The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ of soccer coaching

Interpersonal communication is the skill of having a dialogue with others.

The effective coach is one who can intentionally help players reflect on their performance, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and plan for improvement.

To lead reflective conversations through effective coaching behaviours is an ongoing process of reflection, action and assessment. The goal is to gain ever-increasing insight into the best practices of oneself and others.


To gain proficiency in interpersonal communication begins with posing oneself some questions:

Who are we coaching? – Players’ needs and wants.

How are we coaching? – Training structure and coaching behaviour.

What are we coaching? – Technique, tactics, roles and responsibilities

(Adapted from Abraham and Collins 2011, and Muir et al. 2011)

Coaches must be adaptable when it comes to planning practice sessions, particularly if down on numbers or limited on space

Most coaches at the beginning of their career work from a “push” model of coaching, highlighted by a lot of instruction and the imposition of goals. Assessment, feedback, guidance and the giving of suggestions from the coach support this.

Being in the “push” space as a coach is not in and of itself good or bad. It certainly gives players structure and potential value.

However, it does limit the engagement of the player and may not require them to develop their reasoning and problem-solving skills.

As the coach gains experience and becomes increasingly intentional in their delivery, a “pull” coaching method may be added to the “push”.

A “pull” method centres on asking questions to raise awareness, generating player feedback and the encouragement of goal-setting. The effective coach in the “pull” space can then summarize, empathize, reflect and listen for understanding.

In short, “push” is directive and coach- centric; “pull” is non-directive and player centred.

(Adapted from Myles Downey, Effective Coaching, 2003)


In my opinion, a coach cannot operate exclusively in one mode of either “push” or “pull”. At times, a coach must instruct, demand and insist – at other times they must empower, engage and release the potential of their players. The effective coach is one who is intentional and able to deliver content in a variety of ways.

When the coach asks open-ended questions, players must find an answer – potentially increasing their knowledge and understanding. Good questioning challenges players to think and take ownership of their performance.


“‘Push’ is directive and coach-centric; ‘Pull’ is non-directive and player centred…”


For the majority of players, this opportunity can be very motivating. Through the act of finding solutions for themselves, understanding and retention of knowledge is more likely than through direct instruction.

Using questions to facilitate learning benefits both coach and player. For the coach, there is clarification and checks for understanding, they learn about the players and at the same time build a greater rapport with them.

Players are encouraged to participate in their learning, develop critical-thinking skills and build confidence. The win-win is powerful.

To begin to plan for how you introduce more interpersonal communication in your sessions here as some suggestions:

Avoid starting questions with: “Is…?”, “Will…?, “Do…?”, “Have…?”, “Won’t…?, “Should…?”, and “Don’t…?”.

Instead, choose starter words such as: “What…?”, “How…?”, “When…?”, “Tell me…”, “Show me…”, “Talk to me…” and “Talk me through…”.

By getting players to reflect, the coach develops connection and supports the player in applying their technique and tactics.

Consider the quote: “You may communicate without motivating, but you cannot motivate with communicating.”

I firmly believe engaging players in the coaching and learning process is the way of the effective and modern coach.

(With thanks to Sarah McQuade,, for her contributions to this article)

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