Coach mentoring and the Barcelona effect

As a coach, you will be a mentor to your players. They will learn from you. But who is your mentor? Who do you learn from?

Andy Maciel and Paul Jones, from player development programme Go4Goal, have been taking lessons from one of the best – Albert Capellas, who has recently returned for a second spell working at Barcelona’s famed academy at La Masia.

Albert has become a very useful sounding board for Andy and Paul, who then pass on his wisdom to the many coaches that work with Go4Goal.

Andy and Paul spoke to former SCW editor Dave Clarke about Albert Capellas’ influence, how they spread his teachings, their own coaching philosophy and why winning may be everything after all…


SCW: What is Albert doing to help mentor you?

AM: “I’ve known him for eight years. I met him in Brondby and I was blown away by him – from five minutes of listening to the guy, I was absolutely engrossed.

“I had done a development program for Leatherhead – I’d taken six months to put it together and because Albert had headed up La Masia at Barca, I emailed him and said, ‘Would you have a look at this for me and critique it?’.

“He was brilliant. He gave me the time, came back and said, ‘This is really good. Are you working with the players three or four times a week?’, and I said, ‘No, it’s grassroots, we get most of these squads in once a week’.

“So he said, ‘Okay, we need to thin it down’. From that point, he had already started mentoring me. He said, ‘Look at this practice and adjust it like this’, or ‘Think about this dimension of it’.

“Because he was approachable and he wants to share, I started over the years to just refer stuff to him.”

Albert Capellas, seen here in his role as manager of Denmark’s Under-21s, has been a very useful sounding board and mentor to Go4Goal’s Andy Maciel and Paul Jones

SCW: I assume your technical knowledge comes from him. How do you get that over to the coaches your own coaches?

PJ: “Myself and Andy at the moment are going through a mentorship with Albert. Then the next step, more specifically from Andy’s side of things as our lead coach, is to pass that knowledge down to the coaching workforce.

“The coaches will have access to Albert during different stages of the season, to up their knowledge. But it’s our job to pass that mentorship on to our coach workforce, so that they’re upskilling themselves at the same time.


“I was blown away by him – five minutes of listening and I was engrossed…”


“The key is sharing. That’s one of the things we learned most from Spain, which has a very different culture to here in the UK – their openness to share and willingness to make everybody better far exceeds that in the UK, where we’ve got so many different pods of knowledge, but they tend to keep it to themselves.”

AM: “There’s too many egos in England, in football. You don’t see that in Spain and my experience of talking to German coaches. They want to share, they want to help each other, because they feel if everyone gets better, the players get better.

“Mentoring, for me, is ‘can I just ask that person a question?’ or ‘Can I watch their session?’. If you watch my session, that’s in a way mentoring.

“You’ve got to look at the grounding that we’ve had – people like Dick Bate, who passed away a few years ago, I had great education from him.

“In terms of technical knowledge, with Dick it was in specific positions. So I worked especially on defenders, midfielders and strikers – the technical skill set that a striker has is slightly different to what a midfielder has and certainly what a defender has.

“As you start developing as a coach, you need to start understanding what technical stuff each individual player needs, relative to his or her unit.

“People like Albert have been instrumental in that, but in Spain, they bring the technical skill set out in a competitive environment. If you do a 5 v 1 or a 6 v 1, that element of one bit of pressure makes the decision-making more game-related, but they’re still using the technical stuff.

“You can’t just go technical, technical, technical, because you’re then producing robots who can’t do anything when there’s pressure put in.

“I’ve come across players who have come into our program over the years, and I can detect straight away that they are technically fantastic but they have been given nothing else.

“We’re teaching players to play the game – and the game is random and it comes with pressure.”

SCW: Even though you’re working with different teams and different age groups, is the philosophy almost the same? Would the sessions be different – maybe more technical at the older age groups?

PJ: “We work within set parameters, but the coaches have got to be able to express themselves as individuals with their own ideas and their own spin on things.

“They work within our possession-based philosophy that Andy is building for our coaching workforce at the minute, so that everybody’s singing off the same hymn sheet.

“They might have a couple of different lyrics here and there, so they still maintain their freedom as a coach. But they’ve got to be working towards the same goal as everybody else.

“Where you mentioned the older ones and the younger ones, the practices are just ramped up a little bit for the older ones, or the younger ones who have a higher ability.”

The ‘winning isn’t everything’ mantra is wrong, says Andy Maciel – instead, he says young players should be sent out to win but must learn in time that losing is not a problem

SCW: You must find it frustrating that people still, even in this day and age where we talk about ‘winning doesn’t matter’, it’s still held up as a measure of success…

AM: “That’s endemic in grassroots because it’s 90% volunteer workforce. But in Spain, where we study extensively, at the younger ages they never say that winning is not important. What they say is ‘losing’s not a problem’.

“If you don’t educate players to win, then they don’t understand winning – and you have to understand winning.

“You have to want to win, but you have to educate them to say, ‘We can’t win every time’ and ‘What happens when we lose?’.

“You then turn losing into a learning process – you learn more from losing. It comes back to the culture. So we say to the coaches – set them up to win, but it’s not the be all and end all.”


“If you don’t educate players to win, they don’t understand winning…”


PJ: “It’s how that question is asked as well, especially with the players. We’ve got the luxury of coaching a lot of players but we don’t see everybody during a match. So when we see them at training the next week, we ask the question, ‘How did you play at the weekend?’.

“The answer that comes back, even though the question is ‘how did you play?’, is ‘we won 3-0’ or ‘we lost 3-0’, or whatever the score was.

“So we just ask the question again, ‘Yeah, but how did you play?’. And it might take three or four times until they realise, ‘Ah, we actually need to start thinking about how we played, instead of what the score was’.

“Clubs can do a lot of that with the parent- managers, and in the coaches’ meetings. If the question is more development oriented, as opposed to just a general ‘how’s thing’s going?’, then you could actually entice a little bit more information out of those people on how those players are developing.

“You have to be persistent with it. The philosophy we build is to go and win matches, there’s no two ways about it. But winning should only ever be a consequence of playing well.

“Playing well is the most important factor, but if you do that consistently, you’re going to win anyway.

“Stick to the task, stick to the philosophy, stick to how we want the boys and girls to play and, in time, when they start to mature, you’ll see the fruits of that.”



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