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Putting your players’ opinons into practice
In a 15-year career to date, Ash Civil has coached in more than 10 different countries.
Uefa A qualified, Ash made the decision at an early age to coach internationally in order to stand out from the crowd.
Currently, he is head coach at Tampereen Pallo-Veikot, a third-tier club in Finland, where he also works alongside the director of coaching and sporting director to develop talent pathways to the first team.
SCW caught up with Ash to talk about the soccer culture in Finland, coaching in extreme weather conditions and the importance of letting players have a say in what their sessions look like…
SCW: What was it that made you want to coach in different places around the globe?
AC: “When I first started coaching, a lot of other people wanted to get into coaching.
“I saw there were a lot of other coaches in England and thought a good way to step away from the crowd would be to travel and coach in other countries.
“That was when I was 20 or 21. I didn’t work in Europe until I was 29, so it was a long journey to get to where I wanted, but it was always in my mind.”
SCW: What does the game look like in Finland? What are the players used to from coaches?
AC: “A lot of teams want to play out from the back because of the 3G pitches.
“Players might not necessarily be best prepared for it, but they will try it. The flip side of that is there is maybe not the understanding of when and where to do that.
“I’d say physicality is still quite key in terms of recruitment and talent ID. A lot of coaches would pick out the physically developed players as the best players. We’re a little bit different, but some heavily rely on it.
“There is a bit of an evolution right now – the national team’s improving and the youth national teams are really doing well. But there is still a little bit of an old school culture with physicality and maybe results-driven is linked into that.”
SCW: What are you bringing as a coach that is different to that?
AC: “I’m using a lot of question and answer – I don’t want to say giving players ownership, but speaking to the players.
“Finns don’t really like small talk, but I’m probably having three, four, five or six conversations with players before training.
“We’ve been working on making positivity louder – it’s not the way it’s done here…”
“I’m asking them: ‘How was school? How was work? How’s your girlfriend?’, all these little questions that maybe surprise them sometimes and maybe annoy them sometimes. I would say that’s quite different.
“One of our values we’ve been working on is making positivity louder. It’s ‘ilon kautta’ in Finnish. It means ‘through joy’, so trying to be quite positive.
“That’s not me saying Finns aren’t positive – Finland’s the number one happiest country in the world – but shouting about it is not really the way it’s done here.
“So me being a little bit louder, a little bit jollier and asking all these questions is quite different for the guys.”
SCW: Are you trying to build a squad where there’s a lot of room for mistakes, learning and development?
AC: “With the first team at the minute, we’re in a league where we’re expected to win. So we’ve already been speaking a lot about the pressure of that.
“That pressure is sometimes a privilege, but there’s going to be these mistakes, moments in the games where we’re maybe not at our best, or another team scores.
“We’ve been talking about those because I know, in that moment, I might not be able to be the calm head that organises it and I can’t really affect too much on the sidelines.
“We’re trying to drip feed that understanding into the players so they can take the reins a little bit and hopefully put into play some of the things we’ve spoken about.
“It’s quite a long process, but I think what’s quite different is that we are speaking about those things. I know a few players think it’s different that we’re addressing it and I’m asking their opinion on what they think we should do.”
SCW: Do you have any tips for coaching in extreme weather or difficult conditions?
AC: “A good friend of mine, Tom Dent, has been coaching in Norway for a long time so he gave me some of these tips.
“Wool socks are key. If you’ve got a good pair of wool socks, your feet will be okay – and, if you can, have waterproof shoes.
“I’ve tried to mainly coach in boots still, but there are some times where you have to wear proper winter boots to coach in.
“They all do it easily, whereas I want to still wear my boots. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes not.
“Then [it’s about] as many layers as you can: Under Armour, second jumpers, snoods, hats, good gloves – especially in those conditions, as you’re probably stood around more.
“Secondly, forget about the coaching a little bit. Remember it’s freezing – just let them play. Do anything you can that’s going to be fun and high intensity.
“I had a session once where I had more players and wanted to play with bouncers on the outside and have three teams. One of the players said ‘we’ve got this many players, why don’t we just play a big game and everyone’s playing?’.
“I was like ‘Yeah, you’re right. I’m an idiot. Why have I got eight players on the outside as bouncers when that’s eight players that are going to be cold and miserable waiting for their turn to play?’. So that was a big learning [moment] for me.”
SCW: You’re talking about incorporating what players want into your sessions. Do you think it’s really important for coaches to really work with our players to figure out what they want from what we’re doing?
AC: “I think a little bit too much about what the players want. But I’m getting a better balance with it.
“In my role now, I work with the director of coaching, I work with the under-20s and I work with the under-17s and I’m always pushing to just make it simpler.
“Why are we doing a very complicated session when the guys, especially at the level we’re at, are either coming from school or coming from work?
“A good pair of wool socks are key. Then it’s about as many layers as you can…”
“What do they want to do at training? They want to play. They don’t want to run, they don’t want to do all these other things. Yes, they’re important. Yes, they should be incorporated. But at the end of the day, they want to play.
“When I was in Iceland, I spoke with the captain. He would probably agree we had an on-off relationship. Sometimes we were great, sometimes we would argue.
“I asked for some advice: what did he think was good? What did he think could be better?
“That was one of the things he spoke to me about: ‘sometimes we just want to play a game. It doesn’t need rules, it doesn’t need overcomplicating, we just want to play what we think is a game’.
“I know, obviously, there are other things we can say are ‘a game’, but the players want to see it as ‘their game’. So I try and do that as much as possible.
“Today, we’ve got a training session. it’s the day before a game and we’ll end with some small games today. They won’t be as long as the players want but the whole point is I know they’ll enjoy training if we have that.
“It might be a little bit too high load for them today, but the trade off for me is I’d rather them enjoy that and then they’ll be buzzing for tomorrow, rather than us make it a very short, more methodological session and then be a bit bored, a bit cold and not so happy at the end of it.”
“You have to adapt to a country because the personalities are so different. There’s subtle cultural things you have to get used to…”
HEAR THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH ASH, INCLUDING HOW A NATION’S CULTURE LINKS IN WITH THEIR SOCCER AND THE MENTALITY OF THE PLAYERS, ON OUR PODCAST – CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD