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A coach talking to a player at the side of a pitch during a match.

Be selective with your messages

Matchday can be chaotic. It’s easy to feel like you need to comment on everything happening. But for the players, this just creates a constant noise. And it can cause them to switch off.  

Instead, step back, observe and let them play. Then, when the time is right, be selective with your messages to make a big impact. Basing them around a set focus – such as what you’ve been working on in training – can help. After all, you don’t want to give them loads of information you’ve not given them in training before. If you’ve never worked on something, it can cause some confusion and add pressure if you’re judging them on it. So, keep messages relevant to what the players know. You can always introduce them to new information at your next training session.  

Stay calm when mistakes happen

Mistakes are part of our learning journey. No one wants to make them, but we learn, adapt and grow because of them. On a matchday, there will be times your players make errors. Perhaps they give the ball away following a loose pass or get caught in possession. But whatever happens, your reaction is important.  

Here, Warren Hackett and Peter Augustine discuss how you should respond when your players make mistakes.

Understanding what your players need and giving them ownership on matchday can be powerful. This sounds simple. But it’s their game, after all. 

To achieve that, ask your players how often they would like to get feedback. This helps you get your communication right on an individual level. Understanding their expectations gives you clarity as a coach, making it easier to interject at the right times. 

And ask for their opinions on the game. If matchday isn’t going as planned, find out why they think that’s the case and how they feel the team can solve the problems they’re facing. Then work together to create a plan. Just like making mistakes, this also helps players with their learning. And it shows them you’re willing to listen and not just issue out your own instructions.  

Sometimes there may be a moment when you sense the group has gone flat. If this happened in training, you’d look to energise the group by changing the session to ensure it’s fun again.  

Keeping that in mind, on matchday, try doing this by setting challenges. These could be individual challenges or one for the whole team. To do this, you need to understand your players to know what they enjoy and what will get them re-focused and energised again. But one idea is to say, “let’s see how many people can get a shot on target today”. Yes, this is dangerous, as you might concede. But everyone loves trying to score, so it’s fun for players to try. Plus, this challenge helps players to develop. It allows them to work on their scanning, positioning and communication skills as they work together to ensure they still have security behind the ball.  

Whatever the result, it’s important to be positive and focus on what went well during your full-time team talk. Here, Warren and Pete think about their coaching contexts and explain what they would say to their own sides after a defeat.