Diving headfirst into the world of football (soccer) management

Since March, a few of my students, who are part of the men’s soccer team at my university, have been asking me to help out with the team.  With (over)workload, it is a daunting task to take on coaching the university team, but I love the beautiful game.  If the young men on the soccer team are able to learn a few things from me, I am more than happy to lend a helping hand.  Also, a soccer team needs a head coach; at the moment, the captain of the team is running things without guidance.

So, I went to the game today thinking I would just be a passive spectator and observe the team’s current system and also each player’s attributes.  However, as many of you know, I am not one to just standby and watch the proceedings unfold.

During the warmup, I watched each player: if they were professional in warming up, how they communicate with their teammates, how high their concentration levels were, if they were nervous, their technical ability, their physical ability, their mental ability.  I did my best to gain as much information as I could on each player so I could analyze their play to the most of my ability.

Not only this, but I did my homework about our university’s soccer team.  I also made a scouting report about our opponent for today’s match.  My scouting report was spot on and I gave advice to certain players about how to cope with the opponent’s offensive firepower.  However, because this was my first day (a match day nonetheless), I did not have time to build a deep trust-relationship with those players whom I met for the first time today. I knew 3 players on the roster.

From my preparation, I knew our team’s formation, strengths, and weaknesses.  However, seeing is believing, so I did not give detailed tactical instructions because I wanted to see if their system was effective.  To be quite honest, the team needs much improvement.  If this was not the case, they would not need my guidance.

It was apparent that our team could not cope with the other team’s short-short-long strategy.  The defensive line dropped back too deep, and this invited the other team to attack our goal from dangerous areas early on.  As a result, the other team opened up the scoring within the first 5 minutes.  At this point, I ended my analysis session and started barking out instructions: keep a high defensive line, have wide midfielders spread the field before cutting inside to combine with the lone striker, have the center midfielders hold their positions centrally instead of roaming randomly on the pitch to find passes.

Unfortunately, these players were so caught up in their old system that my words had no meaning to them in the 1st half.  The defensive line continued to drop back too deep, wide players continued to make the field of play to narrow by slotting into the center of the pitch, and center midfielders roamed away from their positions.  A systematic breakdown to say the least.

Halftime could not come early enough, and when it did, I called over a few players and gave them my ideas.  With the captain still calling the shots, I had no idea whether or not they would actually come off the bench in the second half, but from my scouting reports, these players always came off the bench after the 60th minute mark.  My scouting report was on point, and these players did come on the pitch.  However, by the time they came on the pitch, our team was already down 2-0.  No problem, I thought.  With players who I already know on the field, they relayed my messages to teammates and did their best to carry out my instructions.

After these key substitutions, our team was able to create a few scoring opportunities, but were not able to convert.  The game ended with the score at 0-2.  Good game to the opponent.  For us, a lot for the team to reflect on.

In my opinion, the captain of the team is taking on too much responsibility: tactics, starting line-ups, substitutions.  These are things a manager, head coach, should take care of.  Through my eyes, the captain is creating a system to be competitive, but also to prevent the team from losing, not to have the team win matches.  Creating tactics for preventing one’s team from losing and giving your team a chance to win are completely different concepts.

If a team is afraid of losing, they will look to kill certain individuals’ strengths and play within themselves.  Teams hardly win with this mentality, and our team currently has this mentality.  This must be changed. These players have great potential and also have solid individual skill; it’s a waste to play within mental limitations.  Therefore, certain tactical adjustments to the formation and individual-position instructions would not only make things easier for the players, but also give them more opportunities to play to their strengths.

I am sunburnt and exhausted from lack of sleep, but it feels good to do what I love.

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