Coaching Shortcut: Sharpen Occam's Razor


"Great coaches succeed by taking top-level, advanced knowledge and filtering it down to be fully absorbed by even the most novice players."

A good coach can deliver a high-level message. A great coach can deliver a high-level message WELL. As coaches, we often find ourselves confronted with a team or player who continually makes the same error despite your constant coaching points. It's not your message, it's your delivery. Simplify your message to maximize its effect.

English philosopher, William of Ockham, expressed this principle in what is now known as "Occam's Razor." He stated: 

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.”
“Plurality should not be posited without necessity.

In layman's terms, "The simpler the better."

Footy Tip: Simpler does NOT mean "dumb it down." In fact, the opposite is true. Great coaches succeed by taking top-level, advanced knowledge and filtering it down to be fully absorbed by even the most novice players. Once you've established a foundation of understanding and basic awareness, then you can enhance their learning by adding in the details. 

Ask yourself where you can shave off the unsuccessful, redundant information in your coaching points. This may vary from player-to-player but be sure to express the message in the simplest way possible. Go step-by-step asking them WHY you want them to do it before proceeding on to the next point.

Arriving at the WHY of your message sharpens Occam's Razor and can rapidly help you trim some of the unnecessary fat. The player(s) may be so caught up in the secondary details (where on the field, when etc.) that they miss the main objective of your teaching altogether. Once they comprehend the theme at its most fundamental level, you're then prepared to include more contextual coaching points. 

Footy Tip: To be sure the player(s) fully understand the key message of your coaching point, reframe it for them in other game-like scenarios. 

Example Coaching Point: 3rd-man runs in behind the defense. 

WHY: Stretch the opposing defense, create more space for strikers and midfielders underneath to operate and generate dynamic options in the attack. 

REFRAME: For us to play the way we want, we need to create our own space. Running without the ball is the key to making this happen. If, at anytime, we are going side-to-side too often, someone needs to make a decisive vertical run and open up the field in another direction. 

Refining the message down to the basic WHY forces players to think of the coaching point from another angle. Now, instead of wondering who the "3rd man" is going to be, players will take initiative by recognizing the side-to-side movement you mentioned and realize they need to make a vertical run to stretch the field. Encourage and reward players who take direct action and seek to implement your objectives. Immediate affirmation when something is done properly is an influential tool to help the whole group buy-in to your point/philosophy. 

Footy Tip: Don't assume that your message needs to be more detailed for older players. The same message should be understandable and sound for all ages. Supplement the detailed nuances when a player/team is capable and competent enough to dive deeper into the intricacies. Even the most advanced coaching points can be condensed into a simple WHY. Start with the WHY and adapt your message to your players from there. 


Go influence the game