The passion to teach – the difference between great and mediocre coaching

Take a look at the clip below showing Pep Guardiola coaching one of his young Bayern players immediately after a game against rivals Dortmund in front of 81,000 fans.

The young player is Joshua Kimmich, just 21 years old, who plays not just on the first team at Bayern Munich, but also on the German national team, including at the European Championships against soccer powerhouse Italy last week.

What you are seeing isn’t anger. It’s the passion of a teacher.

And what is even more remarkable is that Kimmich gave a fantastic performance at the heart of the Bayern defense during that game…according to Guardiola himself!

Yet, Guardiola takes the time and interest to teach Kimmich how to become even better. He could easily have waited until the next practice session or not bother at all.

And if Kimmich had performed badly and doesn’t show improvement during the season then simply replace him, right? Bayern has no problems finding replacement players – they have a deep bench and lots of players lined up outside the club to join.

Yet, Guardiola took this moment to teach this young player. It’s an extreme situation, of course, and not suitable for youth coaching, but it highlights an important aspect of coaching in my view.

The best coaches have this kind of passion to develop the overall team AND teach the individual players. It’s more work, of course, because you have to identify areas of improvement for a diverse set of players, each with different strengths and weaknesses, and then work with each of them to make them the best they can be.

In my view, this is just as important for our youth coaching here. In fact, I think it’s more important when players are young than at the pro level. Coaches have much more impact on the development of a youngster between the ages of 8 to 16 than when they are 21 and playing pro.

How much teaching is your coach doing for each player? Just running team drills and scrimmages without focusing on individual players, unless it’s criticism?

Or frequently pulling them aside at key moments during practices and games to teach them? Providing feedback on specific areas to work on? Recognizing and applauding individual improvement? Does your coach have at least some of what Guardiola is showing below?

By the way, as a side note, is it a coincidence that the Barça youth coaches I wrote about last week showed the same passion for teaching as Barça-grown Guardiola?

[Following on from Colin’s comments below, an important clarification: passion can never be used as an excuse for poor coach (or parent or player) behavior. What this post is meant to describe, using an extreme example from the elite pro leagues, is the importance of a passion for teaching individuals, not just the more functional parts of coaching such as running drills and tactical decisions etc. Passion in itself needs to be controlled, of course, and the specific approach shown in the below clip should never be used in a youth soccer context.]

In case you don’t know Pep Guardiola, he is one of the most successful managers in the world. He played as a defensive midfielder and spent the majority of his career with Barcelona, forming a part of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” that won the club’s first European Cup in 1992, and four successive La Liga titles from 1991 to 1994. He later captained the team from 1997 to 2001. He won 14 major trophies during his first four years coaching FC Barcelona, including the maximum of six trophies out of six competitions in one year. He was named FIFA World Coach of the Year in 2011. He’s been coaching Bayern Munich these last three years and switched to Manchester City as of last week. Guardiola intentionally stays no longer than 3 to 4 years at a club and league because, in his view, his learning curve flattens out.

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

5 thoughts on “The passion to teach – the difference between great and mediocre coaching

  1. I’d say passion isn’t the worst characteristic of a coach/parent/fan, but ignorance combined with passion sure is–that’s what I see as the catalyst for so much negativity in the youth game. Seems to me if ego was the driving force for PG he would have been preening in front of the camera/fans or abusing the 4th official or team medic, things we’ve seen Jose Mourinho do on a regular basis. From everything I’ve read PG is a humble person (relatively). I guess we’ll see this upcoming season, as the Premier League is stocked full of personalities that will be quotable every week.

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  2. Kimmich looks confused!…this is embarrassing for the player…nothing that could not have been said in private…ego trip for guardiola…

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    • I can see where you’re coming from, Colin. It could be interpreted that way.

      My personal interpretation is that Guardiola honestly was trying to coach Kimmich and wasn’t doing it for his ego. He just seems too intense. If he was doing it for his ego I would expect to see much more composure and a different body language.

      Now, was this the right moment? Hard to tell – we will never know why Guardiola felt like this was the right moment. And it’s possible that Guardiola’s passion got the better of him and he shouldn’t have done this at that moment. And, on reflection, he might actually have regretted doing it, and Kimmich might have felt uncomfortable.

      But for me the key here is that Guardiola showed a passion for teaching, for making this young player better. He has shown this in many other situations as a coach.

      This is clearly an extreme example, but it makes a point about the passion of a teacher, at least in my interpretation of Guardiola’s actions.

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      • A lot of the negatives in youth soccer both on and off the field are excused on the basis of ‘passion’…maybe in a pro competitve league this stuff flies but not at youth level…I agree with your premise that passion is where we draw our energy from to improve ourselves as coaches…but could not excuse a youth coach acting this way…thanks for posting your articles I really enjoy reading your blog.

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        • Very good point, Colin. I added a comment to emphasize this in the blog post just now. The key difference is ‘passion to teach’ versus ‘passion of a teacher’. This extreme example shows a ‘passion to teach’ (in my view), but should not be misunderstood as an endorsement of uncontrolled and misplaced passion in itself, even if a coach is doing it to teach a lesson to kids. The specific way to show a passion to teach is highly context specific. What is acceptable at the elite pro level isn’t necessarily acceptable at the youth level and vice versa.

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