I documented in my coaching log my work with the University of Exeter’s women’s during the 2014-15 season. I also coached the men. Unfortunately, conflicting schedules saw me only coach the first team guys in matches twice. It was decided by the club for me to prioritize the women in those cases. One of those matches was a loss to the top team in the league. The other was a comfortable win over a team about on our competitive level. The guys played four additional matches. One was against the second best team in the league, one against the team they beat, and two against one of the other teams of about the same competitive level. All four were losses, though well-fought in the latter three cases.
After hearing at one stage about how they lost one 0-3, but with very tight scores, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we could have flipped things around and come out with a win if I were there for that match. That made me wonder how much impact a coach has on a match between two reasonably closely matched teams.
Obviously, as coaches our biggest impact comes in how we train our teams and prepare them beforehand (see the two biggest jobs of a coach). What impact, though, do we have come game day? Some suggest we can have a lot, but with a big bias to the negative.
The captain of the university men’s team two seasons prior once told me after a come-from-behind match victory that they wouldn’t have won without me. That sort of thing warms a coach’s heart. I don’t recall the specifics of the match to be able to say what particular influence I might have had on the outcome, though. We’ll never know if he was right or not.
The most direct influence we have is in the form of line-up decisions and substitutions. We also call timeouts. Those are overt interventions. Less obvious is the style and content of communication with the team and individual players during breaks. There are also tactical/strategic adjustments during the match.
I would venture to say that the more experienced the players and the higher the level of play the less influence the coach has during the match. This is especially true given all the scouting and game planning that gets done in advance. It’s different at lower levels. There’s a considerable amount of teaching happening. Also, less scouting information is available. I’d suggest there are more opportunities for the coach to influence things in different ways with those sorts of teams.
The closest thing I can offer up as a potential indication of the influence of a coach on match outcomes is the record of the teams coached during my time in England. They played a total of 189 matches, of which I was on the bench for 130. The win percentage for those matches is 6% higher when I coached than when I wasn’t. I’m not sure how valid that comparison is, though. We’re talking about effectively eight different teams. That’s the university men and women over three seasons and a local women’s team over parts of two seasons. It’s across five or six different league and cup competitions. Also, in some cases someone else coached the team (admittedly someone much less experienced).
For the purposes of this discussion it would be better if I dropped the clearly lopsided match-ups from the tally. I was definitely on both sides of those! We could also look at set and point differential comparisons. Unfortunately, I don’t have that level of granularity in my records. Even if I did, the comparison might still not have the right composition to be truly valid.
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