The Life Of A Football Coach

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 14th Jan 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

I recently had the priviledge to be a part of a coaching team with the aim of finding out how things work. This is my story.

"A monkey could coach that team to the title" - A drunk fan in a pub

The road to being a footballer is easy; work hard and if you are good enough, you’ll eventually get to the big time where the money and fame awaits.

Coaching, not so much.

The pay isn’t nearly as good as footballers, climbing the ranks is harder, getting the qualifications is no easy task and the threat of the sack is ever present. Who wants to live through all that?

Curious to find this out, I (alongside a couple of others) volunteered to be assistants to the coaching staff of a local team campaigning in the provincial league. I spent a month alongside the teams’ technical staff helping them with various tasks such as coaching drills, working on game plans. Within this time, I also got to interact with an assortment of coaches, players, staff and I can safely say it was one of the most rewarding experiences I got to take part in as it really opened my eyes to how match preparations and coaching really works.

Most of us have hobbies that we are passionate about and like to dream that with enough commitment, dedication and drive, we’d get to a point where we can turn our hobby into a career. However, things rarely turn out that way and sports management is no different. Waiting for opportunities to become a coach can be a huge test of patience and more often than not, it takes luck and opportunity for things to work out.

You could have a vast tactical knowledge or be qualified for any coaching job in the world but unless you are well connected, chances are high that you’ll be slumming it out for a while, which is something a lot of folks can’t afford. Through this volunteer opportunity, I had the fortune of meeting many coaches within the National First Division and Vodacom Leagues and despite their unified love for football, they all shared one sentiment…

Dreams don’t put food on the table.

Yes, coaches do get paid handsomely by their clubs but this is partly helped by the financial backing premier clubs are given through broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and the club grant the local Football Association hands out.

Unfortunately, that’s only for the top levels in South African football. The guys that I spent time with were fighting it out in the second and third tier of professional football in the country. They barely receive any grant money, let alone television money to help with the day to day costs of running the club. When it comes to sponsorship deals, most teams below the Premier League don’t actually have any. In fact, any money the club receives (such as advancing in competitions and player transfers) goes straight to the administration costs.

Getting coaching badges is another obstacle in South Africa. The licenses themselves aren’t that hard to get but it can take a while and coupled with the expenses you can potentially run up, that ultimately puts people off from coaching. Because of this, there is a serious lack of new coaches in South African football.

Ever wonder why the same faces are always being hired?

But to be fair to club owners, there’s just so much money at stake that clubs can easily suffer if they make an appointment that sets them back. Just imagine you are an owner of a club in a lucrative league but find yourselves facing the danger of relegation. Would you go for the young, unproven up and comer who’s got fresh ideas but needs time implementing them or do you go for the guy who gets the job done despite his outdated philosophies?

To add on, a lot of us fans see a team going through a bad run of form and (rightly or wrongly) think the manager is useless. Some would even go so far as to claim they could coach the team better than the manager (which the South African FA ingeniously took advantage of by creating a friendly cup match between the countries two biggest teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates) but having seeing first-hand how coaching works, I can confidently say that shit is harder than it looks.

This isn’t FIFA where you pick a formation, buy the best players and get on with it. Preparation and luck play a huge role in football. As earlier said, a person could have the best tactics, game theory or philosophy but if the players aren’t ideal to his plans, there’s only so much a coach can do. In terms of the day to day coaching, the emphasis of practices is placed on drills based on the upcoming match. This usually means watching the opposition’s previous matches and analyzing things leading up to key moments such as goals being scored or conceded. If you are a serious football nerd (such as myself), it’s just about the coolest thing you can do but at the same time, it can be quite a tedious task because depending on how thorough the team is planning its analysis, you’d either be watching one match or watching a couple of their previous matches to analyze everything from buildup play to how each individual player positions themselves during a phase in the match to catch a flaw in their game. Once such things are found, the coaching staff has to create training drills to exploit said flaws and on top of that, have to create individual training plans for the players. You’d think that’s the end of it but there’s still the matter of converting all that raw data into clear, presentable information so that the players can understand the game plan and that can take a bit since the players aren’t expected to be tactically knowledgeable.

The proof of all this is present in every match you see. Teams all play in a different manner to capitalize on the oppositions mistakes and while the players and manager might not want to play in a specific manner, they understand they need to be practical about things.

As one manager put it:
“Rather lose by one goal while being defensive than being thrashed by six trying to play attractive football. That goal difference could be crucial come the end of the season”.

Even then, there is no guarantee that things will turn out well. Whether it is a wild swing of the foot that turns to a goal or a mistake by the goalkeeper to concede, a random moment of fortune/misfortune could change everything.

The team I was helping on had meticulous training and an in depth game plan but in the end, despite dominating possession and creating twice as many chances, we drew one all.

If it’s not your day, it’s not your day.

Above all else and arguably most importantly, I learnt that the most important trait to have as a coach is the ability to multitask. The coach has to be an able tactician, a motivator, a negotiator, a PR Manager, a scout, an agent, a friend and mentor all whilst dealing with fan pressure and meeting expectations.

But it should be a cakewalk. After all, coaching is easy.



Coaching, Football, Football Soccer, Personal Experience, Soccer

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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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