A football coach abroad: Emotional control and avoiding knee-jerk reaction

In the third edition, Luke looks at how his temperament is portrayed in his side..

By Luke Venn

Last I left this, my team had just come through a 2-0 win in our quarter final and were due to play a semi-final a few days later, but I thought I would recap some of the points and explain how we decided to move forward as a team.

During my below average non-descript playing career I was a relatively vocal player, normally in the referees ear during the game and trying to psych out opposition by telling them I liked their boots or something to that effect. As a coach it is significantly more important to control your emotions. If you are losing your shit on the side-lines, it gives your team an excuse to lose their shit on the pitch.

One of my major character flaws both within football and away from the pitch, is my trademark over emotional knee jerk reactions to a situation that hasn’t quite gone how I expected, I can become petulant, nasty, childish and lose the ability to reason, these are all traits that need to be worked on and are traits that are not conducive to succeeding as a youth football coach.


We went into the Semi-final as underdogs, we were playing at the opponent’s home ground and it seemed they had brought the majority of the school to cheer them on. During the game we had a game plan, and within 5-10 minutes the game plan had gone out the window, I had lost emotional control and was shouting at every single player, trying to control them like PlayStation players. I think this was probably a mixture of the cauldron like atmosphere and the emotion got the better of me early on, luckily, I caught myself and calmed down for the duration of the half.

However, as the old adage goes, you need to play to the whistle, and right on the stroke of half time we conceded, which was a real sickener, we had recovered well from our poor start in the first half and to switch off moments before the break is real school boy stuff. Players came into the break devastated, and I was devastated too. My role within the group dictates that I cannot let the boys see how the goal had affected me and I had to G them up for the second period, I think I handled this quite well.

I made one large tactical shift in the second half, we abandoned the 4-2-3-1 formation the team has used throughout the season and on a whim, we change to 4-3-1-2, the idea behind this being to control possession centrally higher up the pitch as neither teams were really making full use of the pitch. This is a change I thought of on the fly, and one we hadn’t trained, it made me slightly apprehensive to ask the players to change to a completely new system on such short notice. The players took to the changes quickly and we dominated the second half. Again I was impressed by how quickly and independently the players took on board my messages, which is a good sign moving forward.

With a few minutes to go there was an interesting refereeing decision where he sent off the opposition goalkeeper (fast forward to 1:17:00 to see the madness.)

The opposition coach truly lost his shit at this point, pulling all of the players off the pitch and staging a seated protest, for some unbeknownst reason to me, I maintained a calm demeanour and kept the boys out on the pitch focused. We went on to lose 1-0 and were dumped out of the competition, obviously I was again heartbroken.

The temptation in this situation was for me to overreact and ring wholesale changes before our I-league season kicks off in little over a weeks time, instead I gave myself the day to be negative about the defeat. In reality, we switched off for a minute before half time, and we were duly punished, we dominated the second half and were unlucky to not get anything from the game in the end, the positives must be focused on, and certain tangible trainable element must also be identified. I told the players before we travelled back to the academy to each thing about one thing we did well, and one thing we could improve on to bring to the following days training session. I made the following notes off the back of the tournament;

  • Our 4-2-3-1 formation wasn’t working, we were not effective enough in transitions to get our front 4 playing 4v4 against the defence. Often we found our front man isolated.
  • Our better ball players were playing too deep which meant we often had to attack from deep, leading to us not ever really controlling possession in the attacking half.
  • Defensively we looked solid throughout, our back 4 were hardly ever penetrated and we kept the opposition playing in front of us, they rarely threatened to get in behind.

Coaching, in simple terms is trying to get ideas from your head into the heads of the players, but what would be better than this, would be if the coaches ideas could be “inceptioned,” into the heads of the players. This way the players can think that the ideas were actually theirs and then are more likely to take ownership and commit to the messages. I did this by subtly suggesting positional changes to players and even gave them a few trial shapes to discuss.


The following day, I made the decision to cancel training and host a team meeting, which would serve as a debrief from the previous days game and how we got on in Kochi as a whole. I made a PowerPoint presentation that suggested to the players we should change team shape. Then players were split into groups and were asked to come up with their own ideas, once players had their own ideas we would discuss them as a group, and then as a team come up with a new shape we would train and try out in our two friendlies prior to the game.

The focus is now on getting our heads down and preparing properly for our I-league campaign that starts next week, we have 4 league games, with only a days rest in between so recovery and training need to managed effectively to avoid players sustaining injuries, my next post will hopefully outline what we have changed the shape and system to and how we are training specifically for these changes!



Author: Luke Venn

Football coach who charts both adventures of football and adventures of life in one catalog.

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