Commentators have referred to Football (disambiguation: Soccer) as the ‘Beautiful Game’ for generations.
Like football, I think of coaching as a beautiful game – it is free-flowing, exhilarating and emotional, the action moves forward quickly, and anyone can play it almost anywhere. Crucially, the best players are talented and work hard, and also enable those around them to play better. In coaching, this is through mentoring, co-coaching and supervision as well as providing coach training.
So, if coaching were football, what formation would you play?
4 4 2
For me, the defence – comprising a goalkeeper and four defenders – is where coaches provide safety for their client. Your defence is established during the beginnings of coaching – the contracting stage – to provide structure and psychological security throughout the match.
The midfield is where the magic happens. It is the middles of coaching – where following your intuition, paying attention and giving encouragement reside.
The two forwards, well they ‘forward the action’ in pursuit of your client’s goals.
4 1 4 1
That said, 4 4 2 is not a very well balanced formation – you can easily lose control over the game and it’s hard work as the game progresses. The trending formation in football is the 4 1 4 1, as played by my beloved Leeds United.
There are two crucial roles that set this formation apart from the traditional 4 4 2:
A Central Defensive Midfielder (CDM) drops behind the middle four and is the most important player on the field, covering two of the usual midfield roles – a defensive midfielder and the controller of the game. He needs good technical skills, the ability to pass under pressure and great self-awareness of position.
One or two all-action Central Midfielders who have significant defensive and forward roles to play – known as the ability to play ‘box-to-box’. The players become known for making late runs and hitting sweet long shots. In the 4 1 4 1, they line up across the centre of the field with two wingers, leaving one centre forward who can press the action forward or hold up play when necessary, for example when awaiting support from his colleagues in the centre after receiving a long ball.
Suggested coaching formation
In coaching (and supervision), my defence comprises everything in my contracting so that we establish the right ethical stance in the relationship – roles and responsibilities (Equality), Boundaries (time, territory and task), the expression of our feelings (Authenticity), and the safe Place where we hold our discussions. This ‘back four’ provide psychological safety for my client. The last line of defence in any coaching relationship is the must-have goalkeeper, named Confidentiality.
My CDM is Attention. Being fully present, paying undivided attention and listening on a deep level are the skills needed in the central role that plays in front of the back four and allows the coach to control themselves and the game. This deep listening allows coaches to be in the right position at the right time.
The two central midfielders are Intuition and Flow (Ease), who can carry the ball from box-to-box. This provides fluidity by combining defensive duties, such as noticing when boundaries or equality are threatened, with the ability to move forward, for example to notice short and long-range opportunities to target the client’s goal. They are flanked by the wingers of Appreciation and Encouragement.
Together with Challenge as centre forward, the midfield provides up to five players in a forward position to increase my client’s awareness and forward the action.
If your coaching were a football team, what formation would you play and who are your key players?