Pursuing ‘Relentless Simplicity’

The UEFA Pro Licence is, currently, the top qualification in football coaching and management and mandatory in the higher end of football. All the home federations run their programmes and for the past nine years I’ve been involved either as presenter, contributor or part of the planning team in the FA version.

Typically about 20 managers and coaches are accepted onto the programme each year. The licence has to be renewed to keep it current. So this last weekend we had our refresher group renewing their licences and our mid-season group meeting together to share some of the programme.  We invite figures from football and other sports to share their insights.

For me, the UEFA Pro Licence weekend is a refreshing reminder that there is still integrity in football with successful individuals who have the humility and openness to share failures as well as successes.  Whether you listened from an education or a football perspective there were lessons to be learned. My seven key lessons are these.

  • “You can coach technical ability, develop fitness power and strength but you cannot coach courage, belief or hunger – all of which are abundant in elite performers.” Mick Wadsworth (30 years in coaching). These are qualities which have to be ‘found’ in the individual with the coach or teacher, having ‘found’ them, gradually drawing them out.
  • “Performance psychology migrates between the land of reality and the sea of bullshit, no one wins an encounter with a speech.  Protect your players from too much of you and let them make their own decisions” Peter Moores Lancashire County Cricket Club
  • “To coach players and develop them you need a well understood consistent infrastructure and a coach who is open-minded and prepared to study new ideas and solve problems.” – Rafa Benitez who has coached in Spain,England and Italy. Rafa told the group that at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final he made no big speech – focusing instead on tactical changes and inviting the players to be ‘proud.’ A minute before he was due to go back out he discovered because of an injury he had to change his team again.
  • “No matter how thoroughly you prepare, how much time you spend in getting tactics and formation right, how much detail you go into nothing can prepare you for the occasion. The occasion changes performances and changes behaviour.”_ - Rene Meulensteen Manchester United First team Coach on setting up to play Barcelona in the Champions League Final. The level of detail in preparation is frightening!
  • “Don’t wait … Create!” Brendan Rogers who has stuck to his personal philosophy and principles of play in his pursuit of world class coaching and whose team are now earning plaudits for their high tempo possession football. He talked of his own learning journey including working with Mourinho. A manager who was obsessive about detail down to the colour of the cones, whose commitment meant he’d occasionally work late and be found asleep in the dressing room at 7.00 the next morning!
  • “Look at your talent pool and work out their cost per minute on the pitch!” Malky Mackay, manager of CardiffCity whose management approach is forensic in its detail. This maxim could apply to any profession
  • Finally, the message that emerged more than anything else regarding coaching and teaching was, “the environment is the best teacher” In other words, the circumstances in which you have to learn provide the benchmarks and shape the everyday behaviours and habits which then deliver the performance.

The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there. The managers, teachers and coaches who excel in their discipline are life-long learners and students of their game.  They are in pursuit of what Mourinho calls ‘relentless simplicity’, making the complex simple, seeing beauty in every aspect of their chosen game.