Coaching / Development Performance | 11.10.17

Do Coaches Need to Have Played the Game?

Not necessarily says Cameron Toshack, the Pro Phase Coach at Swansea City.

Last year with Swansea City’s Under-23s Cameron Toshack won it all. The English Premier League’s elite development team claimed a Premier League 2 Division 2 and Premier League Cup double as he further established his coaching credentials in European Soccer. Some organisations are increasingly looking beyond former athletes in an effort to broaden their talent pools but Toshack, in a rare example for British soccer, went from a professional playing career into 12 years working in the corporate sector.

He even found time to earn a psychology degree before returning to Swansea four years ago and taking on his current role in 2015. He has recently completed his Uefa Pro Licence with the help of his club. Toshack has seen both sides of the coin and is well-placed to answer the pressing question: do coaches need to have played the game?

“In football there’s a real mix and I don’t think a coach needs to have played. What you will all too often see, particularly with players who have played at elite level, is that they come with a cache of credibility based on their exploits and achievements as a player. There’s an assumption that they are capable as a coach but – and you see this with young players – if you don’t back up that credibility with capability then they will see straight through it early. It compounds matters because you had that credibility in the first place and weren’t able to live up to it. I was in the US earlier this year and I touched upon this point with a Major League Baseball coach. He made an interesting point that I tend to agree with: he said that elite athletes can be selfish in nature because of the environments they’re placed in and the way they’re coached; when they reach the end of their careers they might have been at an organisation for four or five years and developed a closeness; they know the environment but often they will not possess the requisite skillsets to be able to deliver upon the team’s hopes and expectations. For example, a player who gets made a manager or a coach at the same club; everybody assumes it’s going to be great but why should it be? They’ve been a player that’s only concerned with themselves and their own performance and then they’re being asked to manage staff, 30-odd players, and understand the processes and challenges of being a leader. They’ve generally had no background and no preparation and if we’re honest, sometimes you could argue whether they’re suitable for these roles – has there been a real succession plan to help them? It was a good point and he put it very well. There’s certain things that clubs and organisations can do to help those people they have an eye on and are developing for certain roles. They need to have a more fit-for-purpose succession plan to make former athletes more effective once they transition into senior coaching roles.”