Throughout my experience’s from community to professional sport I have noticed many significant differences, one matter in particular is that the power of questioning players on the bench to make them concentrate on the game is one major difference between the levels. A very underrated part of coaching is speaking to your players on the bench, I believe that the best coaches do this, or they put support staff around them to ensure that this is done.
I have noticed that In junior football especially, but also senior football, many players are not concentrating on the bench and are not focusing on the game, at times coaches will criticise the player for not watching the game. It is really important to not criticise your player and instead ask them open ended questions regarding the game. Not questions such as “what happened then?”. As people take that as if you have already come up with an answer and that you have already assumed that they weren’t concentrating, if the player was not concentrating you will come across as a smart ass towards the player and that you are trying to tell the player off, you will instantly lose some respect from the player. The player is in the wrong in this situation because they are not focusing on the game, but if you ask a question such as “What do you think the opposition are trying to do right now?” Then the players have to think about the game and watch it closely, this approach is making a player feel valued because you’re asking for their opinion and let’s be honest, everyone likes to feel included and heard.
The benefits of doing this Is that the players have thought about different aspects of the game, they have had time to speak to you about what is happening in the game right now, they have a clear understanding of where the game is currently at and who has momentum. The players will also know what is needed to be changed and what messages to pass onto their team mates.
This develops thinking footballers, more players transferring messages, it encourages teamwork and most importantly makes the player feel valued because you have asked for their opinion.
If you don’t put your player on the field for much game time, they will lose interest in the game and not concentrate, they will disrespect you and not enjoy their football, they will not feel valued, lose confidence and not develop or learn. This demonstrates the importance of ensuring you have your players concentrating, thinking and asking questions to you and you to them, they will go back onto the field with a clear focus and be determined to make an impact.
There is a time and place for this, try and develop an even balance at junior football especially, we want players to enjoy their football and participation in the game with their friends when they are resting.
Why would you bench a player because of their ability regularly throughout the season and not ever consider coming up with a formula to improve them? If you are one of those coaches try this method to educate your players so they can make an impact, every team that wins premierships generally has better depth in their list compared to the opposing teams.
Yes we know, some players are tired and exhausted when they come off the field, which means it is always good to rest, but telling them as soon as they come off “here’s a water take a rest and focus on what the opposition is trying to do”. This gives the player a new task and focus, if you say watch the game they will be bored or see right through it because that’s just a common thing to say. Be specific to the player and tell them what you want and then ask for their opinion so they are feeling valued and are forced to concentrate.
Some questions you could ask are.
- “Watch your opponent, see what they are trying to do?”
- “What is the oppositions plan from the stoppage?”
- “Where is the oppositions ruckman trying to tap the ball?”
- “Does the opposition try and move the ball through the corridor or wide?”
- “What are we trying to do in this situation?”
This will improve a players knowledge of the current circumstances the team is facing, which will improve their ability to read the cues of the game when they play. This can work to either analyse your strategy or the oppositions.
There are many other ways to engage players through questioning on the bench, you as the coach, are the person players come to for feedback about their performance. Teach players about the game and most importantly, make people feel valued, ensure that they are participating, ensure that they are included and that they are enjoying their football.