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Coaching counsel: More or less an expert?

A wise gentleman once said: “Until your leadership is about your followers and not about you; it’s not really leading.”

Whether you’re a coach of a team, a manager at work or a captain of industry, these are insightful words.

A selfless approach to leadership is about putting the people to whom one is responsible ahead of one’s own interests and seeking to develop and engage an altruistic action that augments the individual ingenuity and collective core that the people pony up.

Undoubtedly, such a skill is unlikely to succeed without alignment with several others and a charitable character has secondary self-serving side effects.

However, over recent years I’ve been wrestling with what different dexterities contribute to the making of an expert coach?


Patrick Hunt from the Australian Institute of Sport contributed an astute piece to a book called Developing Sports Expertise, which separated a coach’s progress through a beginners phase into an intermediate period before escalating to an advanced arena.

The assertions being that the journey commences with a copying and collecting condition where coaches mimic others briefs and behaviours whilst storing stacks of sessions from which they work.

As a coach’s experience progresses, they begin to develop acceptable standards of skill execution, recognise the moments to make strategic changes and use concise coaching terms whilst experimenting with a range of coaching methods.

More expert coaches’ skills manifest themselves in imparting detailed information at a player’s skill level, calculating where practice transfers to game and knowing how to change one’s behaviour with individuals and groups.

Now, these are reflective of what one observes within the coaching community but I don’t necessarily know that this is a path that can be plotted.

Most coaches will have days where during the session and beyond it, our reflections relay to us that we performed well and similarly, on another day, less so.

Furthermore, as with players, how do we know (and if we do, when do we know it) which coaches are experts and who decides? The suggestion is that the most likely deciders are the players.


Context is a contributor. Recently, I observed a senior coach working with a group of perceived, elite players. Exhibited were the qualities of the quintessential coach.

Demanding, didactic, demonstrative and direct is often the image that we conjure when coaches are discussed and is certainly indicative of the coaches I played for and was, historically, employed by.

If I may, I’ll thrust in a further thought to counter this conventional wisdom.

Can coaches succeed if they are softly spoken and sparing with speech? As Harvey Keitel suggested in Pulp Fiction - “just because you are a character; it doesn’t mean you have character.”

The thought of wisdom is that genius shows itself. Perhaps that’s true.

Maybe though, it will only show itself if it is given the opportunity to flourish and if it is recognised that coaching skills are broad, varied and plural.

Industry, of which football and coaching is one, can offer the opportunity for coaches who speak the loudest, shout earliest, associate within associations of decision makers and fulfil the sometimes misguided notion of how a coach should appear.

Does noise equal poise and does shout mean clout? Those terms can relate to matchday, training pitch, changing area, boardroom and counter the establishment line that those who speak loudest have the greatest contribution to make.

Malcolm Gladwell referred to it as ‘The Quarterback Problem.’ How do you know who is going to succeed? How do you predict something that is largely unpredictable?

Learning and enhancing

It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one is not careful, those that succeed are the ones afforded the opportunity because perhaps, they exist in the image of the leaders of the past.

Some coaches can’t access a qualification, coaching experience, environment or establishment if they don’t fit a certain ideal.

Those that fit the mould can be afforded opportunity that aids progress, others may not.

Education is the greatest mobiliser. It mobilises those aspiring to become more expert but a broader education and understanding by the already ‘expert’ establishment types may offer more mobility to a greater range of people.

So here’s an appeal. Greater expertise may exist in traditional tenets but it also resides within the traits of character, class & consistency along with humility and honesty.

From these, less egotistical bases, build your skills and knowledge - quiet may just be the new noisy.

Your thoughts and experiences on this are welcomed - You can contact me via Twitter: @BenBarts

By Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett is a UEFA A Licence Coach and is Regional Coach Development Manager (East) at The Football Association, having previously worked in player development and coach development roles at Colchester United, Chelsea and Aldershot Town.

With experience of developing players at Club, Centre of Excellence and Senior level, Ben has been fortunate to see several players progress into International Youth squads and currently coaches within The FA's Elite Performance Centre for prospective England U15 Female Internationals.

As a Coach Educator at Level 1, 2, 3, UEFA B and FA Youth Award Modules 1, 2 + 3; coaches often ask for resources, ideas and sessions that can aid their coaching work. This website is a contribution towards this, providing free, accessible and user friendly resources for coaches. Ben played for 15 years in non-league, mostly with Witham Town FC (Ryman League) and latterly with Farnborough (Player Coach) and Hungerford Town.

Ben is also involved with – a support and resource provider to coaches working across a range of ages and abilities.

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