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Good luck to Ian Cathro and well done to Hearts

12 December 2016 by

The education and journey of a coach

The reaction to Ian Cathro being named as the Head Coach of Hearts has created debate amongst many in Scottish football. It is clear many still feel to be a top coach you must have both earned the right and learned the game through a professional playing career. There are of course a few notable examples of successful coaches and managers who have not played the game that should throw this argument out however it remains etched in Scottish psyche for many within the game.

What are the main attributes a top coach has? The list is endless however something like the below would be a good start;

  1. A technical and tactical understanding of the game
  2. The ability to lead, motivate and inspire
  3. A strong communicator capable of putting ideas across
  4. The ability to manage people including players and support staff
  5. The ability to plan training sessions which help prepare a team for games.

Knowledge of the game is only part of the person spec.

Learning comes from experience, making mistakes and a continual drive to improve. A coach’s education can take many forms, on and off the park and away from football. For some that education will come through playing the game professionally, the experience gained through doing so as well as learning from the people they work with in their careers.

For others that journey will take place on a training pitch with young players, providing a coach with a great learning environment which really tests them and forces him/her to strip everything back. You learn to break down difficult technique, simplify complex tactical instructions, work on individual strengths/weaknesses, plan and adjust training accordingly and manage emotions/characters….. Combine this training and games experience with watching games, analysing matches, studying, debating, Coach Education and so on and it starts to look something like the development of the skill set mentioned above. If that individual also possesses the leadership and communication skills required surely it could be argued he is better prepared in some aspects than a professional making his first steps into coaching? Of course the ex-player has a natural advantage in other aspects.

Although the journey is very different for an ex-player in comparison to an aspiring coach who has never played the game the outcome can be similar- The development of a skill set coupled with experiences which help to prepare them for life as a Head Coach or Manager.

The real learning for both individuals will be in the job as Head Coach/Manager, when every decision you make carries importance and is scrutinised by all.

Like many coaches going through this education having never played professionally I have met and coached with a number of ex professionals. Some taking their first steps into coaching impress immediately and give individuals like myself a chance to learn. Others find it really challenging, look uncomfortable and struggle to convey the correct messages. This of course is not a lack of knowledge but put simply playing and coaching are inherently different and require a different skill set and character/personality. For every successful ex professional turned manager there are a number of unsuccessful examples. Why then not open our minds to coaching as an education/subject/profession? Accept the journey to competency leading to excellence within coaching can vary significantly depending on the individual. Don’t close the door, don’t feel threatened by change.

I met Ian Cathro many years ago on the Advanced Children’s Licence and I am happy to say even though we are the same age he was one of a few coaches on the course I learned from. He is different, talented no doubt. His approach and interactions will rub people up the wrong way for sure. What he most certainly did was caught the eye, created debate and challenged people like myself to try things and not be scared if they don’t work. I remember one game at Dundee United when he had 2 players at the touch line talking to him as the game went on creating a 7 vs 5 on the park. (The team were losing by a few goals at the time)

Arrogant? Disrespectful? Possibly at times

Conventional? Most definitely not

I for one feel Hearts deserve credit for making a brave appointment, unconventional and against the norm

  • A coach who worked across all age groups and ability levels, impressing enough to be offered the role of an assistant manager in Portugal
  • An individual who has worked incredibly hard to learn the game and develop himself as coach and a person
  • A young ambitious Scotsman who has worked with top players in the 2 best leagues in the world

Ian Cathro has earned his opportunity and in doing so has had to work harder than many ex-players who are presented with managerial roles. I for one hope he succeeds and from a selfish perspective hope he can challenge conventional wisdom and blaze a trial for others to follow in his footsteps.


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