Toni at the track in the rain

Wet and Windy

Toni’s been getting back on it this week. In the UK the Olympics and other summer sports are rapidly sliding off the sports pages as football (soccer for you U.S. readers) resumes its usual domination. Toni and I are happy to be swept along. We’re discussing coaches in football, more specifically the foreign coach. I’m fascinated by the amount of column inches and airtime dedicated, not to players or teams, but to head coaches. The role of the coach is a topic we’ve visited many times in our conversations and I wonder aloud if things might be about to change,

“Maybe we’re finally seeing the rise of the coach in the UK?”

“Very different styles but what links them is that they are all remarkable students of their sport and of people”

“Although they’re not actually from the UK….”

Coaches

“Take a look around at our other sports, Rugby and Cricket with Trevor Bayliss and Eddie Jones from Australia…”

“Wayne Bennet in Rugby League…”

“And do you know how many UK coaches delivered a track and field medal at the Olympics this time round?”

I play along (of course), “Let me guess. One? Toni Minichiello?”

“Correct. But we do have Sam Allardyce in football”

“Sam and Toni. Last of a dying breed. I find it shocking that we’re not producing more home grown coaching talent. We’d better get some DNA from you two”.

As I reflect on the situation, my humour slips away, “Or we need to make some serious changes to the way we look at coaching in this country?”

The stage now well and truly belongs to Toni,

“I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding between what coaching is and what a Coach is, specifically and elite Coach”.

“Go on”.

“The role of a coach is to add value. The key is understanding what value means”.

“I guess it means different things at different levels? Pep Guardiola’s answer is probably going to be different than someone working with a young Heptathlete”.

“A coach needs the ability to identify where their individual or team is and what support they require in the context of their ability and aspirations. Coaching exists on a spectrum”, he pauses, gathering his thoughts, “at one end of that spectrum you’ve got instructional, right the way through to enabling. Instructional is all about teaching and delivering basic skills and movement. Enabling is, well, just that.

As a coach you then need the self-awareness, skills and knowledge to know how to respond. In effect you need be able to slide up and down the spectrum. When you’re able to do both of these things effectively and that takes time, then I believe you’ve earned the right to be called an elite Coach”.

‘Whilst all the time seeking to improve yourself?”

‘Of course”.

Toni and Jo

Toni and Jo

“It sounds like you need to be a person for all seasons. That’s a lot of knowledge coupled with a whole range of other skills?”

‘David Priestley at Arsenal talks about this. You should never separate out the craft from the theory. You absolutely have to have the academic underpinning but without the ability to connect and work with people it’s worse than useless.

Fundamental to effective coaching is relationships, it’s people. But you also need to understand and manage environments, draw on and direct the knowledge of a range of specialists and drive process”.

“So, there’s coaches and then there’s coaches?”

“You can be a hugely effective at a given point on the spectrum and that can be invaluable for the right athlete at the right stage of their development”.

“Like teaching kids the basics?”

“Yes. But that shouldn’t be confused with someone who is able to move up and down the spectrum in relation to the varying needs of an athlete or team. With Jess I might need to move across the entire spectrum in one competition dependent on the discipline and how she is performing and feeling”.

Having witnessed Toni at work it doesn’t end there. It’s hard to think of a role that is much more multi-faceted than that of an elite coach.

“So how do we address the current shortfall at the highest level?”

“We need to start over with coach education and coach application. Be braver, be more creative. Stop relying too much on numbers and statistics. Be more expansive, lose our straight jackets”.

“Maybe one for another blog?”

“Agreed”.

For now Toni is back coaching and sitting down with various members of the team to review the summer and work out what the next year holds. Don’t worry, when the time is right the low down on Jess’ decision from Toni’s perspective will appear here first.

Toni and Andy Masiter

Toni with Andy Masiter from Adidas

The week also includes more media, sponsor, governing body and agent meetings. Plus there is a raft of emails from August that need answering – mainly from athletes, or parents of athletes, that would like to be coached by Toni. Things are almost back to, err, normal.

“You’re turning into coaching’s Renaissance man”

“Is that a compliment?”

“It is”.

“Then I’ll take it. Cheers”.