the longer you can wait with them still remembering enough to make review worthwhile. For U16 girls, it is possible to wait until Monday, whereas for U11 teams it might make more sense to talk about it right after the game.
What to say depends on your personality, but there are some approaches that will make meetings more effective. Firstly, you will recall that we remember only 10-20% of what we hear, compared to 70% of what we discuss. With that in mind we encourage you to ask questions. Soliciting feedback from your players not only gives you a new perspective on what happened, from people who were actually in the game, but it makes it difficult for players to shut you out as they have the fear that you might ask them something! Asking questions also takes you into the realm of what USSF refers to as ‘guided discovery’ where players feel they are helping to shape the path of review. When a player is invested in what is being discussed, they will become more involved, improving the quality of what you get through.
Positive or Negative?
At the same time, you need to be the one to break things down for the players, whether positive or negative. No matter how much of the game went one way or the other, the key here is balance. All players thrive on confidence: too much negative feedback only serves to lower that confidence level. Kenny Dalglish was one of the greatest Scottish players of all time, and yet he freely admits “if I had had more self-confidence I would have been a better player … I could have done better for club and country, if I’d had more confidence.” Some players need you to be more gentle with them than others. Phil Scolari at Chelsea said that Nickolas Anelka was a player who ” has got everything in his game but there are times when he just needs a big hug.” There may even be some players on your team who actually thrive on the negative “kick up the backside” approach, but even here you need to be wary that in most cases, the ones who appear tough and confident on the outside are actually the most fragile ones on the inside.
“John needed that ‘well done’, he needed that pat on the back. I couldn’t give two monkeys whether he said ‘well done’ to me, and he knew that and he used to go the other way and give me a rollicking. Clough knew I used to fall for it, and running through that tunnel, my attitude was I’ll show that big so and so.” (Larry Lloyd)
Finally, remember that everyone wants to hear praise at some time. “All they required was direction and somebody to say ‘well done’ from time to time. Those are the best two words in football. There is no need to elaborate. ‘Well done’ says it all” (Alex Ferguson).
Attention spans at any age are lower than you think. That means you have seconds, or maybe minutes at the most to get through everything that you want to say, before you are talking to yourself. With that in mind we encourage you to prioritize you points. As the game is going on, write a few words on your board to trigger the thoughts you want to bring out. As the players are coming off the field, rank the list of points in order. As you talk (or guide!) make your sentences short and simple. As Brian Clough said – ” …never the use of six words when two would do,” but remember that to say a little you need to think a lot. Spewing words out of your head on the spur of the moment rarely equates to short and simple feedback.
“A team-talk should always contain a healthy dose of realism, should encourage your men to recognise their strengths and work to exploit them.” (Alex Ferguson)
The key we are trying to get across here is honesty. If your team talk is only positive, what you gain in short term increased confidence, you will lose in reduced player trust and development. Without fair feedback, players may not be aware of mistakes that they are making, which means that they will not try to fix them. Your job therefore is to balance team/player confidence with reality. Can you present criticism in a positive way? For example, saying “Jimmy, lets think about what we can do to beat that defender” is a better starting point than “Jimmy, you kept losing the ball to that defender.” By simply phrasing your comments in a developmental/positive way you can maintain that degree of realism that Alex Ferguson was referring to.
Be confident in what you are saying. You are the coach. You know what you are talking about. If you are confident, the players will feel it and want to learn from you. If you or they question your comments and you are unsure, your effectiveness will be limited. We don’t expect you to know everything (in reality you only have to be one step further on that the players!) but it is important that you are sure about what you are saying. This means continuing education on your part – read books, watch games, listen to podcasts, take coaching courses, watch other coaches. It also means during the game you talk less and observe more.
Finally, if you do have to shout, make it a rare occasion rather than the accepted norm. Like many things in this job, the more you do it, the less effective it will become. “The days of the sergeant major are over … you have to be more subtle than that in your man-management … and if you do need to rant at someone, it has a lot more impact if it is unexpected.” ( Terry Venables)