Chapter 5 Why Are Some Coaches More Successful than Others? – Great Coaching and Your Bottom Line

CHAPTER 5

Why Are Some Coaches More Successful than Others?

Have you ever wondered why certain coaches are more successful than others, even though they may have the same level of knowledge or skills? Why are they more highly valued on the sports market and simply have no trouble moving from small setups to more prestigious clubs? How come they advance and enhance their financial status and benefits, although sometimes they rarely meet the expectations of new employers? Why exactly does the media warm up to them and the players enjoy training with them? What is it that sets them apart from their colleagues? Some would say it’s charisma, others would add they closely follow modern trends, and perhaps somehow manage to create more of a connection with the players. It may be to do with having better contacts or knowing more influential people. Elements of the truth may be found in all of these answers.

You’ll find the answer to these questions in this chapter. Unlike the first four chapters, which are more focused on the theory of mentioned topics, this one consists of practical experience about issues, which are usually not part of the skills taught. And these side-issues often make a difference in being an average or successful coach.

Set Goals Are an Expression of a Common Pursuit

Its a kind of art form to build a successful team in sport. Not even the greatest coaches in the world succeed overnight, and for sure, I’m not exaggerating when describing the process of creating a team. I know, it’s not a coach’s game, but it is a player’s game. Although it’s the players who are physically playing, the coach is the one who holds a clear vision of the game and the team and transforms it into practice with the players. The coach must help players to fully understand what it means to be a team. He needs to encourage players to realize the team’s common success is a multiplied result of their individual successes. When they’re encouraged in this way, when players feel that they’re better than the other team, this can only be recognized and rewarded. It takes time to form “the team.” It’s a painstaking process of creation and sacrifice. When you manage to make the players support one another, you’ve already completed most of the work, as the process can only continue to build and spread positively. A successful coach thinks highly of his players, recognizes and respects their individuality, including the personality of players and equally their private lives. Players should always be spoken to as equals on all issues. Players simply need to feel that they’re important. When you speak to them, you need to point out their tasks and their specific roles as well as your expectations. The set goals of a team should be perceived by players as an expression of a common pursuit. The most fundamental aspect players need to understand is that the team always wins, not the individual. Individual success within a team is to be welcomed, but it’s more important what the entire team is going to do. When you’re accepted by the players, when they are convinced of your honesty and fairness, their anger, caused by a substitution on the pitch or not being picked for the starting 11, disappears. Pay attention to what players under a successful coach point out in their interviews or statements: “I’m just one link in the chain;” “I would never have succeeded if my play hadn’t been supported by my team mates.”

Analysis Kicks Off the Working Week

The working week of a coach usually begins with a meeting with colleagues before the first training session after the game. This is primarily about performing the analysis of the previous match. Only after that can a meeting with the players be held. Analysis of the game should never be too long nor too varied and has to have a dual character: psychological and technical-tactical. The psychological approach to the players mainly depends on the outcome of the last match. After defeat, the coach must strive to raise the morale of the team as a whole as well as that of the individuals. Following victory, the coach must “keep the team firmly on the ground,” and not allow players to be affected by the euphoria. During the analysis, none of the players should be individually named, criticized, or publicly blamed for the defeat or negative play. These can be possibly presented to each individual player face-to-face in private. I once knew a coach who would never criticize players after a defeat, but instead only after a victory. Also, he never criticized the subs or younger players. He had a positive attitude toward them, encouraging their qualities. He told me he discovered such an approach proved to be successful. And when I think about it, it seems to me that his approach makes perfect sense. Additionally, I’ve always found analysis after a victory to be harder. Why? Because euphoria after a victory, heavily influenced by the fans and the environment created by the players, always results in poor play or defeat in the next match. As for technical and tactical analysis, based on statistical data prepared by his assistants, the coach is obliged to point out the flaws during the game, but also to point out the good side, publicly giving praise to individuals for following his instructions during the game.

After defeat, a coach always needs to be accountable in the eyes of the public. He should never look for an excuse for failure, either personal or on behalf of the players. The coach is always responsible for choosing the optimal playing system, the team selection, the organization, and training load. Such an approach is appreciated and respected among players. After the analysis of the match is complete, the coach and his expert team begin to prepare for the next match. Players have to become familiar with the plan and schedule for the current week, gradually getting to know their next opponent and the way they play. And so the first training session of the new working week begins together with the process of psychological and motivational preparation of the team for the upcoming match.

Are Coaches Always Right?

Most coaches want to be right all the time. At the place where I was born there is a saying: “If a man is right 55 percent of the time, he can be considered as a great man.”

So, of course, the coaches also cannot be right all the time. But there are some small tips and tricks that can be used to achieve what they want. If as a coach you want to convince your players that certain training exercises can be done better, you should never say “I’ll prove to you that this can be done better!” This is the same as telling them, “You’d better listen to me, because I’m smarter than you.” Defiance and conflict among players and a toxic atmosphere in the dressing room is created by these words. Players should be taught without even noticing. You also have to be careful when you persuade the media about something you’re not one hundred percent sure of. You’ll never embarrass yourself if you honestly admit that you may be wrong. And if you’re sure your interlocutor is wrong, don’t give him a rough time. You won’t achieve anything at all.

A few years ago, today’s head coach of the Croatian National soccer team Zlatko Dalic was with his then club, Al-Tain FC, in a friendly match during a break in Turkey. In the 50th minute he replaced Ismail Ahmed with the young player Mohanad Salem in the belief that his quality would accelerate the flow of the ball. It didn’t happen. They lost the match. Following the match, during an interview, one of the journalists blamed him for the defeat. Coach Zlatko Dalic didn’t like it and tried to justify his move to the journalist. The next day during a regular scheduled press conference, the Croatian coach knew he’d be asked the same question by certain journalists. He decided to change his attitude. When the question about the substitution arose, he refrained from justifying himself and humbly replied, “To be honest, I can see now that I was wrong. I’m sorry I made this substitution.” Miraculously nobody asked any more questions about the substitution, nor was it mentioned in the media ever again. So, we all can learn throughout our lives. Zlatko Dalic learned that if you want people to conform to your way of thinking, you must respect the opinion of others.

Coaches Make Mistakes, Don’t They?

Mistakes are an inevitable part of life. If you make mistakes, it means you’re active and alive. Mistakes should be accepted as part of life. Mistakes should be always turned to our advantage, and we shouldn’t blame others for them. If you did something wrong, you should think about it deeply and analyze what went wrong. Why did this mistake happen to me? Did I act without thinking? Did I hesitate too long and lose sight of exactly what I was doing? Was I distracted and in turn did something stupid? The most important aspect of all this is to recognize and admit your mistakes and then to do everything it takes not to repeat them. As a coach, difficulties arise that are simply part of the job. A coach can either solve or suppress them. What does it mean to suppress them? This means that mistakes are distorted, denied, and shown in an opposite way from what they truly are, moved into an easier context. We like to philosophize and theorize about mistakes. All of us sometimes like to bluff others into believing in our success and strength when, in fact, the most difficult thing for us is to solve problems. The most primitive form of suppression is denial. Problems should never be transferred from difficult to easy opponents or from tricky away fixtures to comfortable home fixtures in the belief that better results will be achieved against a weaker opposition, or at home. Some coaches blame their players for failure. Pointing the finger at players is the worst move a coach can make. This is only a short-term solution. Problems mustn’t be suppressed or left to someone else to solve them instead. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Problems won’t be miraculously solved by themselves. We’re the only ones to solve them. And yes, mistakes can be a great teacher and fertile ground for personal development, as I was assured by my friend, amateur soccer coach Zeljko Orehovec. Although not a professional, he has a very ­conscientious and meticulous approach to coaching. Each time he came to a new club or before the start of the season, he would carefully outline specific goals. The process of achieving these goals was to split them into certain timeframes or stages, the so-called milestones. After the completion of each stage, such as the preparation cycle, at certain parts of the season he made a brief analysis, carefully comparing the results achieved to the targeted objectives. As he had a habit of re-reading his notes from time to time, he noticed that certain errors were constantly being repeated, so he began to correct them. He also noticed, based on his notes that the same players would always get yellow or red cards, and the same ones would, sure enough, always rebel and so on. To analyze everything, according to him, was not an easy task, but thanks to his additional education and discussion with older colleagues, he managed to keep his mistakes, including mistakes in his relationships with his players to a minimum. Today he’s a successful and highly sought-after amateur coach, primarily due to the “significant” correction of his own mistakes.

A Persuasive Technique to Reach Physical Strength

The physical strength of players is one of the most important aspects of sports training. Going back to physical training from my playing days, I still fondly remember today how my coach used to ride a bicycle alongside us as we’d take on a 12-kilometer run from the stadium to the nearby river. One thing’s for sure; thanks to such physical training, a player can become a good runner, but it’s doubtful he could become a highly prepared soccer player. So it’s understandable that I later spent quite a lot of time talking about the importance of a player’s physical conditioning and that I’ve also learned something. My former club teammate, and today’s coach of the one of the top Asian soccer club Persepolis FC, Branko Ivankovic, was also taught in this very same way. Yet he was determined to come up with a fitness regime specifically tailored for soccer players. Something totally different from our coach on two wheels. The physical fitness of players has to be specific in relation to soccer. Although Ivankovic’s fitness regime is varied, appealing and mainly linked to the ball, I noticed that it nevertheless falls hard on the players. This is actually a normal reaction. Players always find it hard when the training load is increased. To alleviate such a reaction, for several years Branko Ivankovic has used a motivational technique using the power of persuasion prior to training. It consists of persuading the individual players and as a group that conditional preparation is necessary to achieve the ultimate success of the team, and to keep the continuity of playing well without injury. As the season unfolds he always tries not to overload players with conditional training, yet equally not to neglect it. During the season, he never overloads players to the limits of their physical endurance. For many years now, since working with professional clubs, a segment of physical conditioning of his team is led by a specialist, who plays an essential role in his professional team. Regardless of how much he appreciates his assistant’s expertise, Branko Ivankovic still makes the call at his own discretion about the required training load of the players. His assistant, a specialist in physical training, has the green light to fully decide the best way to achieve this desired load.

Self-Control with Things Out of Your Influence

In my opinion, soccer really is the most beautiful sport in the world. It brings joy, pleasure, generosity, hope, and even faith. Despite these sets of values, a large number of coaches, due to their enormous, constant desire to win every single game, find it a challenge to relax and enjoy its charms. Soccer would not be soccer if everyone would constantly win. Unnecessary nervousness in these coaches usually floats to the surface while leading the team in a game. I like to observe coaches during a match. It’s fascinating to see how every coach goes through the course of a game in his own different way. Some coaches are noisy and nervous. Others sit on the bench completely calm, and some are always on two feet, standing. I really do worship coaches who seem to stay calm and who can experience the play of their team stress-free. You must be wondering how come certain coaches manage to stay calm during a match full of twists and surprises? Well, this is because they intensively prepare before every match throughout the entire week, so there’s no need to additionally influence the players during the match. In particular, no jumping and shouting in front of the bench.

If the coach creates a scene and constantly shouts out comments, he creates a negative impact on the younger players, and in turn they cannot fully concentrate on the game due to the fear of making a mistake, but they constantly listen to what the coach is shouting. On the other hand, coaches who are calm can be often judged by the public and the club management as having a far too laid back attitude toward the interests of the club. This is simply not true. Within the football world, there are many coaches who cannot maintain self-control on aspects they simply cannot influence—referees, the crowd, and the pitch. The simple logic indicates that this is an unnecessary exhaustion. The same applies to cases when coaches indulge in unnecessary expert analysis and discussion with those who lack expert knowledge. Therefore, my advice to coaches is whenever a soccer “know-it-all” wants to start a discussion about the tactics of the team, the game system, or even the changes made—you should immediately think of the wise words of the great writer Mark Twain who said “never argue with ignorant people, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience” (www.economist.com).

Don’t worry about this. People who know how to play are not sitting on the bench; they’re sitting in the stands! That’s how it’s always been and how it’ll stay. That’s the beauty of soccer. Soccer isn’t played because of us, but for those who look forward to the goals.

Noticing Little Things Creates Tactical Dominance

Not everyone shares the same gift of perception. Some evaluate the gift of perception as insignificantly small. When I think about coaching virtues, the gift of perception ranks highly. Lucidity of mind, observational ability, and quick decision-making are not only skills needed for pilots and soldiers but also for coaches. After watching a 90-minute soccer match, a regular viewer would hardly remember all the disputable details, all the scoring opportunities, and all the attacks. Unlike those, the coaches fall into the category of people who have the power of detailed observations. A coach who has developed detailed perception skills penetrates into the depths of all the missed opportunities and the opponent’s tactics. The sharp power to observe the rival’s game has brought victory to certain coaches, and I certainly know many who use this virtue as a good basis to explain why the match was lost. Over the last decade, coaches have paid particular attention to analysis. Together with their expert team, they involve players in the analysis of the game, analyzing their rivals, their weaknesses and strengths. You wouldn’t believe how important the power of perception can be when going through this in-depth process. Sometimes just noticing a minor detail can create a strategic victory. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking our opponents fail to analyze us and our game. Today, everyone is aware of everything, so often little things, such as the power of perception, dominate. He who masters the trivia knows how to master greater things. Only those who notice even the smallest mistakes can be expected not to put up with the larger ones. Small or large, important or not, coaches usually realize only after the consequences. What entails serious consequences is never a minor issue, no matter how insignificant it seems to us at that particular moment.

Positive Atmosphere Vital for Success

The success of a certain club doesn’t solely depend on those outstanding players and insightful coaches. It also depends on the specific atmosphere and communication culture at the club. If all these factors are combined and a family atmosphere is nurtured, the success of the club won’t be far behind. Comparing previous clubs where I’ve played and worked, it’s evident that in some, there was a lack of positive atmosphere. This was mostly due to the lack of communication culture of the people who led these clubs. Many can identify with the terms “club culture” and “climate,” although they are two very different terms. The atmosphere shared in a sports club is a short-term situation depending on the club’s leadership style and current results. A positive atmosphere draws large crowds to stadiums with a desire to have a good time, cheering for their favorites. For days, people would talk about the goals, scores, and the highlights of every match. The club atmosphere, whether positive or negative, is directly influenced by the way the club is managed. It’s formed mainly by those who run the club—presidents, directors, and, of course, coaches.

Do you think the media plays a part in all this?

The media doesn’t create the club atmosphere; it merely transfers it to the interested public. Unlike the short-term phenomenon of club atmosphere, club culture is a long-term process, created over the years. It forms the environment in which players, coaches, and others connected with the club work. A common part of club culture is the wall featuring pictures of club legends in the VIP Room, sharing the message of showing how much the club values its past and how much it means in terms of pride.

The working environment depends on communication, and many often neglect the fact that the club’s communication is not only about discussion among the club’s staff, but equally communication etiquette, the club’s image, appearance, and respect for tradition. I did too, as an insignificant club employee, fully respect that. However, unfortunately many of our colleagues simply don’t recognize that in order to bring crowds to the stadium and to significantly attract potential sponsors, not only are sports results crucial, but equally important is the tradition, a positive atmosphere, and the communication climate that flows in and around the club.

Should A Coach Believe Everything
His Assistants Say?

Modern training and team management requires teamwork. And the only organizer and coordinator of these activities is the head coach. As a head coach, you have your assistants, and it’s common that your daily team of associates consists of two training assistants, a doctor, and a physiotherapist. Of course, this doesn’t apply to the coaches of amateur clubs, but to the more professional teams if they can afford it. An expert team is usually made up of competent, professional ­people who elaborate strategic and tactical ideas, preparing players for the match. The coach’s professional team in a professional club has a clearly defined goal. It’s common to all and completely clear. Each member of the team knows his responsibilities and what he has to do. At the same time, the team shouldn’t consist of individuals who are individually doing things in their own way. The success of a team is always above the ambitions of individual team members. Do these things function like this in reality also? The establishment and operation of a professional sport team is a very demanding job together with hard work. This is because different ambitions appear in different teams. For example, it happens often that a kit man clearly notices when assistants, driven by personal ambition, obstruct the work of the coach. They just imagine they’re better than him. The professional team must be a well-chosen squad with high-­quality loyal assistants. The worst examples for me are when assistants give support to any proposal from the head coach, and then after just one defeat, the entire blame is on him. Driven by a similar issue, a friend of mine, famous Croatian soccer coach Branko Ivankovic, once sacked his assistant with an interesting explanation: “He was an assistant who always agreed with my opinion and suggestions. We would never disagree on anything. I don’t want to keep paying him just to hear my own opinion.” In a good team there are no secrets. Everyone knows what’s going on, whether it’s good or bad. All team members are ready and competent to express their views and differences of opinions, without fear of upsetting the team leader—the head coach. In an effort to avoid possible unnecessary conflict, it’s common practice for the head coach to agree with all team members on the performance standards during the formation of his expert team. After this, team members know what the head coach and, equally, the club, expects from them. This increases the performance of the team and reduces the likelihood of conflict. In successful professional teams, there are really no secrets. Everyone knows what’s happening and the potential consequences.

There’s complete openness and honesty from each team member. The unwritten rule of work of such teams is “together we stand and together we fall!”

Say, Point, and Include the Players

Each training session, match, competition, or meeting with the players requires the coach’s careful preparation. The way a coach conveys information regarding the opponents, the competition, or the game are key. And what would you say how much players actually remember from all of this? You’d be surprised!

According to the National Highway Institute, adults retain approximately 10 percent of what they see, 30–40 percent of what they see and hear, and 90 percent of what they see, hear, and do (https://thepresentationdesigner.co.uk).

What Can We Conclude From This?

The spoken word of a coach has the least impact on the players. The spoken word along with visual instructions has a moderate effect. Interestingly, the coach’s spoken words together with visual instructions and actively engaging the players in discussion, by far, achieves the maximum effect. Therefore I strongly advise coaches to enrich their preparation for competition or training with images, graphics, or even video footage. If the players are actively included in the whole story, the success of the team is on its way! This theoretical knowledge has been put into practice for many years by leading coaches around the world. And coach’s assistants certainly won’t be too enthusiastic about hearing this. In fact, it’s them who’ll have to carry and take care of all the technical equipment needed and these are sometimes difficult to transfer from the bus to the plane, and from one match to another match.

The Power of Positive Thinking

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” (Henry Ford; www.forbes.com). This beautiful thought of Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, confirms that by using a positive approach, anything can be achieved. The same goes for winning a match. If we think we can do something, with a positive outlook our odds increase. A positive attitude opens a boundless source of motivation directed toward success and victory. We should always try to think positive! Most people don’t take this recommendation seriously. I’m not sure whether they understand what it really means or they just see it as useless and ineffective. Aren’t all of us who play or used to play some sports in the team convinced that even if our opponent scored the game isn’t over, but more so at the moment when we think we might lose? Positive thinking is a mental attitude that filters into our thoughts, words, and images that contribute to growth, development, and success. Positive thinking presupposes happiness, joy, health, and the ability to overcome any situation. Everything our mind searches for, it finds. Positive as well as negative thinking is contagious. All of us, in one way or another, influence the people we meet, in the same way coaches influence their players. This happens instinctively and unconsciously through our thoughts, feelings, and body language. People want to be surrounded by positive people and avoid negativity! If you’re positive, players will be willing to help in achieving the set goals. Negative thoughts, words, and attitudes lead to dissatisfaction, failure, and ultimately, disappointment. In order to become successful and popular in coaching work, one has to think positive, as positive thinking is conveyed to the players. The power of thinking is a powerful force that shapes our lives. This usually happens subconsciously but the process can be implemented consciously. Therefore, coaches have to believe in every player and expect a positive outcome to every match. With such an attitude you can’t lose, you only gain. If negative thoughts enter your mind, you should try to get rid of them as soon as possible and replace them with positive concepts. If you feel somewhat resistant to adopting a more positive outlook, you shouldn’t give up and continue to look for useful, good, and happy thoughts inside your mind. Our positivity must be constantly obvious, especially when communicating with players. In relation to player–coach communication, positivity is most commonly expressed through providing feedback to the players. Player feedback shouldn’t include criticism, but eventually focus on expressing dissatisfaction with the players’ behavior. Feedback should be a form of analysis of activities or the behavior of a certain player in order to help him improve. When communicating to the player, it’s important to always stay focused on what can be changed, rather than stick to things that might be taken as an attack on the individual’s personality.

Self-Confidence Can Be Crucial in
Swaying the Odds

The other day I read the title on my mobile phone: “Penalties have not dampened Rashard Robinson’s self-confidence” (www.nbcsports.com). But do you actually know what it means to be self-confident? Psychologists describe self-confidence as a dimension of self-awareness that is reflected in one’s conviction of having those traits that make him/her competent to always have full control over the results of their activities, to adjust them to what he/she appreciates and considers desirable (Havelka 1992). The theory of self-esteem is defined as confidence in yourself and your possibilities. A high level of confidence is manifested through a high degree of confidence in one’s own judgment, or a high opinion of one’s self-worth. This means that a coach who is full of confidence is one who believes completely in his own professional knowledge, skills, and abilities. We can all agree with that, can’t we? Such a coach always, both directly and indirectly, transfers his confidence to the team, motivating the players to exploit their potential to the fullest. A confident coach transfers a positive attitude and spreads optimism among players. Coaches who are full of confidence are not averse to risk-taking and taking responsibility in the most critical moments of the game. They accept each difficult situation as a challenge. Self-confidence is certainly one of the significant factors distinguishing successful from less successful coaches. Most coaches have excellent technical knowledge, but often fail to cross the border to genuine excellence. Why? One of the key reasons is that they’re not sure of their abilities and capabilities, not using them at critical moments when it’s most needed for the team. They never take risks, always opting for a safer option. You’re probably wondering where exactly the problem lies? In the head; it’s all in the head. Coaches with low confidence must overcome their psychological barriers and start believing in themselves, in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. It might mean abandoning the usual security, but for sure, if we don’t change ourselves, we won’t progress. So I’ll repeat once again that coaches who have a far better chance on the road to success speak steadily, behave properly, look appropriate, and are always in a good mood. Simply, in a nutshell, those who’ve mastered the skill of verbal and non-verbal communication radiate with confidence, before they’ve even said their first word.

Always “Fair Play”

All of us who are involved with sport, either as coaches, players, staff, fans, or sponsors, should have a highly developed awareness of ethics and ethical behavior. Ethics in sport dictates the relationship we have with ourselves and with others in a way that everybody is satisfied. ‘“Fair play” is one of the most important categories of ethics in sport. The founder of the modern Olympic Movement, Pierre de Coubertin, firmly believed “fair play” had a special place in sport and ethics. Did you know that the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (www.un.org/). This is a big deal. Coaches should teach this to players from an early age, so, regardless of being in competition or in conflict, they’d always remember this statement. “Fair play” and the fight to stamp out racism in sport should be seen as the greatest moral value of sport, as a guarantee of fair competition, acceptance of the rules, and respect for the sport. To respect “fair play” means to respect and abide by its rules. In a club where “fair play” is fostered, you’ll always find honesty, safety, and a passion for justice. To behave fairly with your opponent means to be tolerant and calm.

The opposite of “fair play” represents fraud and cheating, inconsistency, violence, hatred, discrimination, and disrespecting the rules. Coaches whose only philosophy is to be top of their league often dare to question fairness and violate the rules of the game. “Fair play” is not just a sports term, it’s also a synonym for reasonable behavior in everyday life. Unfortunately, and you probably know it, the reality is not always in the spirit of “fair play.” Within many clubs, coaches are met with hatred, jealousy, gossip, and disrespect. Evidence for this can be easily found. There are coaches who’ll try to win at all costs, even to sacrifice their defensive player, instructing him to injure the opposing attackers, regardless of the consequences. There are also examples around the world where in major competitions, famous players, contrary to the rules, score a point or goal using, for example, their hand in soccer, and then deny it ever happened. The ideals of “fair play” should constantly shine in the work of a coach. A successful coach appreciates sport, the game, and the athletes regardless of skin color and religion, follows the rules, and strictly plays fairly. He knows that it’s the only right way to practice sport and the only satisfaction guaranteed after competition and training. So, the coaches should respect “fair play,” always strive to do their best at every training session and competitive game, accept and support the sports rules and the message it represents. A coach, player, or team whose commitment, desire to win with creativity and ability are strong, should always be congratulated at the end of the match, regardless of the outcome.

Each Crisis Means an Opportunity

There is a story about this topic I’d like to tell. The famous Croatian coach Drazen Besek had just taken over the reins of Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. He was in a taxi on his way from his hotel to the stadium. Along the route he spotted a giant billboard with two big Chinese letters. He was intrigued so he asked the taxi driver what they meant. The taxi driver explained that together they mean “a crisis,” but if read individually, the first means “danger” and the second “opportunity.” Within European culture, in which the two of us grew up, a crisis in a term is traditionally seen as a problem or an obstacle. Undoubtedly, Chinese traditional culture is far more creative compared to Europe! For the Chinese, a crisis means just as much danger as a good opportunity. Due to the nature of their work, coaches work with crisis situations on a daily basis and therefore need to be familiar with crisis communication. Two defeats in a row and the absence of the crowd favorite from the starting 11 are issues that can easily lead the coach to a crisis situation. Statistics show that coaches who failed to communicate well during a crisis situation were often let go in just a few days, tarnishing their reputation on the way. Of course, there are positive examples when coaches strategically manage the crisis thanks to excellent communication.

Having learned this Chinese story about my friend, it is clear that every single crisis for a coach always means not only danger but a new opportunity. The crisis is, for example, an opportunity for a coach to obtain media coverage, which is otherwise hard to reach. And coaches should always be prepared for a crisis situation and the media interest that it attracts. As public figures, coaches actively participate in the public life of the community. So it’s normal to be accountable for their work and, likewise, the media interest they attract in a crisis situation is completely understandable. Media experts point out that in a crisis, the first 24 hours are crucial. During this period, the pressure from the media toward the coach is at its peak, as the public curiosity begins to grow. The way a coach communicates in the first 24 hours reveals how capable and trained he is to deal with the challenge. A crisis in sport after few matches lost in a row is a normal thing that eventually every coach needs to deal with. How can a coach handle the situation following a string of poor results? Coaches shouldn’t deny their responsibility. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean recognition of guilt, which, unfortunately, many coaches fail to grasp. Coaches must understand the media’s hunger for information. They don’t need to hide away from the media, turning off their mobile phones. Based on my own experience, I would strongly suggest avoiding press conferences in the first couple of days after the outbreak of a crisis. Why? Communication via press conferences puts every coach in front of a “firing squad” with the attack of all sorts of questions, some quite uncomfortable and awkward, so it’s far better to avoid them. During a crisis period, the smartest advice is to give affirmative statements, without further excuses or blame, or to use a positive notion to overshadow fresh negative news. I would recommend, if your club gives the “green light,” completing your expert team with a communications specialist. He’ll certainly know what to do and greatly advise you on how to communicate during a crisis. Don’t forget that all coaches are under quite a lot of pressure and anxiety levels are high during a crisis situation, and their thoughts are more or less subjective.

The Managerial Merry-Go-Round

In most soccer nations, including here in Europe, after a series of consecutive defeats, it’s common practice to see a change of head coach. I wonder why has this preferred solution by club management become the norm. Usually because after the coach comes in, the result-oriented effect of the team immediately increases. But, in most cases, this growth trend is short-lived. During the first weeks following the change of the coach, players closely watch the new one. They’re obedient, trying to create an impact, with maximum engagement. On the other hand, the new coach wants to be seen in the most positive light possible. He wants to show his knowledge and competence to the players, and to gain their trust. He searches for the ideal team, asking players to fight for their position. Players, who once had certain credibility with the former coach, become just equal contenders for the first 11 (soccer) with the new one. Once the first team squad has crystallized, there’s a time of stabilization. Those who don’t feature in the first “11” or “18” immediately harbor negative views about the coach. If the team doesn’t recognize the new coach’s “strength” or him as a person who can help achieve their goals, he won’t do well. If however, a new coach manages to impose his expertise, integrity, and approach on the players, his position becomes stable and he can expect a competitive breakthrough. Why? Players surrender themselves unconditionally to the coach they’ve accepted. They warm up to his decisions and his method of managing the team, which leads to long-term success. Players’ belief in the coach’s competence can greatly influence the overall strength of the team. Nevertheless, if the results turn, and things don’t go the way of the club, a change is on the cards. So the coach’s bags should always be ready, right?

What Do People Think of You?

Have you ever been haunted by the thought, “What people think of me?” “What would they say if I picked Roy instead of Paul?” If you aim to become a top coach, you’ll never bother with what people say about your work. You should worry about what your conscience says. To follow your conscience means you’re a coach with a strong character. The largest obstacle in building a strong character is the fact that it can’t be built overnight. This is always a slow process. Maturing ourselves takes hard work of a lifetime. Today’s major obstacle in building a strong character is the continued fast pace of life and running after achievements of material value. Within a blink of an eye, a huge number of coaches can tell you the names the first 11 of their opposing teams, but in terms of their own character, they’ll struggle to say a few words as they’ve probably failed to recognize who they actually are. Character cannot be built without knowing ourselves, without learning and constant development. This is normal as success can’t be reached without victims and sacrifices. The best example of this is the coaching profession itself. Getting up early in the morning to get ready for training, having lunch, and then back to the training pitch once again. During the evening more match analysis, training preparation for the next day, and so on. This repeats day after day. It’s the same with our character.

To build your own character, you need to invest a huge amount of persistence and premeditated work. Don’t ever complain or justify why you’re this or that, why you’re passionate, temperamental, or have a short fuse. Your seemingly untamed passion and fiery temperament can be nurtured with practice. Everything is simply a matter of desire, exercise, and training. Those that give up easily usually say “I’m this way by nature. That’s how I was born.” This certainly isn’t true. To back this up, I always remember the late president of the club where I started my career. After drinking just a few glasses of alcohol, he’d unfortunately turn into an unpleasant and confrontational beast. As a very clever man, he immediately recognized his drinking issues and worked hard to address them. He then gave up alcohol. Even today, I admire the positive strength of his character. Everything can be achieved if there’s a real desire and it’s never too late for a man to become the man he wants to be!

The Person I Am

Regardless of the level of competency or expertise of a coach, the players and sports public see him first as a person. If they don’t like him as a person, they won’t like him as a coach, despite his knowledge and skills. Besides giving a positive answer to the question, “What kind of an expert am I?,” a coach is also expected to answer the question, “What kind of person am I?” Do you know how much time you’ve devoted to your personal development? Believe me when I say that only development in both segments results in achieving a successful coaching career! As coaches, you all tend to invest additional time and money to enhance your knowledge about technique, tactics, and physical training, yet only a few of you are willing to go ahead and invest in personal development. Equally, without having both sets of expertise, you can’t become a strong and successful coach. Talking about a coach, how many times have I heard players say:

He’s a great coach! He knows everything. But God forbid if he ever leads the training session. He doesn’t know how to communicate. He’s a really tough person and unable to cooperate. He’s always right, shouting, and never listens to anyone!

The professional quality of these coaches will never come to light as they’ve never learned fundamental human communication skills. A coach will never become successful based only on his knowledge of technique, tactics, and physical preparation. If you want to become a successful coach, along with your expertise, you have to master and fine-tune your communication skills. You have to open the doors of your spirituality. The adoption of communication skills and the impact on people is extremely important for coaches, as well as the kind of impression it leaves. The same applies to players. Players, who develop in just a professional capacity, fail to achieve the best results. Top players become those who, along with having the talent and sports skills, understand and appreciate human relationships in the team.

The Crucial Role of a Coach in Conflict Situations

Coaches don’t like conflict. They’ll do everything they can to avoid tension in the changing rooms. Naturally conflict with players or colleagues isn’t good at all and should be avoided at all costs. No matter how bad things become, sometimes the consequences for the team can be useful. There’s never complete harmony in the team. Soccer is a game where only 11 actually play. The apparent team harmony only lasts for as long as the team is winning. With the first defeat the first signs of tension come along. The role of a coach in a conflict situation is therefore crucial. He has to use his authority and competence to maintain the unified spirit of his team. What does that actually mean? This means a coach must be decisive and be open to cooperation and compromise. If through conflict a coach turns out to be in the wrong, he has to be reasonable and willing to accept his mistake, and ready to listen and consider a better proposal. It’s obvious that different situations require different procedures from coaches. It might happen that there is a situation where players’ suggestions to resolving a problem are better than those of the coach.

A well-sought quality of a coach is the willingness to accept things, even when he may not be pleased with it. I know it’s a terrible kick to the ego, especially when it comes from a player. When you listen to something that you don’t like, don’t immediately defend or deny it and try to stay away from sarcasm. In conflict situations, always trying to emphasize the importance of the contribution of the entire team in order to achieve the club’s goals is always more important than the achievement of the individual targets of disgruntled players or coaches.

Don’t Justify Defeat

“We wouldn’t have lost if our top player had played.” Looking for excuses after a defeat is a desperate move! There are many coaches who want to justify their failure with the recent challenges they’ve faced. Do you think a problem, such as top player not playing, is a valid excuse for the team’s defeat? Have you ever thought that maybe you as a coach are the one most accountable for the defeat? Why not find an appropriate replacement? You didn’t find it, but you immediately found a good excuse in his absence. It seems to me that failure in this case was set in advance, even before the game started. I’ll tell you an interesting story I read on the subject. Once you hear it, you’ll never look for an excuse after defeat again. When Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces in World War II, left his military service, he became the rector of the University of Columbia in New York. One day a student approached him, asking to change the exam time, because he wasn’t feeling well. He asked to postpone the scheduled time because he simply wanted more time to prepare better. Eisenhower asked: “Have you been unwell perhaps?” The student then replied: “I wasn’t sick, but I’ve been feeling bad.” “Dear friend,” he answered as he turned toward the other students, “Most of the great and significant actions in the world were done by people who had been in a bad mood or even sick. Due to being unwell some were even more hard-working, as they felt their time was numbered to achieve their plans. So I openly say: if me and my soldiers had done whatever we liked, things that only made us happy, we would never have won the Second World War. However, since we were all completely committed to the hard work we had to do, and persevered in severe difficulties, we ultimately won freedom for the whole world” (Srica 2003). I’m convinced Eisenhower’s message is a good example of how every difficulty can and must be transformed into a surge of motivation. It’s not easy, but that is precisely the secret of success. Successful people don’t allow themselves to be broken by all sorts of problems. They use them as motivation toward the goals they set. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve let in a goal, whether you’re down to ten men, or even if your best players are injured. It’s important you stay in the game. You need to have the drive to want to score and to win. In sport, we face constant challenges and ultimately it’s up to you and your athletes to make the decision to surrender and give up, or win. In sport it’s specifically these difficulties faced by coaches that should become the highest possible motivation. So, the next time you’re thinking of justifying yourself, bite your tongue and simply continue to do what you are doing. You’ll see that the “expected” defeat will turn into victory.

The Greatness of a Coach Shines Through in Tough Times

Human greatness is best seen in difficult situations. The coaching profession is a perfect reflection of this. In times of challenges, conflicts, and hardships our true nature is best expressed. It’s not easy to be great both in victory and defeat. What’s the best way to react following defeat? What should you do when the media, fans, or club’s board pile on the pressure and swoop down on you like hornets? Hardly any coach during tough times can think about stress. You usually start focusing on stress when you begin to feel the first signs of health problems. So, what exactly are the symptoms of stress? You usually notice certain physical symptoms such as feeling discomfort, fast breathing, a pounding heart, and higher levels of anxiety. The typical stress situation for a coach is a press conference after a defeat. You know what you are in for in front of the press. It’s like heading toward a firing squad of journalists who were thirsty for your blood. And usually there is not enough time to put together any sort of analysis of the match, and to reflect in peace about the specific reasons for the defeat. Just like many things in life, solutions can be solved by exercise and training. A few breathing techniques might help to stay very calm and self-composed. Try to reduce the scope and content of the information that you would otherwise generously share with the journalists. Using this approach, and without giving names and pointing the finger, the window of opportunity for journalists to throw in additional questions and create bombastic headlines is reduced. Avoid at any price off-the-wall statements, which usually cause offence to someone. Such a statement would spark a whole host of reactions, so instantly you’d become the topic of conversation for the entire week. Not to mention the next training session addressing the tense players who were casually mentioned in this statement.

Using this approach you’ll see that’s all a matter of practice and working on yourself. Success, happiness, and inner peace can’t be achieved by itself. Everything comes from the right, positive thinking.

No Success Without Parental Cooperation
and Support

Regularly meeting parents and explaining what would be the best thing for their budding little players is very important. I think a child shouldn’t be introduced to the training process before the age of seven. The most important thing at preschool age is to develop affection toward the sport and training through the game. This process takes more than a single coach. It takes a number of coaches who work with children at the earliest age. It’s really important a coach knows the child’s parents, because there’s no success without parental cooperation and support. All parents want the best for their child and at no time must they feel their child isn’t in good hands. The parents should be spoken to often, as they should be aware that it’s not only important for their child to become a good football player, but equally a good person. Often, this isn’t easy as there are parents who simply don’t understand the sport, who already see their child playing soccer for, let’s say New York Red Bulls. The idea behind the concept of each serious sport school, along with the training and development, should be the mandatory completion of secondary education. During this time, young athletes, together with their school obligations, should be involved in training or a competitive program four to five times a week. Often coaches and parents are thrilled with their child’s outstanding sports skills, declaring him a great potential talent and future star. They quickly forget the perfect sport skills aren’t the only talent a child must have to become a top-flight athlete. Sports talent also consists of perseverance, character, speed, and strength. I also remember an opposite case when a 14-year-old’s parents wanted their son to join one of our under-age soccer teams. He was tall, extremely fast, and totally besotted with soccer. Much to his and his parents’ regret, the difference in controlling the ball between him and the older players was dramatic. This clearly shows us that any attempt to involve a child in the serious soccer world after the age of 10 is simply unrealistic. Preferably, as soon as possible, young players should be involved in working alongside senior players as this is the fastest way for them to mature. It’s strongly suggested that you often introduce the occasional talented junior to your training sessions and friendly matches. This is a very good way for young players to adapt as soon as possible to senior soccer and its demands.

Knowledge Is Vital for Success

It’s often said that a coach is a man who says on Friday he knows what will happen on Saturday, while on Sunday he’s explaining why it didn’t happen. The coaching profession is no longer exclusively linked with the pitch, the individual, or even the team. Today, alongside the work on the technical and tactical elements, a coach has to communicate with the media, sponsors, and fans. He also needs to show to the players his own example on how to behave, how to appear, and how to represent yourself to the public. Knowledge of communication and marketing skills can help every coach. Don’t forget that the mere fact that someone is a good coach is no longer a guarantee of success. Therefore, the constant personal development is a must! Knowledge is vital for success in any business, especially in a profession that involves working with people. Fortunately, we’re in a time where more and more high-quality, educated coaches with a positive image are in high demand. Although they’re not “cheap”, they don’t have a problem finding coaching positions. So you too can become one of them! By investing in knowledge, you’re investing indirectly in your image. Although there’s no major difference in creating the image of players and coaches, there are some specifics in creating the image of a coach. In order to become successful in any field, you have to be distinguished and set yourself apart from the others. Good communication of the coach opens the door to creating a positive image. Your decision on insisting everyone wears the same clothes is to be commended as this is also a form of communication. The uniform worn by the players creates a sense of a club member’s security and a feeling of belonging to a group.

Do Coaches Earn Too Much?

We’ve now come to a touchy subject. Do coaches earn too much? Hmmm... The fact is coaches who work with children earn far too little. I’ll try to express my opinion by sharing a story. When you’ve heard it, you’ll understand my take on whether coaches earn too much.

One day, a rich merchant decided to commission an interesting painting from a painter. This specific painting was supposed to represent a rooster in the most perfect way possible. A few years went by since his order, with no sight nor word of the painter. As his anxiety and uncertainty grew, he went to discover what exactly had happened to the painter. He eventually found the painter, but there was no painting. The painter invited the merchant to sit down and started to work on his request. In 15 minutes the painting of the rooster was complete. It was beautiful, a real masterpiece. The merchant was sincerely struck by its beauty. When it was time to pay for the painting, the merchant was stunned at the huge sum the artist dared to ask for a job completed in such a short time. He was so angry and refused to pay. The painter then took the merchant to his room and showed him a pile of paper the height of a man. On each piece of paper was a painting of a rooster. “I’ve been painting these for three years to practice. Thanks to this, I’ve gained the skills to paint this divine, perfect painting in such a short time. And so I have to get paid for my work during the long preparation time,” explained the painter. The merchant was convinced the painter was right and paid him for the painting (Srica 2003).

It’s the same thing in the coaching career. It takes years and years of training and perseverance in order to eventually gain a well-deserved reward, which means charging for your long-term hard work.

Use Every Free Moment to Relax

When you talk about success to successful coaches, they usually say that success is based on hard work and complete dedication to the job. My years of experience give me the right to say the time needs to be devoted equally to yourself and to your family. The older and more experienced I get, the more I stick to it. Unlike before, I don’t spend my whole day working. I began to devote more of my time to myself and my family. I’ve noticed that since making the change, my body and mind are constantly in shape. My philosophy in life is not to outdo others, but my previous achievements. And in order to be able to work on myself, I take advantage of every free moment to relax. Only now do I understand why my late father George kept on saying: “Rest more and don’t be constantly at work. When you relax your worries will disappear on their own, whether you want them to or not.” The most common moments of relaxation are those spent with family and friends. It’s interesting to note that the best strategies and ideas from Croatian soccer coach Branko Ivankovic actually emerged during his time drinking tea with friends and his brothers, who are his most objective critics. So, as my father advised me, I do the same to you, urging you not to miss the opportunity to dedicate at least one hour per day to yourself. There are many ways to do this. It entirely depends on your mood and circumstances. Perhaps just spending time with family members or a visit to places you’re interested in like an art gallery or museum. Maybe buy a ticket for a concert. Reading books or watching movies might be your thing. Something simple like our football chat over tea may be just what you need. Often this can be just talking with those close to you. These are various ways to recharge your batteries. An hour every day devoted purely to yourself will help clear your mind. Dedication to yourself will allow you to get rid of negative thoughts and become creative, calm, and collected.

The Public Fails to Understand Why Coaches Are Attacked

It is a common situation that after a lost match a coach exchanges harsh word with some of the club officials or even a club’s president. This shouldn’t be taken too personally. When you take things too personally, you’re not able to look at the situation objectively. As soon as you get into conflict with someone and feel the surge of violent reactions, you have to learn to develop a shield in order to reject the negative attitude and harsh words directed at you. The secret to avoid unnecessary controversy and negative reaction is to be aware that in most cases people don’t understand why they’re being attacked, so you have to forgive them for that, and not react negatively. Or maybe you’re convinced that the club’s president understands the tactics? Coping with personal attacks was a lesson I’ve learned from the coach of the soccer club I used to work at. The club had a weak team at that time, but the president believed we simply didn’t have such a strong team for a long time. After just one defeat he spoke about the coach in front of the press, saying that he didn’t know how to manage the players, although he never actually played soccer, nor did he understand the game. Rather than let it go, the coach reacted violently. Coincidentally, the debate was observed by the club’s psychologist. Once he was alone with the coach, instead of reacting and defending his argument, the psychologist advised him that in a case like this, he never needs to prove to another he’s wrong and especially not the president of the club. Initially this dampens the mood of everyone present and also he wouldn’t gain the upper hand and be regarded as smarter. Why not leave a man convinced that he’s right and why embarrass him in front of other people? Situations like these should be avoided at any cost.

Coaches Need to Mature

A coach on a mission to succeed needs to understand the nature of team leadership. The ability to lead a team is determined by the greatness of the coach. Leading a professional sports team is a complex process that involves mastering an array of skills, from general knowledge, professional expertise, and pedagogy to communication. All these skills are barely acquired in a short period of time. Certainly not overnight, but with time and patience, all the necessary knowledge and skills can be gained by every coach. Every one of these skills can be learned and improved upon. Do freshly picked grapes turn into wine in just one day? Time is needed for grapes to mature. It’s the same with sports coaches. Figuratively speaking, coaches also need to mature. Like many well-known and recognized coaching names, before you flourish you have to work in the shade. Doors open to anyone who’s willing to take it. Like diamonds that are created under huge pressure, so coaches are created through many ordeals. Young coaches are often impatient and want to make their way into a great club overnight. Some often get lost and simply disappear from the coaching scene although many are highly talented. Why? The lack of experience, wisdom, and humility. The three virtues that can only be developed over time. These are very important elements to gain success in coaching, along with other necessary qualities and maturity.

Is Polite Behavior a Sign of Weakness?

Again an anecdote from my own experience. Not even two months had passed since the day my friend took over the Croatian soccer club, NK Rijeka. During a training session, the physio approached him with the message that the president of the club was waiting for him in his office. The tone of his voice and facial expression signaled something wasn’t quite right. He was prepared for the worst. Tea was brought into the room and, without any small talk, they got straight to the nitty-gritty. “Coach, they tell me you’re too polite in leading the team. You have to know that the players are bastards. You need to be firm and dynamic with them.” Despite being alone, my friend was taken aback by his remark. He reacted like lightning with a counterquestion, “Normally, you expect me to knock on the door before entering your office, and as I come in, it’s normal to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ What would you think of me if I’d entered your office without even knocking, without a greeting, saying ‘Hi, how can I help? Is civilized behavior to my players a sign of my weakness, a sign that I’m soft?” After his energetic and impulsive reaction, the club president was left speechless and then apologized to him. This story is a classic example of how a civilized and democratic leadership style has nothing to do with strength and discipline. We all know that leadership styles may vary. In theory, there are two styles widely accepted: autocratic and democratic. They are often considered as mutually exclusive. You belong to one or the other. But is it really like this? Can they both be integrated? I strongly believe they can! This is precisely what many coaches do. When working with your players you should always be a gentleman, but in terms of the way you lead the team, a balance is needed. If necessary, you need to be firm, soft, flexible, and adaptable and use the style that seems the most appropriate at the time. Your team leadership style depends very much upon the particular situation, the culture of the environment in which you perform, and the individual personalities of certain players. Asians, unlike Europeans, perceive criticism in a very emotional and devastating way. The criticism shared has to be tactful as it’s very sensitive to criticize players in front of other members of the team. All issues with Asian players should be resolved in private, with lots of individual face-to-face discussion. Most coaches, who start work in Asia aren’t aware of the subtleties and so often scandal is caused by their inappropriate statements. This is particularly true in China, Korea, and Japan, the Asian countries where the pressure to succeed is immense.

Reacting to Public Criticism

How many times have you found yourself in a situation feeling hurt due to criticism? I’m sure you’ve often thought for days about the harsh words or the sharp pen of a journalist. The eternal question that follows coaches is how to handle criticism. The answer depends on whether the criticism is justified and who is it from, although there are some coaches among you who are convinced no criticism whatsoever is justified.

If the criticism is justified, and expressed by people who know your work, you have to seriously take it into consideration. Opinions of the people who don’t know you don’t need to be regarded as so relevant, as they criticize the person they imagine you to be. They’ve created an opinion about you through media writings or your public appearances, either positive or negative, so you must understand this is something you simply cannot influence. I think every coach as a public figure should accept well in advance that his life or the work he does is going to provoke varied reactions in the public eye, which often end up with unfounded and inaccurate opinions. These are undeniable facts you have to be aware of. If you struggle to accept them, you’ll be forced to constantly fight a losing battle. So, avoid correcting people in order to change their false beliefs, because it simply doesn’t make sense. It’s better to keep your head and save your time and energy for the people you can understand and enjoy communicating with. Sometimes it’s even better to let people wallow in their ignorance, when their attitude has nothing in common with the truth than spend time and effort on unnecessary additional explanations. Everyone is entitled to a false belief, but equally you have the right to ignore such false beliefs. The public therefore has a right, not to have the right, but that doesn’t mean they need to explain every wrong opinion or attitude. In my country, Croatia, there’s a beautiful saying perfect for this: “If on your way, you look back at every barking dog, you’ll never reach your goal.” So, shortly, I suggest you don’t bother with the critical opinions of people you don’t know or the only thing left for you is to continue banging your head against the wall, wondering how your beautiful coaching job has turned into a nightmare.

When You Stop Pedaling, You Fall

The basis for successful performance in any job is a narrow specialization, which is only possible if you’ve got the specific expertise. Expert knowledge can’t be gained over a short period, by attending a course or by obtaining a certain coaching qualification. The process of development of coaching expertise is ongoing; it can last a lifetime. Coaches who don’t supplement their basic knowledge on a daily basis usually fade away, leaving the stadium with their heads down and disappear into the grayness of mediocrity. The education of sports coaches can be compared to cycling—the moment you stop pedaling, you fall. The moment you stop educating and investing in yourself, you disappear from the coaching scene. If you’re not constantly mastering new skills and knowledge, you’ll be overtaken by your younger colleagues, who’ll be eager to jump into your place. The worst is when your work becomes routine, and your knowledge deteriorates. So keep renewing your knowledge continually. Study the literature, follow new trends, and analyze the work of your successful colleagues. You could occasionally take part in a seminar to upgrade both your personal and technical skills. Don’t just follow sport. You should also follow other aspects of society and expand your horizons. You’ll always find certain benefits in each area that can be applied to your coaching job. You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve absorbed from motivational videos on YouTube from different sports. If you’re only at the beginning, don’t forget there are a lot of unfulfilled goals in front of you.

Achieving Prosperity Helps the Players

How many times have you been in a situation to help a fallen player but didn’t do it? You thought the trouble would pass and time would heal the wounds. Today, you surely regret you missed the opportunity to help him, or at least hug him. For me, as I went through various temptations through my life, the most important thing I learned is that by helping others, I help myself the most. Players don’t adore certain person, whether it is a coach or a club employee, for no reason. This is because if you are ready to help no matter what, if your attitude is smiling and joking it all comes back to you. As you help them, in turn they help you. Helping is infectious. It’s the experience and talent of every person in every situation. I always wonder why coaches and players don’t help each other more. Each one of them is always on the go, rushing somewhere, forgetting to stop, talk, and wait patiently. What a strange time we’re living in! We’ve learned how to get rich, but we haven’t learnt how to live. Our soul has been taken away by computers! We’ve ceased to communicate face-to-face. We want to gain respect and become successful overnight. Our communication has been reduced to e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. It seems I can’t keep up with the times! I keep wondering where on earth have human values disappeared to. If you want to build positive and friendly relationships with people, it’s important to understand the purpose of support. Helping is not a waste of time! The moment you devote your time to a player, it’s by no means a waste of time, but rather a great asset to you and the player. If you give a player the support, which may even be symbolic, a quick smile, a pat on the shoulder, or a hug, you’re helping him to enhance an aspect of his life. When helping a player you’re sending a message, expressing a positive attitude, understanding and caring about your player. Your message won’t be left unnoticed. It also affects the other players, who’ll copy you and start behaving in a similar way. The start of a positive atmosphere in the dressing room can be easily sparked with just one small gesture. Do you know how essential positive vibes in the dressing room are important for the coach as well? Priceless!

Players are often lost within the fog of the outside world, which knows no warm words, where helping words are unknown. Life that players face outside the stadium is, on the one hand, focused on the fight for a harsh existence and on the other making and spending money. As a coach you’re able to spread kindness with a positive attitude and help others, but you also can spoil the mood of everyone around you with your miserable sourness. Well, the point is we shape our own attitude and we’re able to manage it. Within the choice, you should choose a positive attitude. Help others and yourself and you’ll be constantly happy.

Players Follow a Coach Out of Respect or Fear

In order to be followed obediently, admired, and respected by your players, you have to impose yourself as an authority. When appointed as a coach you became the formal authority, an authority by function. This authority is only temporarily accepted by the players. Over time, if you’re not accepted by the players, your formal authority, given your function, will be ignored in a short space of time. Authority, unlimited power, is not given to you “carte blanche”; actual authority has to be acquired through your personality, expertise, work, performance, and honesty. Players are extremely smart, so you shouldn’t ever underestimate them. They quickly assess and judge what kind of person you are. Are you someone credible, consistent, correct, fair, or honest? Only with truly built authority and trust, respect of the players can be gained. Players are wise and they differentiate between “coaches with authority” who are valued and respected, and “coaches who have power” who are not.

A coach with authority is followed out of respect, and the “powerful” coach is obeyed out of fear. To be respected and followed, you have to be able to solve their problems and potential conflicts that always might be experienced in some form in the team. Players expect you to be a good teacher of the game, someone who’ll educate and inspire them.

The better you meet their expectations, the stronger your value will be in their eyes. The authority that is based on partnership and mutual respect between coach and player is long term. The key values of a coach in building this partnership with his players are fairness and honesty.

Should Players Like the Coach?

In terms of a coach’s role, it’s irrelevant whether the players like him or not. It’s important that the coach adopts the correct attitude toward the players. Successful coaches have the highest regard for fairness, integrity, and achievement of common goals. On many occasions I’ve heard how various “do-gooders” tried to persuade the coach to make a move at the expense of others, which would increase his popularity and success. A coach should never allow himself to be persuaded to do this. The main criteria for doing certain things should always be its level of correctness and not a goal that can be achieved, regardless of increasing popularity or achieving sports success. Coaches who stick to these guidelines are respected by players and remain long in this ungrateful role. Therefore, in communication with the players, you have to adopt an attitude of truth and justice, because this is highly valued and respected among players. There’ll always be those on the team who simply see themselves as “stars” and due to their talent they think they’re above you and the other players. They even dare to criticize you and raise their voice in public. In such cases, you mustn’t succumb to external pressures. A correct and honest approach to all your players and the public will secure your inner peace and allow a smooth operation without paying attention to this type of criticism. It feels good when players are influenced by their coach’s procedures, which are in line with his words and his behavior. Successful coaches are unanimous in their attitude; the greatest success in sports is easiest to achieve with those who are modest and humble. Would Luka Modric, one of Real Madrid’s flagship players, ever have unlocked his greatness if he hadn’t been modest and humble in failure as well as in success?

The Captain Understands the Game and the Coach’s Ideas

I’ll explain why a successful coach always insists that the captain should be his choice. The team captain is the coach’s right-hand man on the pitch. It’s understandable that the captain can only be a person who enjoys the coach’s unlimited trust. Equally, the captain needs to really understand the game and the coach’s ideas. During the selection process, there mustn’t be a false democracy and players must fully accept the coach’s decision. It’s crucial that the player has authority among the players and is a first team regular with a moral character. He also has to understand the game and know how to communicate. When selecting a captain, coaches are very demanding. They have to be, since the captaincy role is an essential link in the success of the team. The captain must lead his teammates in training and on match day. The captain has to know how the team is organized and its way of playing. Furthermore, the captain is the person who informs the coach about problems brewing in the team. The captain needs to assess which issues should be passed on to the coach, and he should know which challenges can be solved with a physical therapist or by the coach’s assistants. The captaincy role among young players is priceless. The influence of the captain in developing the minds of young players can often be more useful than that of the actual coach. Only the captain can persuade young players that sacrifice is part and parcel of professional sport and without it there’s no success. The coach should never set unrealistic objectives for the captain and players. If a coach’s assessment suggests the team should reach seventh or eighth place, he should never force the captain and players to believe they could reach first or second place. At best, the coach must ignite the team’s hope that eventually, at maximum effort and unity, they could fight for third or fourth place, which would lead to an international competition. The captain and the players may also assess the realistic possibilities of their own team although some coaches tend not to think so.

Team Success Without Prima Donnas

For any coach, the team selection is a complex and responsible task, something the coaches would know well themselves. The coach should never choose players who hold the exact same qualities as one another. The coach should choose players who are best suited to a particular position. The ideal choice for a coach is a combination of sports experts and uncompromising fighters: players with a strong character and athletic personalities. Naturally, it can’t be the same to create a soccer team in Croatia, where players have enviable technical and tactical knowledge, as here in Ireland, where players’ technical skills aren’t so obvious. However, certain other qualities are more expressed, such as agility, speed, and a fighting spirit. And for sure in today’s soccer the mastery of the ball is no longer enough to fight among the serious leagues. The complete player should possess technical and tactical knowledge along with a formed character, confidence, athletic qualities, work ethic, team mentality, and above all, a healthy lifestyle. The coach needs to explain to each player what his specific role in the team is and what’s expected from him in order to be ready for all the challenges he faces during the season. Each player must be aware that the tasks given to him need to be achieved. If there’s no one in the team who behaves like a prima donna, the team is destined for great success. If, however, there’s such an individual in the team who only plays for himself, you can hardly expect a better result. Players who act in this way strive for self-promotion with their performance and attitude. The biggest problem for a coach with a prima donna attitude occurs when he doesn’t do his job at the moment when the ball is lost. These kinds of players directly threaten the result of the team. In turn, his work has to be done by another player, which requires extra effort. Another problem for a coach with this type of player in his squad is the player’s skills and creative lucidity, which often gains the sympathy of the public and the media. Many times I’ve witnessed matches where the behavior of the prima donna on the pitch, including self-promotion and doing things in his own way greatly contributed to the team’s defeat. The only option to solve this situation is to talk to him in-depth and try to explain with a lot of empathy and understanding that what he’s doing is harming himself and equally the team. You should constantly encourage him to change his approach to the game and motivate him to understand that playing for a team actually means playing for yourself. Converting an individual to a team player may take time and be bumpy along the way, but it’s surely worth the effort as these individuals are, more or less, excellent soccer talents. The worst option is to leave him out of the team, as this leads to confrontation with the public and also the media, which is the last thing I want to happen to you.

Players Need to Know What Is Expected of Them

Every player should always know what’s expected of him and what he can gain from the coach and his assistants. When meeting for the first time, the coach needs to explain to the players that the common goal of the team is always ahead of individual interest. So you should ask yourself how do you prepare your players before a game? Most coaches motivate players by giving them a speech, yet equally, there are plenty of coaches who tend to provide an overview of expectations and detailed information about the next opponent in writing. I prefer coaches who give a short, stimulating and encouraging speech before a match. In my opinion, a dull piece of paper, no matter how much relevant information it contains, can’t replace the personal contact and emotion that coaches convey to their players. I say this as primarily the coach has plenty of time during week-long preparations before the match to inform players about important details relating to the game and the opponent. I like the philosophy of the wise Chinese Sun in which commanders of the army, and that’s exactly what coaches are, should always aim to beat the opponent before the match begins. In order to succeed you need studious preparation, good knowledge of your opponent, and a lot of tactical exercises and meetings with your players. The entire week before the game, coaches have to work on the preparation and motivation of the players for the upcoming match. Based on this, the players should know the prepared strategy on the day of the match by heart and would be ready for every possible situation and surprise. After preparations for the match are complete, every other form of motivation, apart from a brief speech on the eve of the match would seem counterproductive and would probably make players feel tense. During preparations, a successful coach never humiliates his rivals or their coaches and players. He equally treats his players in the same way. In addition to the team as a whole, during the week he endeavors to motivate each individual player. Young players shouldn’t need to be particularly motivated as they are really eager to prove themselves and anxious to take advantage of the opportunity.

Notice Your Players and See the Rewards

During the competitive season, coaches are usually more concerned with how players perform their tactical tasks than the team results. To be able to do that, a sense of peace and harmony in the team is needed. Every time you have the opportunity, try to isolate yourself from external influences. Players know how to relax, especially the younger ones, so they constantly need to be encouraged and motivated to work hard. They need to be motivated to follow instructions as this leads to the perfection of performance to achieve the desired game. To be able to do that, you have to get each player to understand that he plays an important role in achieving the common goal. Lots of conversations, praise, and a positive approach always create good results. When the players are convinced that you notice them, that you appreciate their hard work and dedication, they’ll give their best in training and matches. Players shouldn’t only be encouraged to develop their sports skills. At least once a week you should work with them on developing their emotional and social skills. When I worked in the professional soccer club in Croatia, our key player, a midfielder, used to be distracted at every home match by the abusive comments shouted from the crowds, which affected his play. Our head coach talked to him about it during each preparation, drawing his attention to focus only on the game and not to be distracted by the shouts from the fans. Before an important match, during his motivational speech for the game, our coach would hang a large picture of a cat chasing a mouse in the dressing room. He did this to explain to players that the cat doesn’t think about whether someone is watching while hunting the mouse. The cat is completely focused on how to catch its prey—the little mouse. It reacts by instinct. That’s a reaction he looked for from the players—to behave like cats in a game. He asked them to fully focus on the game to bring us victory and not the screaming comments from the crowd, or the wrong decisions of the referee. When he motivated them to behave like a cat, he actually asked players to go through the match with a hunter’s instinct. This went down really well with the players. That type of motivation, given through a story, proved to be very encouraging and built a positive team spirit. The higher the frequency of praise and encouragement on coach’s part, the better the positive atmosphere in the team. Our coach also noticed when it comes to younger players, it’s better to praise their performance immediately after an exercise than at a meeting after training. Compliments are very encouraging, but they must never be given without reason. They should be only given when truly deserved. The same goes for criticism. When players are ineffective in their performance, show understanding for this, but also point out the mistake and give them a solution for it. All players have their bad days and they’ll appreciate it when their coach shows understanding and not an immediate lesson because of a poor performance.

Players Cannot Be Guided on the
Basis of Praise Alone

It’s quite normal for experienced coaches to accept that players need to relax from time to time and the fact that sometimes they can get up to mischief. It’s human and natural. Most young men, at some point during their youth, are unable to resist life’s naughty temptations and go off the rails in their behavior. There are usually two tactics successful coaches use when faced with behavioral issues from the players. One is used in mild circumstances. It consists of complete ignorance or disregard to the inappropriate behavior of the player. Coaching practice has shown that this behavior of the players, if simply ignored by the coach, eventually fades away and disappears. Another tactic is applied when the player’s behavior has put themselves or others at risk, or when they disturb the team activities and tarnish the reputation of the club. In this case, the coach should immediately react. In private, the player in question should be informed such behavior will not be tolerated and must stop instantly, otherwise punishment will follow. This attitude should be consistent, which means that the coach is willing to drop such a player from the team or even club, regardless of his status and previous performance on the pitch. However, penalizing players should only be undertaken if that’s what you’re really forced to do. But once you’ve decided to go for it, it should be carried out properly and effectively. You have to accept it’s impossible to lead the players only on the basis of praise or expectations and that inappropriate behavior will simply disappear by itself. I once knew a coach who used to punish his player’s behavior by getting them to sing in a public place chosen by the coach. As a young coach he was ambitious and would financially penalize players for each offence. After some time he realized that he was always trying to punish the behavior of the same player and that he wasn’t using the same disciplinary measures for the entire team. In contrast, the singing punishment proved to be very effective. This was confirmed by one of his players who had to sing in front of two hundred guests during preseason training in Spain.

Respect Your Players

Today coaches are often evaluated through the prism of their material achievement, the home they live in, or the watch they wear. Even the car they drive could be a means of assessing their performance. Qualities such as expertise, sports results, honesty, wisdom, and respect are often neglected. I wonder where did the basic human values that we were raised on and taught by our parents disappear? Respect has gone. Are China, America, and Japan the only places on earth left where the coach or teacher is actually respected? Despite all of this, I don’t want to believe that the reality is so dark and gloomy. The most effective way of gaining respect in the coaching profession is when the coach himself shows interest and a positive attitude toward players and coworkers, toward their feelings, attitudes, and habits. A successful coach respects his players, colleagues, and coworkers, takes care of them, and encourages them to progress. How many times have we tried to stop somebody talking because we didn’t agree with them? How many times have we criticized players for a “wrong” move? How often have we shared advice even without being asked? Respect players, always make the first move to solve a dispute, let journalists freely express their opinions, praise the environment in which you perform, and you’ll be a successful coach. The role of a coach is becoming increasingly demanding day by day. Coaches are constantly expected to do more and better themselves. One doesn’t have to be too wise to notice that mutual respect within the team develops a general respect for the club, including the management, sponsors, and officials. The way players treat you, their attitude toward the club and training with respect, or lack of it, depends on how much respect they previously developed growing up at home. It also certainly depends on the amount of respect you’re willing to show them as a coach. Every coach should be aware of this! It’s immensely important that coaches accept the share of responsibility in how players behave. As a role model, the coach certainly affects the way his players behave. Does their behavior fit into the communication etiquette of the civilized club? There are so many more elements, along with respect that are necessary and important to be a successful coach. The coach himself is the one who should be able to recognize the importance of all elements affecting his coaching success. Teaching sports skills requires broad expertise, which has to be continually supplemented with additional education. Players always expect positive impetus from the coach.

Players are the ones who use the coaches’ expertise and experience to realize their sporting goals. The opinion of the coach is often a critical stance for most players. Players need respect from the coach and his support. I don’t know a single case where a player succeeded without the support of a coach and if there is one, it’s a rare thing. Not a single player will succeed without a good teacher. If the coach doesn’t respect the players, players won’t respect him either. If the coach has a negative attitude about everything, everyone around him will become a loser. Good always attracts good!

How to “Strip Down” the Players

Have you ever been taught statistics in school? I was taught in school that statistics is an element of applied mathematics that deals with the collection, processing, interpretation, and presentation of data. Statistics wasn’t exactly my favorite subject at school and I never would have imagined my friends as sports coaches would use them with so much enthusiasm. Statistics has become a critical tool for coaches in making crucial decisions. Thanks to statistics, coaches know how far players run, how many passes they make, and how many of them are complete or incomplete. Just as a high jumper knows the exact height he jumped, coaches also have very precisely measured indicators of player performance. Today, thanks to the sophisticated tracking system, using cameras installed at the stadium, it’s possible to gain extremely useful data that provides your professional team real insight into the physical and technical possibilities of individual players and the entire team. With the results that can be obtained, coaches today can completely “strip down” players to basic statistical analysis—meters run, fouls made, accuracy of passes, and so on. Statistics help the coach and club management, but also journalists, to be more objective in giving an assessment of somebody’s performance. Without these exact indicators it certainly wouldn’t be possible to do that. The great thing about the power of statistics is that everyone who doesn’t understand the game can understand statistical indicators pretty well. Regardless of the exact indicators obtained, the overall performance of players during a game is immeasurable as the statistical indicators are used more to “strip down” the players.

Accelerate the Recovery of Players

Can you imagine any expert team in sports without the doctor? Today, without working with a medical expert, it’s practically impossible to achieve good results. Although the most common public perception is that the primary role of the physician is to treat and rehabilitate athletes, this is only partly true. In addition to the ongoing concern of the treatment and rehabilitation of athletes, he or she plays an essential role in the field of nutrition and monitoring the training process. The physician himself, without cooperation from the coach, simply wouldn’t be able to protect athletes from injuries. Cooperation from the coach is essential, as it’s important a coach has at least a basic understanding of sports medicine and recognizes the scope of a doctor’s work in the team. Muscle analysis is crucial in preventing athletes from getting injured. Players coached by my friends, Croatian coaches, knew in advance that at the beginning of each season certain measurements of muscle strength were to be achieved. After the experts performed detailed analysis of muscle groups of each player and later on through the training process, any deficiencies identified during testing were corrected through individual work. Cooperation with the doctor proves to be essential in assessing the ability of an injured athlete. As coaches try to accelerate the recovery of athletes and their return to the pitch, doctors are always skeptical, convinced that returning is premature. I noticed regardless of how much the injured player is essential to the team, you always hand the final decision to the doctor and his ethics, which oblige him not to allow an insufficiently recovered player back on the pitch. Although I must say there have been cases, when the club doctor accepted the risk, at the cost of reinjury. Coaches and doctors must also cooperate in the fight against the use of banned substances through continuous education and the constant philosophy that these drugs are detrimental to their health. And finally, sports success can never be more important than human health.

Right Food Leads to High Performance

Sweetgreen is my favorite when it comes to healthy food. I just love their guacamole greens salads. A healthy diet is extremely important for the players, because it helps optimal development, good concentration, and increases durability and resistance. Science has proved that the basic processes of releasing energy needed for intense physical effort are directly related to the quantity and quality of a player’s diet. The daily balanced diet of players should be rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional substances. In sports nutrition, an adequate intake of proteins that build muscles and carbohydrates filling the energy reserve readily available in the body is extremely important. The consumption of vitamins and minerals is increased for players. These must be taken in the form of rich foods or supplements. Athletes should eat as much fresh, natural food as they can find. Thanks to spending time with players for many years, I’ve noticed that players who eat proper foods can maintain a high training intensity, recover faster from injuries, and achieve better results. When we talk about the importance of nutrition for the players, the importance of water intake is often neglected. Water is particularly important for a player’s body. Players consume large quantities during training and matches. The body needs to compensate for the fluids lost through sweating because even a low dehydration of 2 percent can significantly reduce the effect of a player in a game (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

Regarding the most suitable diet for a player, coaches should consult a doctor and a nutritionist. The operational process of ordering and controlling the food for the players in restaurants should be left to the club’s physiotherapist. In addition to the recommendations of doctors and nutritionists in relation to the right diet, coaches can also rely on their own experience or the experience of those he trusts. An interesting ­example is a personal approach to diet by Croatian coach Zlatko ­Ivankovic, who insists on a large consumption of honey in his players’ diets. When I discussed this with him, I learned that he insists on the highest possible consumption of natural honey due to the high content of vitamins and minerals. The content of protein, amino acids, and enzymes gives honey added value because this is great for cell regeneration after intensive training. Along with this, honey is rich in essential amino acids that the human body can’t produce, so it must be taken with food.

Let’s Give the Players What They Want

There’s only one way to motivate players. The only way you can influence players to assure maximum commitment to football and the training sessions is to give them what they want. And what exactly do they want? Almost every player wants to achieve a successful playing career, to play for a big club, and to be important and appreciated. Every player wants to express his creativity and personality to the maximum. And in reality not many of them are thinking about their health, family, and the future. All of them first of all want to be recognized and respected in their environment. A coach who manages to deepen the sense of personal importance in a player will turn him into a friend and those who don’t comply usually face difficulties in communication with other players. Try, therefore, to deepen the sense of personal importance in each of the players. It’s nothing new or unknown. Feeling recognized and respected is one of the most important needs of every human being. Every player craves for the approval of those who they’re in contact with. They all want their efforts and their true value recognized among those who follow sport. Every player genuinely cares about recognition from the public. How can you persuade players to give maximum effort during training and on the pitch?

Only when you manage to create a good relationship with the players and a strong spirit among the players will you be able to ignite their enthusiasm and inspire what’s most valuable to them. Experience has taught me that there’s nothing as disastrous for the player’s will and ego as criticism from the coach. Criticizing and belittling the players is not effective. Far more can be achieved by showing encouragement and sharing praise. Genuine praise is the recipe for successful communication with the players. In giving praise and credit to players, a coach can always show his honesty. I know certain coaches who have a habit of flattering players. Flattery rarely achieves anything with players as they can spot exactly what’s genuine and what isn’t. Mere flattery is doomed to fail, although unfortunately there are some players who crave for recognition and enjoy it even if they don’t deserve it. This also applies to certain coaches: “Don’t be afraid of the enemy who attacks you, but rather the friend who flatters you.”

How to Get Players to Listen to Your Advice

Many coaches make mistakes as they want players to buy into their views at all costs. No one likes to listen to advice and instructions, not even the players. We would all prefer to work according to our conscience and feel that our decisions are respected and praised. Players prefer when coaches respect them as a person, when they’re asked about their hopes and when their work and effort is respected. When I was living and working in Croatia, I spent a lot of time talking with Croatian soccer coaches. In addition to talking about already mentioned topics, we would often go back in time remembering our former coaches and their styles of training. We remembered one particular late Croatian coach, who coached us when we were just young lads. He was a gentleman and a great pedagogue, who never gave direct commands. He would never say to players “do this and that!” or “don’t do this and that!” The instructions from our favorite coach were always given in the form of advice and suggestions such as “I suggest you do this,” “maybe you could try it another way!” Only today, and that’s a good 30 years later, can I realistically perceive the quality and greatness of his communication. With such a distinctive way of communication, he was building our self-criticism as young players and encouraging us to train hard and cooperate with others. It’s an interesting question to ask why today’s modern coaches don’t act in the same way.

A Successful Coach Embraces His Own Weaknesses

Life’s rapid pace and the daily struggle to achieve objectives don’t leave much time for coaches themselves and their personal development. Despite this, every coach should find time to devote to himself. Every coach should look internally at himself as much as possible. Success in life depends not so much on how hard you work, but on how well you think. Respecting yourself and others, being self-critical, listening to others, and understanding and admitting your mistakes are requirements that a man needs to meet at the very start in order to become a fulfilled and mature person. So everyone should ask themselves whether you have ever made efforts to live a peaceful, fulfilled, and happy life?

Only spiritual development can truly bring people joy and happiness. Spiritual development builds a positive attitude not only within yourself, but also to the surrounding environment. A happy and fulfilled man can only become one who is ready to embrace his weaknesses, the one who learns from his mistakes and the one who recognizes his qualities and uses them to his advantage. Great is the one who, in addition to admitting them, has the courage to resolve his own problems. Such people are happy and successful, as their mental state and perspectives don’t depend on others.

In Life No Effort Is Wasted

“What are the most important qualities needed to achieve coaching success?” There are many people who have asked me this question. In fact, this is what all young coaches ask. Although they all, considering my age and experience, expect some sort of great wisdom from me, I’ll probably disappoint them with a simple and humble answer: an immense love for people and for sports, many painstaking hours of hard work and perseverance. In this I always emphasize that no effort in life is in vain. Every effort, however, even the smallest, is always worth it, and it’s always fertilized in some form, either materially or spiritually. If you love something enthusiastically, if you give your all and trust everything inside of you to become something good and positive, nothing will prevent you from achieving your set goal. The truth is there’ll always be thorns and roses along the way to the finish line, but it’s fully worth the effort and worth a try. Be persistent, constantly absorb new knowledge, and develop yourself because this is the only way to reach the results you want. Young coaches are impatient and often find it a challenge to work as an assistant, with ideas of immediately becoming a head coach. Young coaches should be taught from the very beginning of their coaching career that this is a big mistake which they’ll only realize later in their profession. Sometimes a young coach can be faced with a great opportunity and can even experience a sudden success, but without the necessary experience this success can quickly turn from a “flash-in-the-pan” to the “bubble being burst”. And the journey from then on can be very difficult and painful, and often impossible. The road to coaching success is not an overnight journey from victory to defeat, it’s a long-term process; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a route with many stops along the way and with constant checks. These constant evaluation points are the best motivation boosters to achieve continuous future success measured by results. Coaches are constantly put in risky situations accepting a variety of challenges. The challenges force them to constantly invest in themselves, either through additional professional education, or through working on themselves in order to strengthen self-control and concentration. Coaches are actually eternally addicted to objectives and challenges and all of us working in sports are like that. I simply can’t imagine life without goals or challenges. Challenges are by far my best fix, filling me with adrenaline, forcing me to give my best and grab them with both hands.

The Difficulties in Achieving a Successful Coaching Career

What’s the reason why so many former players, who were successful in their playing careers, did not achieve a similar success as a coach? A successful coaching career is difficult to achieve because of the many characteristics coaches need to have. It’s merely not enough to possess the basic elements that all former great players undoubtedly have, such as certain sports knowledge and experience. Other characteristics and skills of the individual are crucial, namely intelligence, character, effective communication, and attitude. There’s also courage, responsibility, self-control, a teamwork ethic, and hard work. Many of athletes I know had a previous career as a great soccer players, and that started them off with a great advantage. The charisma they had was the key that opened the door to every club, but to their regret that same key didn’t unlock the door to their coaching greatness. The glorious playing career and coaching talent are not enough to control various personal issues some coaches have, such as drinking, gambling, or similar. If you take a closer look, you can easily discover the majority of former top players who had successful soccer playing careers fail over time as a coach, with honorable exceptions such as Jupp Heynckes and Carlo Ancelotti. The best example of this is Diego Maradona, one of the best players in the history of soccer.

The majority of former top players are convinced that the mere fact that they were top football players is enough to position them at the very top in the coaching profession. Only hard-working, persevering coaches with human virtues, fully dedicated to the team on a daily basis, can achieve a successful coaching career. Believe me, a coach can’t be successful if he has a vice, such as gambling, betting, or alcohol.

What Does Success Mean?

Each of us wants to be successful in the job we do. Since the beginning of mankind, man has been constantly striving for something better, more beautiful, and more perfect. The same applies to sports coaches. Coaches are constantly striving for something better and bigger. Whether it’s about the players, results, clubs, or money, they always strive for more. In the club I used to work for, I’ve seen a dozen senior team coaches come and go. The most successful were those who, apart from knowing their job, were aware that the key to success is in themselves. What we are depends on what we think. Each investment in the fundamental principles of success, honesty and perseverance will always be more than repaid. In an effort to create a high-quality relationship with the players, management, and the media, successful coaches can often change their attitudes and way of working. If we’re not willing to change, it’s highly possible we’ve reached our maximum potential. For years I’ve watched many of successful coaches, changing their attitude and behavior during their stay at the club in order to get the maximum from the players, compared with others who have insisted on the players changing themselves in order to adapt to them. No change is easy, but with strong faith, a great desire and perseverance, anything can be achieved. And if you lose a match, which will happen for sure, you don’t have to worry about defeat, as victory and defeat are an integral part of the coaching job. Moreover, defeat doesn’t even have to be a mistake; it can sometimes be the best thing to happen to a coach at just the right time. You have to learn to accept defeat but only temporarily. There is a beautiful saying: “Failures are the steps to success.” There’s not one coach who hasn’t faced painful defeats and failures at the beginning of his career. It takes time until they realize that failure is just part of the lessons that lead them to success. Your latest defeat, although it may seem at this point so painful, even though it wasn’t your first, won’t be your last either.

You might wonder if the fear you felt before the match was the reason for defeat? Would the soccer team of my small, recently established ­Croatia have ever won second place at the World Cup in Russia in 2018 if the coach Zlatko Dalic was afraid of failure? Failure is an integral part of the pathway in life that everybody must walk along. The more spiritual and more persistent we become, the less failure and more success to ­follow there will be. If you consider your coaching role as a reflection of fulfillment, respect, focus, and an immense love for the sport, you’ll achieve success in your coaching career, regardless of the results.

I’ve Always Stood Up for What Burns Inside Me

Most of the public who follow sports consider coaches as very sociable people. People who are never alone, always surrounded by others. Is this just an illusion or is this the reality? If you would ask any coach he would assure you that this is a mere illusion. Interestingly, the role of a coach is actually quite lonely. Coaches are mostly self-denying people who always open new roads, perceive new opportunities when others fail to notice them and enjoy being alone deep within their thoughts. They’re always thinking two steps ahead. And because of this they’re often misunderstood and criticized. How to resist it? We shouldn’t resist. We just have to be ourselves. The coach needs to tap into all of the resources and means he can think of to impose his attitude. A successful coach won’t accept nor support anything that seems mediocre. A successful coach always stands up for what burns inside of him. With all due respect, every coach should listen to other people’s opinions and advice, but accept and take on board only what contributes to his vision of excellence. The game of soccer not only requires the good physical condition of players, but also the willingness of their heart and mind. Sometimes players are in excellent physical shape, but their heart is far from ready. Have you ever found yourself in a situation when your mind wants to take control of your body, but the body refuses to cooperate? In football it’s the same as in life. All “family members”—the body, mind, and heart—have to work together. The game will never be complete if even only one member, either body, mind, or heart, doesn’t participate in the game.

The Philosophy of Coaching as Part of the Family

There is a saying that behind every successful man there’s a woman, and vice versa. Also, behind every successful coach there’s his coaching philosophy. This term refers to how coaches perceive players and in turn create relationships with them. After so many years of friendship and spending time with coaches, I noticed that all of them perceive the philosophy of the coaching experience as if it’s an integral part of their family. This doesn’t surprise me, as they’ve shaped, built and grown with it, the same way as they’ve built their family over the years. And they usually have also incorporated much of their own temperament and character into their coaching philosophy. There’s no successful philosophy or superior results without enthusiasm and passion. Each coaching philosophy has its own distinctive handwriting. Coaching philosophy isn’t created, as some people simplify it, from game to game or from victory to defeat. It’s built and matured over many years. The creation of the coaching philosophy is influenced by education, family, and the environment in which you were raised. It also consists of a great deal of published words and generally accepted beliefs that you’ve read in books or heard on television, building up over the years into a library or database in your head. As someone who’s familiar with the coaching style of my friends, Branko Ivankovic and Drazen Besek, Croatian soccer coaches who have worked in China, I recognize the great impact of China’s spiritual way of thinking in their coaching philosophy. Initially, I recognized the ideology they adopted from the great Chinese teacher Sun Tzu, author of one of the world’s best-selling books The Art of War. Sun Tzu’s thoughts aren’t what the book’s title might suggest, only applicable to the military aspects of human activity. The fundamental philosophical ideas from the book, such as victory over the enemy before the fight, my coaching friends now apply to their coaching. Their philosophy of coaching equals their perspective on life which has been shaped over time. It’s a guideline that determines the methods of their work, their relationships with the players and how to form a game. Every coach should read this book. As a young coach building your own coaching philosophy, you mustn’t forget to include your personality in forming your own philosophy of coaching, regardless of the fact that your coaching role and your behavior will be considerably influenced by your set goals.

Think Positively and See How Your Life Changes

Have you noticed that there are lots of coaches who constantly have something to complain about? They complain about the referees and officials, the players, the management, the media, or low wages. For so many coaches, moaning and regret is a common characteristic and even after a string of sporting successes or a strong financial deal, they simply can’t hide their dissatisfaction. Surely, this isn’t healthy. The constant gloom does nothing but enhance the negativity even further, creating a vicious circle. There isn’t one coach who has ever strengthened his position by complaining about the players, referees, management, fans, or the media. Contrary to the plan, this would only inflame the anger making things worse. I once knew a coach who would forever blame the referee for the defeat. Not only did he fail to gain anything from his negative comments, the only thing he did manage to ever gain was damage. His referee complaints provoked ridicule among the sporting public, which interpreted his actions as a search for an excuse for his team’s defeat. Having a negative approach to all aspects of coaching can do a lot of damage to the coaches as their attention diverts from the good things that are happening to them at work. A coach, who possesses an already embedded negative attitude, will hinder his own chances of happiness and enjoying the beautiful game. On the contrary there are coaches who switch things around, nurturing a positive attitude. Their view of the world around them is positive and I’m sure that a positive attitude and appreciation for this influences the quality of their life. In sports there have and always will be situations where it’s difficult to adopt a positive mind-set. What positives can be found in a situation where you’ve been severely betrayed by the referee, when he unfairly turns the game in favor of your rival? A positive attitude doesn’t mean to mislead or ignore the facts, but regardless of the circumstances, we can again choose to be positive or negative. We make a choice. It’s certainly easier to get into a negative frame of mind, than a positive one. How can we avoid a negative attitude? Just like most things in life, a positive attitude and gratitude can be learned by practice. Positive thinking should be exercised. For me, the best exercise is when I’m in bed just before going to sleep. I go through the day in my mind and focus on the good things that have happened and number all the things I can be thankful for. There are certain days when I can’t think of many good things but I always manage to find at least one good thing, a person that I like or something good that has happened to me and I think about it evoking the most beautiful memories and pictures. Every time I think about someone negatively, I immediately remind myself that this person must have at least five times more positive qualities. I just haven’t noticed them. Since cultivating an attitude of gratitude and positivity, the quality of my life has improved. It really has. I feel happier and more complete.

The World Appreciates Success, Not Value

There is a common opinion among coaches that the most important skill to achieve success in the coaching profession is to be a good teacher and educator and to have knowledge about theory and practice of technique, tactic, and condition training.

Well, I will convince you, by using arguments, that the above findings are no longer sufficient to achieve a successful coaching career.

Why? Because today, the presentation of the coach himself and presentation of his professional coaching experience is just as important, if not even more important than his expertise and results. Today a coach needs to be popular and has to have positive image beside his expert knowledge and sports results. And the popularity can be gained only if his ­professional work, experience, and sports results are adequately ­promoted. If so, the sympathy is won and emotions among sports public caught. The more emotions evoked in public, the more chances to gain sympathy and create a positive image in public.

In order to successfully present himself and his expertise, the coach has to have at least basic knowledge about sports marketing and communication skills. If the coach is not able to successfully present himself and his knowledge, the result is usually missing.

The Success and Happiness of a Coach Depends Not Only on Knowledge but Also on the Virtues

Have you ever wondered why some coaches have the power, success, and happiness in their profession, and the others don’t, although they have the same level of education and they’ve graduated at the same schools?

Because success and happiness depend not only on knowledge but also on virtues. Knowledge, talent, skill, and technology are a help, and virtues are power.

We all notice the qualities of a coach who is a team worker, a good communicator, and a motivator. A coach using the aforementioned ­features shows that he acquired these, for his job significant skills, through education, training, or additional training.

But what about at first glance hidden, “intangible” but powerful ­elements of the coach’s personality that are called the virtues? ­Virtues ­cannot be adopted the same way as skills can, they are determined through experience and beliefs in their key role in achieving personal happiness and success.

The virtues are the key element to distinguish good from top coaches. If the coach possesses virtues such as honesty, perseverance, consistency, authenticity, patience, curiosity, athletes and the sporting public are able to follow him obediently.

I know there are many who will say but we live in times and in the environment that first of all appreciates the skills. Coaches who know how to communicate, and smile when it’s needed or not, right?

Regardless of the current “populist” times and the popularity of such coaches, it is about short-term “players” that will be forgotten the moment they are replaced by their sports organization. And in contrast, there are coaches who, apart from adopting skills mentioned above, possess the virtues. They will be mentioned in the clubs and among the athletes even then when they will no longer be there. Because they possess the virtues that elevate them and make them beautiful, so they leave a positive trace in their actions.

One of the most important virtues of a coach is honesty. There is a reason to say that honesty is more valuable than diamonds. The honesty of a coach in sports is not familiar to any resort to cheating. Honor in sports implies fidelity to commitments, humility in victory, generosity to the defeated, patience with spectators who are not always moderate, fairness if competitive sport is associated with financial contractual interests (Pius XII 2002, http://abbeyathletics.com). The first ones who feel the coach’s dishonesty are athletes, as their wakeful eye can not miss it.

The next virtue that leads to coach’s success is perseverance. The persistent coaches do not overlook the problems they are facing; they are being solved as they come up. They do not give up in accomplishing the set goals after the first defeat, or after comments by unsatisfied fans and media. They are persistent in the intent of implementing their ideas, knowing that defeats are an integral part of their work. They are determined; decisions are made in due time after a detailed “for and against” analysis, and when they decide for something, that decision usually stays.

Some coaches are nervous because the players do not listen to them, especially those who work with children. “Do not worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”
(http://www.cpsetanta.ie).

This often cited statement by American writer Robert Fulghum who tells us that the point of work with children, in our case with athletes, is in the consistency of what we are saying, how we are acting, and how this is implemented in our work. Beside parents, coaches are the most important persons for athletes, so their behavior and action are absorbed like a sponge. Coaches often underestimate the importance of their exposure to observation and constant scrutiny by athletes. As watchful observers, the athletes can very quick evaluate the (non)virtues of their coach and determine whether he is credible, persistent in the values he represents, and loyal and dedicated to the common goals. If the coach firmly holds the values he narrates and advocates, the athletes can see it very well. Finally, watching the coach, athletes might conclude that the goals he represent are not worth the effort or that they are worthy to fight and sacrifice for them.