The following is a discussion on so-called joystick coaching.
Already right there, for everyone in the soccer community here, the neurons fired and in a microsecond that equation “joystick coaching = bad”. Yeah, that one, that one became top of mind. And why wouldn’t that be the case? For years, article after article, narrative after narrative has been crafted and consumed driving that very equation home.
Joystick coaching = bad
All kinds of rationales have been crafted, and selected opinions from reputable overseas coaches or clubs – mostly taken without proper care for context – have been used to support this position.
Joystick coaching = bad.
It’s become convention and the socially acceptable position to take.
Which is unfortunate because like so much conventional thinking. It’s okay in a certain context but absolutely totally incorrect in others.
“But Gary, you wouldn’t be yelling, giving instructions to your students during a physics class, would you?”
That’s a classic one I get all the time.
Guys, what the fuck are we talking about?
An academic classroom, really? An academic classroom isn’t a team sport, guys. This analogy is absurd on its face, and it’s remarkable so many nod their heads in agreement with it.
For starters, why would I raise my voice in a classroom when everybody can hear me just fine in that environment? On a football field, outdoors, with all the ambient noise and possibly rowdy people on the sidelines, it takes something quite different to project your voice 40 to 50 meters.
But of course, since the word “yelling” carries with it such negative connotations, it makes sense for proponents of silencing coaches to frame it that way.
The analogy with the classroom is broken everywhere, not just with the yelling factor, the DB level. In a team sport, communication should be happening between players, and between coach and players, during the activity itself, it’s intrinsic to the execution of the activity. It’s a team sport guys, a team activity.
Mark the six.
Lock them in.
And on and on and on.
Guys, this is a team sport.
To silence real time communication, doesn’t just cripple team function, but also individual function and consequently individual development.
This is a team sport.
Now, sitting there with your own thoughts for extended periods of time trying to learn how to solve a math problem, a physics or chemistry problem, trying to write some computer code, or if you’re trying to craft a piece of writing, these are quite different activities. They are not team sports.
Unfortunately, I can already sense objections bubbling up in the neurons of those who have been convinced the analogy is still somehow valid.
I’m familiar with those possible objections as well. And if you’d like, feel free, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me hate mail, send me whatever you’d like, and I’ll be sure to reply.
I’m well aware of how entrenched the joystick coaching equals bad equation is in the minds of many.
But I’m not trying to change minds here. Trying to change a conclusion that has been so calcified through years of reinforcement, in one podcast episode, would be totally naive.
My hope here is to offer insight into the thinking that has been forced underground, and let coaches and actual practitioners everywhere who have been handcuffed by this environment know, you have an ally here, guys.
I fully appreciate your handicap and I fully appreciate the pressure you’re under to conform to this new dogma.
But there are a few souls out there who have openly expressed different views.
Just last week, the young 38 year old head coach of Bayern Munich, Julian Nagelsmann, made some curious statements.
Now yes, he’s coaching at the pro level, not the youth level.
And we can discuss the applicability of principles across that youth pro divide. We’ll do that another day. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting note to place here.
“Football needs to stop hiding behind tradition, and has to revolutionize itself.”
He believes that the game should look to American football and how it’s moved itself into the 21st century. He says:
“American football is much more technologically advanced than football. The quarterback has an earpiece to listen to his coach. We absolutely need something like that.”
Now many of you guys might be thinking:
“Gary, seriously, like American football? I thought you were totally against that?”
In which case I would respond, that’s not necessarily true. I’m open to all kinds of things. They just have to make sense. And in any case, listen to this episode, I’ll be chiming in on his comments.
But let me say a couple of things first, he believes that giving footballers ear pieces would be extremely beneficial to the game.
“As a football coach, you can achieve a great deal with something like that.”
Of course here he’s talking about the earpieces, guys.
The Bayern Munich coach also believes that there’s far too much noise in stadiums to communicate properly with the players and complains that there are no time-outs like in American football.
Now guys, that timeout thing, that timeout comment, that’s a different story with me, okay?
“We only have half time to talk about tactics with the players “
Julian, I feel you brother. And now it’s my time to lament. Because we had some folks here in American soccer media take those quotes and apply the joystick coaching tag to it.
It’s really, really unfortunate the fact this topic is framed with the word joystick or joysticking. It’s quite telling.
The conjecture that coaches giving direction, guidance, or instruction from the sideline is a bad thing, has to be weaponized to be effective.
So I get it, packaging those things in the word “joysticking” does the trick and it’s quite incendiary. I mean, if we’re talking youth, who wants their kids to be controlled, like some video game character for the pleasure of the controller?
So when it comes to silencing coaches, that’s the image proponents have managed to conjure up in your minds. So well done, bravo, brilliant word selection to push that agenda.
This is just another example that while American soccer may not be world-class, and it’s very far from that, it is definitely world-class in politics and in marketing.
The monoculture which controls the ecosystem here certainly knows how to frame a topic, craft narratives around it, distribute it, and maneuver consumers to consensus.
This joysticking topic has served to muzzle so many coaches that have so much to offer, or could one day have so much to offer. But it’s an agenda that has served to turn coaches further away from the craft of actually coaching, and towards the craft of appeasement and politics.
At the same time, listen, I’m fully aware there are many coaches that possibly can do more harm than good by giving sideline instructions.
I’ve seen them on the weekends for years, because there is such a thing as poor instruction. And further, giving real time sideline instruction is an art.
One that among so many things takes the circumstances of individual players, and cultures, into account. An art which is acquired through loads of experience.
So consider a brand new coach on the scene. Maybe a year under his belt, two years, maybe five. Perhaps he doesn’t have that art, doesn’t have that craft dialed in. So maybe they would be doing more harm than good.
I can get that, because if we’re speaking generally here, most coaches probably aren’t great at giving sideline instructions.
All this to say, I can empathize with an organization, like say, the Federation, which is defacto chartered to guide a nation’s future. It’s difficult to come up with policies, views, or standards, which do exception handling.
For instance, when the Federation decides the philosophy its licensing courses are going to enforce, well, it necessarily needs to take a general position. If that position is: “Coaches, you guys should shut the fuck up on the sidelines.” Well then so be it, I suppose that’s their position.
Here’s the problem, centralized top down, authoritarian edicts like this, aren’t a good way forward. Especially because, again, coaching is an art.
Every location, every case isn’t the same. And how is a particular coach going to get good at the art, if they are muzzled?
Not to mention, just “letting the players play”, in what are supposed to be competitive club matches without any real time guidance is also quite harmful to the development of the players in the team context.
Now, like most things, I think there’s a way forward here, but it does require the other side of the story to be told. And for too long that hasn’t been the case.
So I hope you enjoy, and enter the following chat between Nick and I with an open mind.
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