Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

2 Comparing top coaches

Those coaching international teams will be more successful if they can support athletes in meeting their needs, such as those described previously. Good coaches are also likely to be consistent, as their work is underpinned by a clear set of beliefs and values and what some might call a ‘coaching philosophy’. You start your comparison by looking at two coaches working in the most popular team sport in the world, football.

Activity 2 Pia Sundhage (Team USA and Sweden)

Allow about 30 minutes

First listen to some fascinating insights from Pia Sundhage. Sundhage is one of the world’s top women’s football coaches, having led Team USA to two consecutive Olympic gold medals. She then coached the team of her own nation of birth, Sweden, to a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

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Transcript: Interview with Pia Sundhage

Jane Garvey
This is Jane Garvey, and this is the BBC World Service.  We’re in conversation with Pia Sundhage, who is the coach of the Swedish women’s football team.  Pia, you’ve had a hugely successful career, you’ve played for Sweden, you’ve coached all over the world.  Your biggest job - I know that Sweden’s a big job for you now - but your biggest job in the past that people will know you from is when you were coach of the American football team, USA.  And you joined the team at a particularly interesting, some would say challenging, time. This was 2007.
Pia Sundhage
December.
Jane Garvey
Describe the atmosphere in that USA team at the time.
Pia Sundhage
I felt that they were disappointed, the fact that they did not win the World Cup 2007.  So they wanted a change, and that is important. They wanted a change and I was the change.  The fact that they pick a Swedish coach, a foreign coach, was huge.
Jane Garvey
You did have to make some tough decisions about players didn’t you, the goal keeper in particular, is that right?
Pia Sundhage
The story is 2007 many things happened with the team.  They won the bronze medal, but the goalkeeper was excluded.  She said different things, and she hurt the team … some say.  What I did, when I came, and she was the best goalkeeper.  So here we have Hope Solo, the best goalkeeper in the world, and I listened to five different stories what actually happened, that was the first thing I did.  I said, ‘tell me what happened’ so I at least understand how serious it was.  And I get five different stories, from players, from the general manager, from the press officer, from the ex-coach, from myself.  And I thought, ‘okay, so what am I going to do?’  So I had some of the players coming in and we’d talk about the situation.  I said ‘I don’t expect you to forget, so many things happened, but I expect you to forgive and move on.  Because if, do you want to win, I want to win, do you want to win?’ [they said] ‘Yeah, I want to win.’ [I said] ‘Okay, in order to win, you have to trust me, we need goalkeepers, not only one or two, and right now Hope Solo probably is or will become the best goalkeeper in the world.’ So I sorted that out, I listened and I talked about it out loud, like this, ‘so this is what I want us to do’, and I gave them time to think about it.
Jane Garvey
And how quickly did they move on?
Pia Sundhage
Quickly.  I'm really proud.  They did such a good, a good job.  The whole atmosphere, after a while, and we had a lot of camps, and I think it was a smart move by US soccer.  They were brave enough to pick a coach from Sweden, but a smart move to change   and I started with fresh eyes and a little bit new coaching style. And I told them over and over again, ‘so whatever happened 2007, if we can forgive, if you can forgive, then we will have a bright future.’  So I talked about it in different angles, and I gave it time, I took time to show them respect.  It’s not the well we’ll just have to move on, like left it; I ran and listened quite a bit.
Jane Garvey
Now you have this phrase, coach healthy, don’t you, which means what?
Pia Sundhage
Well instead of trying to fix every mistake, I do the opposite.  So the way it works, we have a video clip and we show them, they have comments, and I ask them ‘what do you see, what is good, could it be better’, and let them talk as much as possible. So coaching the healthy part.  So let’s say she has two good crosses, but we want, well the game planning she has at least five or seven, we say ‘well you should do more of this’, just double it, instead of looking at a cross where it didn’t go well. When I analyse the game with the coaches, we look at mistakes of course, but analysing’s one thing, coaching is another thing.  So in order, we have analysed that, we don’t have that many crosses on the right side, then what? And then we show the right back ‘this is what we want’. But maybe she’s not playing the next game because she had only two crosses.  So I think it’s important to recognise analysing this is what we need to do the next game, but coaching well you know, you're almost there.  It’s okay to make a mistake. And what I do know is there are three things that motivate players.  One is if you win.  The other thing is to be around the certain environment.  You want to be in the team and belong here.  And the third thing is the fact that you improve.  So if I can inspire her to grab that, well you know what, I can do this as well, I can add something to my game, that is my job.
Jane Garvey
Can you give me an example of bad coaching that you had when you were a player?
Pia Sundhage
When I was not inspired and I was threatened or I was annoyed or I was, I can't find the right English words, but, I didn’t like the situation, is somebody saying ‘well I'm the coach, you're going to do what I'm telling you.’  I have a hard time with that kind of coaching, because I thought I had so many things to say as a player, and we had the same goal, we want to improve football.  But he was just telling me ‘no, your thoughts are not good enough’, and he didn’t know what I was thinking.
Jane Garvey
How, when you take over a team, Pia, do you establish the shared goals of the team?  And presumably you’ve got to do it really quickly.
Pia Sundhage
Well you started off with a goal, and then it’s so important to get to know the team.  So it’s not that I'm just picking the goal, ‘there we go’, we need to do it together.  And there are certain things that it’s important, like I do have my philosophy, and I have the power to decide the journey to that goal.  That’s the beauty of, to be a leader.
Jane Garvey
And what if a player challenges you, how do you deal with that?
Pia Sundhage
My job is to make sure that she respects the team goal, so to speak, or my leadership, and it’s [an] ongoing discussion.  It’s ongoing, looking at situations where are we actually doing what we’re saying, is that in a room or out on the field, it’s so important to be almost like a mirror.  So we have decided this, are you acting like we decided?
Jane Garvey
Presumably there’s always going to be a certain amount of conflict within teams and in dressing rooms.  Is it possible to avoid it, or is that crazy?
Pia Sundhage
I think it’s possible to avoid it.  But it’s important to understand the role.  I’ll give an example, if we have a team and you're centre-mid[field], and you have to understand the role but also accept the role, and respect the role.
Jane Garvey
What about when you worked in China, which was before you did the American job?  What was the atmosphere around the game like there?
Pia Sundhage
It was more complicated because I don’t speak Chinese, and it’s a little bit … I felt they took orders more so than if you say, you want them to go from A to B and then to C, well they went A to B, ‘here I am, okay’, ‘well you're supposed to go to C’, ‘yeah’, they'd just wait for orders a little bit, I thought.  We wanted to create a little bit of a chaos, you know, take the initiative, ‘it’s your game’, and I think we succeeded a little bit but not, well, we didn’t play the finals, I don’t think we were that successful.
Jane Garvey
I imagine is one of many reasons why you're such a good coach, because you really do know what it’s like.
Pia Sundhage
Well I know how I felt, and I really try to understand how it feels out there when I'm coaching.  Because it’s one thing to coach a game, watch a game, compared to actually playing it.  So that’s why, I think that’s one of the reasons why I've become a better listener, and trying to understand what they're actually saying.  It’s not that when we have pregame talks, for instance, or we analyse the games, it’s not that ‘this is what we see’, yes, that’s part of it, but ‘how does it feel?’
End transcript: Interview with Pia Sundhage
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Interview with Pia Sundhage
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

She talks about how she managed the severe discord in the US team when she took over and the way she develops and uses ‘team goals’. Note, that when she mentions ‘the role’ and respect for it, she is talking about individual roles as part of the team jigsaw.

If you had to describe the characteristics of her approach to coaching, how would you do this? Your summary of her approach will be invaluable when you come to compare it to other coaches in a moment. You may find the transcript (under the audio’s play-bar) useful.

Discussion

Listening and open communication, which together lead towards trust, might be one way of summarising part of her philosophy. She also talked about how shared team goals need to be discussed and often act as a reference point. When talking about her ‘coach healthy’ approach, it seemed to be mainly about inspiring players to reach towards being better rather than overemphasis on what mistakes they made. The research evidence supports her observation that creating an environment that players want to belong to, and one in which everyone can improve, is a valuable approach

Now that you have some insight into Pia’s coaching, let’s start to compare this with another top football coach, Jürgen Klinsmann.

Activity 3 Jürgen Klinsmann (Germany and USA)

Allow about 20 minutes

Listen to a short clip from Jürgen Klinsmann (coach for Germany and the USA at successive World Cups).

Download this audio clip.
Skip transcript: Interview with Jürgen Klinsmann

Transcript: Interview with Jürgen Klinsmann

Peter Bowes
And you mentioned the word tone, how do you adopt the right tone with players? You are a very, I can detect a very easy going guy and coaches sometimes are actually not that easy going, they’re quite aggressive, and some teams I suspect there is a certain element of fear between the players and the coach; what is your attitude?
Jurgen Klinsmann
I think there you need to turn it around, because I don’t believe in that the coach has to have the right tone, but I try, if a player really understands that he is in the driver’s seat, he is the decision maker on the field, because football is players driven, they make the decisions on the field. Yes, you will put the 11 on the field but then the game goes and it’s them.
It’s very opposite to the other American sports, baseball, football, even basketball you can call time out and you have always stops and you can explain things, and football is the very, very opposite of it because it’s inner driven, it’s the athlete that makes the call, that makes the decision. I think over time a real big player learns to take the coach’s messages the right way, learns to read the messages, learns to take it for him in order to improve, because you have, let’s say, 20, 25 players on a roster and there is no coach in the world that has the right tone for every one of those 25, it doesn’t exist.
So I think it’s much easier to say, you 25 players need to figure out a way to take those messages from the coach, if it’s now a stronger voice, a more aggressive voice, a calmer voice, whatever it is, and pick out those things that are good for you. Then I think you will grow as a player. I don’t think somebody, a coach makes Messi or Ronaldo or Steven Gerrard. Those went through x amount of coaches throughout their career and I had about 16, 18 of those, and every one taught me something, told me something, but there was no perfect one, so the tone has to be found actually by the player and not given by the coach, because you are not making it right for 25 altogether.
Peter Bowes
And when there is conflict within a team how does that affect the individuals?
Jurgen Klinsmann
Oh, it affects everybody, so there are two ways. The best way is to solve the conflict, you know, to talk it through, to work it out, and to create even more positive energy out of that conflict. That is the ideal scenario. When you over time, and that’s just my personal experience, see that we are not solving this issue, it’s too deep, it’s too personal, it’s too distracting, you as a manager then have to make the decision to let one of those two go.
End transcript: Interview with Jürgen Klinsmann
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Interview with Jürgen Klinsmann
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Klinsmann makes comparisons between football and American team sports such as baseball, basketball and the NFL. Interestingly, like Sundhage, he also mentions conflicts within teams.

What similarities and differences can you detect in his approach compared to Sundhage’s?

Discussion

Klinsmann makes some interesting observations about players being the main decision makers on the pitch and that coaches in football have limited opportunities to direct play, which contrasts with the American team sports that have numerous time-outs. So, one key similarity is that both Klinsmann and Sundhage are trying to encourage players to take responsibility on the field, which is supported by academic research. They also want players to take responsibility for their own learning and improvement.

Klinsmann describes how there is no perfect coaching tone or approach since every coach and player is different. Like Sundhage, he talks about trying resolve conflict through talking, but he also mentions the situation of sometimes using the ultimate sanction of removing one party from a group if a conflict is too deep-seated.

In neither of these interviews did these coaches present themselves as a coach who directs and tells players what they should do. They suggested that they guide the group of players and try to create a team environment that encourages self-motivation and responsibility to keep on learning.

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