Developing a Strong Philosophy of Coaching

Justin Merritt – Managing Director Ignite Sport UK, Manager Oxford City FC
May 2015

Whether you are coaching in grassroots sport, schools, academies, or with elite level performers, it is important to develop a philosophy as a coach to provide a framework for your coaching practice.

The philosophy you adopt may be influenced from the club or organisation you are coaching for and it is important to understand their aims and objectives also, but at the same time to be your own person.

In developing your philosophy you may wish to consider both intrinsic and extrinsic factors; some examples are outlined below:

Intrinsic Factors

Extrinsic Factors

Values & ethics

Influence from other coaches

Personal experiences

Club or organisation policy

Beliefs & ideas

Parent/player feedback

Personal qualities

Positive role models in sport


Coaching environment

Coaches often concern themselves with how to structure their sessions and what activities to use before anything else, which of course is important.  When developing a strong philosophy, I believe it is essential to look deeper into the “why” of coaching and not just the “how”.  If coaches can understand why they are using particular methods or activities, the experience the participants receive will be greatly increased.

A philosophy shouldn’t be just a list of rules handed out to follow; it is the coaches’ opportunity to allow their personality, beliefs and ideas to connect with the players or participants.

Consider the following points:

• How do I like to be treated? Spoken to?
• Why are the players/participants in your group?
• What do the players enjoy?
• What are the aims and objectives? Developing performance, improving for competition.
• How can I connect with each individual or unit?
• The player as a person: what is going on in their life?
• How do you want participants to perceive you? Helpful? Bossy?!!! Knowledgeable?
• If your player was walking towards you in 10 years’ time, would they cross the road and put their head down or embrace you and talk about old times?
• Success: what is it and how do we measure it?
• Is it about winning now or developing?
• Technique vs. tactics
• Fun vs. information
• The Long-Term Athlete/Player Development model
• Game time vs. training time
• Player-centred vs. coach-centred
• Flow vs. intervention

The environment you work in and the ages you work with no doubt will have an effect on your ideals, but you can still have the strength of your philosophy as a base for all of your coaching.

It is my opinion there isn’t one way of coaching or one philosophy that is better than another, but it is important to have underpinning beliefs and ideas to support the activities you deliver.

My philosophy is built around being player-centred and with the focus on enjoyment and development.  I have ideas of how the game should be played and what the end product should look like but this isn’t imposed, it is discussed and adaptable.  Creating an environment where praise is used frequently and players are able to give feedback, ask questions and be involved in the sessions is important.  Allowing players to make their own decisions and learn from their choices is important to my philosophy, and not focusing on mistakes too heavily, but using these as a development tool.

Would you like being stopped and pulled up every time you made a mistake?
How does it make you feel in front of others?
Can we manage mistakes in a positive way?
How do you reward success?

Coaching is a difficult but rewarding role: being able to develop an individual to perform a task when they say, “I can’t do that”; seeing players with smiles on their faces and developing friendships; developing a tactic that the team adopts and develops.  These are all examples of success.

I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all list of what should be in your philosophy, but by considering some of these points (and there are others) it may help you become the person and the coach you want to be.

When you have thought about your personal philosophy you can use this in everything you do, and it will develop and evolve with feedback, reflection and knowledge.

A few pointers that may help in your planning…

• Plan in detail – aims objectives, activities, and key coaching points
• How does my philosophy affect this session and my performance?
• Relate activities to games
• Use different methods to give information
• Involve the participants – it is their game!
• 70% play 30% intervention
• Seek feedback throughout and after sessions
• Develop individual challenges & group challenges
• Be open-minded
• Understand how and when to progress or adapt a session
• Review and reflect

After reading this I hope you can think about what your philosophy may look like.  Perhaps try writing this down?