Mindhunter as a guide to Coach Player relationship

‘Coming at anyone with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong” assumes that they’re of rational mind. We must establish communication. Ascertain demands, concede nothing, reject nothing, just listen. Listen to what he has to say. Try understanding him instead of trying to dominate him. Look for common ground. Find commonality. And if it feels like you’re buying time, well… that’s because you are. But it’s the key to making the perp feel heard.’ Mindhunter Season 1

One of the opening scenes from the TV show, Mindhunter was very interesting from the perspective of dealing with human beings. And with that the coach player relationship. The dynamic between players and management has changed considerably. What was once a teacher/pupil relationship, has now evolved into a much more balanced relationship. A relationship that both groups have a vested interest in. Some mentors still cling to the way it was for them as players. A one-way flow of information from top to bottom. A dictator style approach with repercussions for anyone who steps out of line. No questioning of what we are doing or why we are doing it.

Players today are very different from players 20 years ago. With the advent of social media and the greater ease to access information, players now are more educated in their sports than ever before. Players now know more about the sport than a lot of mentors. They are studying video, looking for stats, identifying current trends, speaking to college friends, looking for ways to enhance their performance and the performance of the team. They feel that they are entitled to a say on how things should be done. They are right. For groups to prosper, everyone must be pulling in the same direction, with the goal of getting to a certain point together.

Today’s players expect more from coaches. They are not happy to do drills for the sake of doing drills. They want to know why they are doing it and how does it benefit them. Is there not a way this exercise could be altered to challenge me more? How does this apply to a match? Why are we doing this? They want to ensure there is a purpose to what they are doing. If they are going to training twice a week, they want to make sure it is worth their while.

Players also want a freedom and an autonomy. They want to set their own rules and expectations. You, as a coach must engage with them. Ask for feedback, review matches and trainings, get their opinions, ask for advice, initiate discussion, adapt and improve. “Just because it works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved”.

Players are part of A team but are they really part of THE team. If they are intrinsically motivated to improve as an individual, for the team, only then will they have 100% buy in to the process. When players see their efforts matched by everyone else involved, then they are satisfied. Time is a precious commodity these days and if someone feels their time is being wasted, then

Players are part of A team but are they really part of THE team

‘Coming at anyone with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong” assumes that they’re of rational mind. We must establish communication. Ascertain demands, concede nothing, reject nothing, just listen. Listen to what he has to say. Try understanding him instead of trying to dominate him. Look for common ground. Find commonality. And if it feels like you’re buying time, well… that’s because you are. But it’s the key to making the perp feel heard.’ Mindhunter Episode 1, Season 1.

One of the opening scenes from the TV show, Mindhunter was very interesting from the perspective of dealing with people. And for me, how it relates to the coach player relationship. The dynamic between players and management is ever evolving. What was once a teacher/pupil type relationship, has now evolved into a much more balanced relationship, you may even call it a partnership. A partnership that both groups have a vested interest in.

Some mentors still cling to the way it was for them as players, not knowing any other way. “Didn’t it work for us the year we won the county” and such phrases used to make negate any progressive discussion. It was a one-way flow of information from top to bottom. Power was held by the man at the top and if someone didn’t like it “they know where the door is”. It was borne from a time, where leadership was misunderstood by those who were given the role.

Players today are very different from players 20 years ago. With the advent of social media and the greater ease to access information, players now are more educated in their sports than ever before. Players now know more about the sport than a lot of mentors. Twitter, YouTube, Podcasts, Blogs etc are all freely available from all over the world on a range of topics and those interested in up skilling their own knowledge, can now do so on their own time. They are studying video, looking for stats, identifying current trends, speaking to friends from other clubs/counties, looking for ways to enhance their performance and subsequently the performance of their team. They feel that they are entitled to a say on how things should be done, They are right! For groups to prosper, everyone must be pulling in the same direction, with the goal of getting to a certain point together.

Today’s players expect more from coaches. They are not happy to do drills for the sake of doing drills. They want to know why they are doing it and how does it benefit them. Is there not a way this exercise could be altered to challenge me more? How does this apply to a match? Why are we doing this? They want to ensure there is a purpose to what they are doing. If they are going training twice a week collectively and another 2 times on their own, they want to make sure it is worth their while.

You, as a coach must engage with them. Ask for feedback. Review matches. Reflect on you coaching sessions. Seek out their opinions. Ask for advice. Initiate discussion. Adapt and improve. “Just because it works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved”.

Players are part of A team but are they really part of THE team. If they are intrinsically motivated to improve as an individual, for the team, only then will they have 100% buy in to the process. When players see their efforts matched by everyone else involved, then they are satisfied. Time is a precious commodity these days and if someone feels their time is being wasted, then they will be quick enough to use it elsewhere.

Why i don’t use bibs in trainings…

Kids play matches and games in school at lunchtime, do they use bibs?

Kids go to watch a match with their parents, meet some friends, start playing their own match, do they use bibs?

Kids arrive early for training and play a match, do they use bibs?

At a recent review session of the year gone by, one of the requests from the players was to “use bibs and cones more in training sessions”. This led to a discussion among the management team. Management had agreed to not use bibs in training matches and activities where there were 2 or more teams. Now, there is a problem. Should the coach give the players what they want, or should the coach give the players what they need? What they want vs what they need are 2 different things.

So, why would you train without bibs?

  • Increases verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Challenges the players to be more aware of their surroundings when in possession and not in possession.
  • It demands proactive communications from team mates to assist the player in possession
  • Increases the number of decisions a player must make during the games.
  • Requires the player to analyse the problems they face and find a solution

We want to challenge them on the pitch, to think quicker, diagnose the problem in front of them and find the solution to the problem. If we train in a tougher environment than we would encounter in a match, then the match should become easier for the players.

Albert Einstein once said “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right!”. Will we continue with the no bibs policy with the team? Yes, we will. But we will also ensure to have greater lines of communication with the players and make sure that we all understand why we do the things we do in training sessions and match preparations. A simple comment in our end of year review, has challenged us to be better coaches and provide a much clearer line of communication from management to players and from players to management.

When does winning become a priority?

When does winning become a priority?

In 1884 the GAA was founded by a group of spirited Irishmen who had the foresight to realise the importance of establishing a national organisation to make athletics more accessible to the masses and to revive and nurture traditional, indigenous sports and pastimes. 125 years after its founding, we must ask, how well do we honour the values of those men.

GAA clubs/counties by and large for a long time catered for the elite. It catered for the elite in county teams and it catered for the elite in club teams. If players were not up to the standard, they were thrown on the scrap heap. Call it the PR brigade or ‘snowflake’ generation but in the past decade I have noticed that GAA clubs are becoming a lot more inclusive, to persons of all abilities and skill levels.

The first introduction for most children to GAA these days is through schools coaching. This leads to children joining their local club at a young age. The Go Games model was instrumental in bringing GAA to the masses at child level. Clubs could play 7/9/11 a side teams at underage and could field multiple teams at any one time. The days of U10s playing 15 a side against one other team are gone.

One of the regular questions I get asked when visiting clubs or hosting workshops is “At what age do you start prioritising winning?”. For years, GAA prioritised winning over everything else. There has been a seismic change on that front in the recent past. Clubs are now much more conscious of treating the person as a whole and not just their sporting prowess. A lot of clubs have policies in place, where the child on the age gets priority game time over potentially better, younger players e.g. a 12-year-old will be given more game time with the U12s than a 10-year-old will.

What happened in the past was a very good 14-year-old might start in place of a not so good 16-year-old on the U16 team. This 16-year-old would then get little game time. This good 14-year-old may be playing Hurling and Football with the clubs U14 and u16 teams, might be on school teams at U14 and U15, might be on development squads at U14 level. (Beginning to see where Burn out becomes a factor?) So, over the course of a year this good 14-year-old player might end up playing 80-100 hours of matches. Whilst the not so good 16-year-old might only get 20 minutes here and there equating to 3-4 hours of game time in matches.

It is easy to see that the not so good 16-year-old would give up playing relatively soon. After all, he joined the club to play games. If he is not getting that opportunity, some other hobby might better cater for his interests and wellbeing. And, because the player was not so good, nobody in the club follows up with him to see if he will come back and continue playing. On the other side, the talented 14-year-old is slowly getting burnt out from playing too many games.

A lot of clubs have a simple policy where players on the age (or those who have no other age group to play for) get priority playing time where possible. Some clubs do this up to U14 level, some do it to U17/18 level. Some do it just for league games but when championship comes around, it is open season for mentors to play who they want. Some just put out the best team each day, regardless of age.

Each club has unique differences. Some clubs need 13-year olds to play U16, just so they can field a team. Other clubs have 3/4 teams at an age group and never need to bring younger players up, so what suits one club, may not be suitable for another.

What we find many times, is that novice coaches (those coaching their first team) are sometimes very focused on results. This comes from their belief that they are being judged as coaches, that people in the club are going to critique the quality of the coach based off his/her results at underage. Usually, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Creating a positive environment for your players and instilling strong values within the group in a fun and inclusive a setting, far exceeds results are underage level. Ensuring a sustainable program that is player centred with long term aim of keeping players involved in the club from child, through youth and into adult level should be a priority for each club.

Whilst GAA clubs strive to be as successful as they can on the pitch, it is possible for only one team in each grade to win the championship. This does not mean that all other clubs are failures. If we judge clubs on championship wins each year, then there will be a lot of negative feelings for a lot of clubs. Instead, we need to judge clubs on how it treats its members, not just its elite players. Ensuring each child has equal and fair game time all throughout child and youth level would be a start.

While some children might not be the best players on the team, it is crucial that clubs cater for these individuals as much as the elite players. The non-elite players at 13/14, could turn out to be the stronger players at 21/22, or they could end up being the best coach in the club, or they could end up being a referee for the club, or they could be the registrar/secretary/treasurer etc. If we kick kids to the side when they are young, we limit their chances of getting involved in the club at a later stage. Research shows that when players continue playing until 21 years of age in the club, they are more likely to play into their 30s.

Back to the original question, when does winning become a priority? For children, winning is always a priority but as a club, participation should be the priority with winning a positive side product.