Let me start of by saying that as someone who has coached for 17 years, one of the many reasons why I still do it is that I believe in people. That is to say I believe that people want to be better and they want to do good. Sure, every rule has its exceptions, but, ’People want to be good and do good’ has been a primary belief that fuels my coaching methods. When I first started coaching I was a ‘Yeller and a teller’. I shouted a lot! At my players, at the referee, sometimes even God was on the receiving end! I was 17 when I started out, so suffice to say as a teenager I already knew everything! It wasn’t a great combination. Thankfully, time, failure, coach education and some great mentors all played their respective parts. Evolution took place and still continues to. After almost 10 years with the Football Association of Ireland, a referee I knew from my playing days and early coaching days, approached me before I left my role to explore the world. He thanked me for improving club, coach and player relations with referees. He said that my role as an elite coach with our player development department and as a coach educator had resulted in significant improvements on the touchline. Coaches in his view yelled at the man/woman in the middle far less than before. I was delighted to hear that feedback and diverted the credit to the many tutors I had in the past who helped me ‘see the light’.

Fast forward two years and I find myself as a head coach to a professional team in Cambodia. On my final game of last season, I was sent to the stand by the referee. We had had a long hard season which included a riot, unfortunately more common than it should be in South East Asia. The riot came out of ‘left field’, I hadn’t predicted such an event happening and therefore hadn’t put procedures in place for dealing with such an occurrence. We had also played in 6 continuous games mid-season, where even the most neutral observers had to question at least one decision that went against us. I am talking goal for, goal against or penalty decisions here. During a long off- season I found myself digging deep. I decided to work on the premise that every game we played from now on would be 12 v 11. I don’t believe that to be the case and its not in my nature to think the worst of people. However, it is my job to help my players overcome all obstacles. Me getting sent to the stand doesn’t solve anything, nor does it set the right example to my players. So we have presented a new ‘code of behaviour’ to the players. This code is designed to do 2 things. 1. Help us win games, this is what my employers pay me to do after all. 2. Help us have a ‘Next’ mind-set’.

So let me share the code with you first before elaborating on the 2 points above.

  1. Only the Captain communicates with the referee. All staff and players once the game starts can of course reply to the referee and as you would expect shake hands with the referee once the game ends. However, only the captain will be allowed to initiate dialogue with the referee. Our desire is to play the game independent of the officials and concentrate wholly on the matters we have control over.
  2. When a free kick or throw in is won, in lets say non-threatening area’s, we take it fast. If our opponent adopts the attitude of engaging with the official then we can gain a sporting advantage here.
  3. When we concede a decision, sprint into our positions to defend. Firstly, the official won’t change there mind so why waste time and energy. Secondly, we don’t have the ball so get our defensive mindset immediately. Finally, from a psychological view point, the speed of our collective response to these situations will be unifying for us and potentially have an adverse reaction within our opponent’s
  4. Thanks to a very learned friend on this platform we will adopt a simple training method to help us with point 2 and 3 above. An idea given to me by Brett Rosenberger, which he adopted, is the ‘Thank you’ rule or in Cambodia ‘Orkun’. The rule is quite simple, when your team mate makes contact with you in training or knocks you over, you must say thank you. Why? because that team-mate has reminded you to move the ball more quickly. This is important for us, if we feel, as many of our players and staff do, that we are not always protected by the referee, then let’s reduce the referees’ influence and pass before the challenge comes. Sure this is not always applicable and of course we encourage players to express themselves in 1v1 situations. Nevertheless, it feeds into our take control of the controllable context.
  5. Any breaches in discipline such as unsporting behaviour, ‘Red Cards’ or failure to abide by the rules above will result in the player/staff member delivering community programs. The amount of contact hours demanded will be equal to the crime.

We could no doubt have more rules, but we feel 5 is manageable and achievable. The ‘Next Mind- set mentioned earlier, goes beyond managing the referee and is perhaps grounds for another discussion. Simply put we do not want to waste time and energy on anything outside our control. I had a great history teacher once. if I answered a question of his with a date or an event he would always reply ‘So what?’. This probing technique forced you to add detail to your answer. The ‘next mindset’ is my ‘so what’. We concede a penalty that we feel is unjust, ‘So what’, the history books will only record the result not our sense of injustice. The ‘Next mindset’ demands that the coach has his homework done on the penalty taker, ‘whats his favourite side’? It demands that the keeper follows the mechanisms practiced in training for predicting the penalty takers desired destination for the ball. It demands that our defenders follow up a potential rebound.

In conclusion, this code is not just about results. Many of my players have kids, I have nieces and nephews who watch my team play. We would like them to learn by our example. The off-season digging deep provided some unflattering ‘home truths’ to us all on that front. Perhaps, the most beautiful gift this game gives us is the gift of ‘’Second Chances’’ and the continuous challenge to be better today than we were yesterday. Let’s see what’s ‘Next’ then.

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