Purist Or Pragmatist?


As a coach, one’s style is heavily dictated by who you were as a player. Or perhaps, the teams you played for or which teams you admired watching on TV.

I was a player of average size with slightly above average technique. But fortunate to play on youth teams with an abundance of technically confident players and coaches who valued a possession-based style of play.  Our teams wanted to connect passes, spray the ball all over the field, make opponents chase, create attacking overloads, get end line for the cross or perhaps back it out and around if it wasn’t “on.”  We looked to play with what we considered quality.  These ideals of “how to play” carried into my collegiate and professional days as I was always surrounded with technical players and experienced coaches.

For these reasons, I approach youth development from a purist’s point of view. I want players to be confident on the ball, to pass and move, change the point of attack, problem solve, etc. I want spectators to enjoy watching our players dictate the game in front of them.

Watch Bayern Munich on display at the highest level…

But, as we well know, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A coach may dictate a more conservative style by demanding that his players get behind the ball and make it difficult to penetrate their defensive shape. With numbers behind the ball, passing lanes are blocked and opponents are forced to attack from wide positions. The hope is three-fold:

#1 – the attacking team commits more and more numbers forward trying to break through the defensive block

#2 – the attacking team frustration mounts as they try to break them down

#3 – opportunities to counter attack present themselves

Watch as Chelsea under the guidance of Jose Mourinho use this tactic to perfection…and finish it off with a relatively uncontested counter attack against a team apparently down for the count…

So which coach are you?

The Purist (the boxer who wears down his opponent through a steady barrage of jabs and body shots round after round just waiting for you to drop your guard…at which time he will deliver the knock out blow)?
The Pragmatist (the boxer who invites your punches round after round just waiting for the moment you begin to tire and drop your guard…then attacks with fury and vengeance)?

by Erik Imler