‘What kind of a club are you, then?’

There is no right way. There are only decisions.

We will all, inevitably, have our own perspective on what is ‘right’ – a worldview likely to have been informed by the inherent gifts from our parents (and their parents and so on) as well as the environments and people we encounter during our life.

However, we are not ‘right’. Such absolutist beliefs create tension. Conflicting beliefs such as we either win OR we develop, we either use unopposed practice OR we learn through games, and we either tell the players what to do OR they decide for themselves are unhelpful.

These separatist views can lead to us feeling that we have to pick a ‘side’, which only serves to entrench our views and practise from a narrow perspective.

These tensions are often compounded by social pressures, generated by the perception that we are only good coaches if we win, if our teams plays ‘attractive’ football, if we can sell our value on the success of a previous player we have coached, if we wear certain kit or coach using particular equipment.

It is hard to hold the line, retain faith with and embody our development principles when other people’s often unstated bias destabilises us and our environment.

If coaches and players can agree on what is ‘right’ for their environment, it will create a harmonious culture in which the team can thrive, says Ben Bartlett


These pressures are real and can often make us question whether the decisions we make in our coaching are ‘right’.

However, if we agree on, share and own what is ‘right’ for our environment, our club, our team and the players in our care – and if we take account of what things each individual within our collective values and cares about and coherently blend it into our eco-system – then we have the opportunity to make everyone feel as if they are considered an integral, integrative being within a broader social landscape.

Why might this be important? Human beings are intrinsically driven to belong, to be part of something bigger than themselves and to draw personal value and strength from the connections that such a belonging can engender.

Human beings also purposefully value having autonomy and a sense of being understood, which support us all to feel and behave authentically.

I was fortunate to recently sit down with a semi-professional club based in the south of England.

Under the guidance of strong leadership, they are committed to developing a club where senior players, both male and female, and young players within a development pathway, are all drawn together, and recognised as contributing positively to their community while drawing personal satisfaction and enjoyment from being valued for their individual contribution.


“Human beings are intrinsically driven to belong, to be part of something bigger…”


We spent an evening discussing how the club wants to be known and the reasons – shared by the players – why they enjoy football and compete against others.

There was also talk of the ways the club can develop all this with their own individuals, articulate it more widely and provide a framework to support coaches, players, parents and club representatives to own it, enabling each individual to guide the club’s progress.

Before joining Fulham, Ben Bartlett spent 12 years at the Football Association, supporting the development and training of coaches within national teams and professional clubs

‘What kind of a club are you?’

This conversation was beautifully illustrated by a couple of the club’s coaches who had explained how two new players had recently left a rival club and begun practising and playing with them.

The coaches explained how their team had started the season well, but lost a number of recent games.

The parents of these potential new players had challenged the coaches that their team selection, coaching methods and behaviour should be modified in ways that ensured the team would win more games.

The coaches were keen to sign these new players but felt at odds with themselves having to say the ‘right’ things to endear themselves to the parents’ preferences, as they ran counter to their own intentions.

Interestingly, at one point in the conversation, the coaches – in response to these parents expressing their views – said: “yes; but we’re not that sort of club”.

The parents responded: “What kind of a club are you, then?”.

The coaches were not sure what to say. Even though they had an intrinsic sense of what was important and what they valued, these values were, perhaps, not yet agreed, shared, clearly articulated and embodied across the club.

This specific example fuelled the room of coaches to answer that exact question: “What sort of a club are you?”.

This fuel is continuing to support and guide the staff and players at the club as a coherent group to ensure that they, collectively, can agree commitments and embody those intentions in how they support the players and parents, as well as select and coach the team.


“These values were not yet agreed and clearly articulated across the club…”


This alignment of what we do as a consequence of what we commit to – with significant input from players and parents – is a critical element of enabling clubs to understand what is ‘right’ for them.

Such a framework provides some illumination of the terrain that coaches, players and parents can explore together.

This terrain is mapped with strong reference points that support everyone within the environment to understand what is important.

It also acts as a guide to enable everyone to encourage, re-enforce and support behaviours and positive action which, iteratively, contribute to learning, change and growth aligned to our intentions.

The work invested in by the particular club I worked with – and no doubt many others – can be challenging and, at times, controversial.

This is an inevitable consequence of unearthing the things that are important to people and finding some healthy reciprocity between the aspects of life and football that different people value.

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