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Put self-care at heart of your development
Tom Hartley spent three years running a player development programme at Arsenal Women before joining the Football Association.
He worked on the FA Skills Programme, which encouraged participation for five- to 11-year-olds.
After 10 years with the FA, Tom joined UK Coaching, where he is now Coach Programme and Pathway Manager, working alongside 30 coaches across a variety of sports, all of whom coach athletes who are on pathways towards the Olympic Games.
Currently working towards his UEFA A License, Tom is also assistant manager at Oxford United Women, in the third tier of English women’s football.
SCW caught up with him to talk about what he has learned from other sports, support for coaches, and individual development plans…
SCW: What have you picked up from coaching in other sports that maybe isn’t as prevalent in coaching soccer?
TH: “I think one of the things that has stood out is the role of the coach, and how that might be different in a different context.
“So, at the moment, we are working with a group of coaches on the theme of coaching behaviours and looking at how the coaches intervene – is it instruction or questions, or are they kind of observing and being silent?
“It is really interesting when you look at some sports which are constrained by the rules. In fencing, gymnastics and swimming, coaches can’t coach in competition. So they have to really think about when they do intervene between rounds or races – what do they say and how do they say it?
“I guess in football and other team sports, we’re really used to coaching in-competition. It’s what you expect a coach to be doing, being quite loud on the side and supporting the players throughout.
“It got me thinking the other day actually – if we weren’t able to coach in-competition in football, how would our practice look and reflect that? Would we do different things? Would it possibly be more about problem- solving and challenge-setting, rather than instruction?”
SCW: Do you think there is enough support for coaches to help challenge some of those coaching norms?
TH: “Qualifications, I think, are really important to help coaches develop their understanding of practice design, the game and tactical and technical information.
“If we weren’t able to coach in-competition, would we do different things…?”
“But there is so much which falls between qualifications, which is where coaches really need support. You get new coaches on an FA level 1 or 2 course, but they won’t experience challenges until they start coaching.
“So, having someone around them – whether that is a coach developer, or even a network of other coaches they can talk to or solve problems with – is really important.
“At UK Coaching, with the running of coach development programmes, we don’t go in and dictate what coaches should do. We’re trying to hold up mirrors so coaches can develop a self awareness, reflect on what they are doing in their practice and then understand where they spend their time.
“And depending on how they want to coach and the objectives they’ve got with their team, they can adapt and build their confidence and their competence.”
SCW: Do you see some common challenges coming out that a lot of coaches need help with?
TH: “Definitely. One of the big things is around coach care. We all spend time planning, staying up late, watching sessions back and doing a lot of work which perhaps the players don’t always see.
“I think it’s really hard to establish some boundaries sometimes, when it’s something you’re passionate about. It’s not always easy to draw a line and turn off and reboot.
“We talk a lot about athlete-centred, player-centred coaching, which is 100% what I’d advocate, but that maybe should start with being coach-centred first.
“If our players were staying up until 1am the night before a game, watching match footage, we’d probably say get to bed. How often do we apply those same rules to ourselves?”
SCW: A big focus of your work is individual development plans (IDPs) for coaches. Why is it so important for coaches to have some sort of development plan?
TH: “I think if you don’t have an IDP, there’s some risks. You might stand still or end up in a bit of an echo chamber, talking to people who think the same as you.
“Having an IDP can be really useful for coaches to be quite specific about things they’re working on. It helps you feel like you’re moving forwards – you can really master your skills as a coach if you’re clear about things you’re wanting to get better at.
“I went years without an IDP on my journey but set them for players all the time. Coaches help players work out what they’re working on, but aren’t thinking about it for themselves.
“An IDP doesn’t have to be a huge Word or Excel document with lots of boxes to fill in. And it’s certainly not something that is set in stone.
“It is something that ideally is a document that is lived and is useful and valuable to your practice. If it’s not, and you have to keep looking at it to remember what’s on it, then it’s probably not the right information for you.
“How you work on it will probably be quite different for different people. But the value is huge, because it just helps you plot a course. And even if it has some fuzzy goals at the end of it, it sends you in a direction that’s going to keep you curious and learning along the way.”
SCW: Are you saying it should be tailored to individual goals and individual journeys?
TH: “An IDP could be whatever you want it to be. I’ve seen lots [of difference] in terms of format, the way it looks, content and the way people use them.
“But as a coach developer, it’s not for me to tell the coach all the things they need to be working on, because if I set tasks for them, they’ve got no ownership about that.
“The coach has got to own it. It’s got to be about their passions, their interests and the route they want to go on.
“Think about the stuff you’d like to get better at but perhaps ask some people around you what they think too. Because then you’re gaining a different set of perspectives, from those who see your coaching in a different way.
“If our players were up ’til 1am watching match footage, we’d say get to bed…”
“It could be one of your co-coaches or you might ask players ‘what could I do to be a better coach for you?’. Let’s face it, if you’re working with children, sometimes they can be brutally honest. I bet if you ask them, they’ll tell you precisely the thing you could be better at. It’s a bit of a risk to ask them, but it’s worth it.
“Depending on the environment you’re working in, it could be the head of coaching or it could be parents. There’s lots of people you could ask who could inform the information that goes in there.
“Maybe it’s not just about your coaching. A coach development plan can be around your life – being a better dad or mum, being really good in the day job or being able to have time to yourself. So an IDP can be a holistic, living thing, rather than something very dry and focused just around your coaching.”
SCW: What’s the one piece of advice you would give a new coach unsure what step to take next?
TH: “Be brave and try something you’ve not tried before. Coaches having the permission to try something new each week and not worrying if it works or not, is big.
“If coaches don’t do that, they become quite stuck and then it’s hard to move on and try new stuff. So feeling like they’ve got the freedom to to be themselves in practice and to play around with a few things is massive.
“It’s about being the best coach only you can be and take lots of confidence in the fact that if, you’ve just started, you’ve got loads to offer.”
“Just because people are Uefa A license coaches, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are awesome with the under-10s…”
HEAR THE FULL-LENGTH INTERVIEW WITH TOM, INCLUDING HIS THOUGHTS ON DOMAIN-SPECIFIC EXPERTISE IN YOUTH SOCCER COACHING, ON OUR PODCAST — CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD