The Coaches View – Louis Lancaster

This is another one of the interviews I originally did for Clear Cut Chance last year.

To continue with our “Real Life Meets Football Manager” articles, we recently caught up with one of the top coaches in England to ask him a few questions.

In October 2011, Louis Lancaster was selected as one of 16 candidates with an A License over the past decade, to be one of the first people ever to work towards the world’s first Elite Coaching License (Level 5). This FA pilot programme has helped him formulate a clear coaching philosophy, develop his practical experience, expose him to new thinking – especially around player development – and test out his abilities.


To give you a little insight into his previous experience, here are his former jobs:

To give you a little insight into his previous experience, here are his former jobs:

U18’s Assistant Coach

Portsmouth Football Club Ltd

January 2013 – April 2013 (4 months) Fratton Park

Work with the Youth Team on a daily basis to:

– Plan challenging sessions to help players meet the technical and tactical demands of the game.

– Ensure the highest levels of analysis are carried out.

– Recognise and develop individual programmes for players within their specific position.

– Deliver unit specific sessions

Youth Team Manager

Brentford Football Club

June 2012 – December 2012 (7 months) Griffin Park

Devise and deliver a technical, tactical, unit specific and individual syllabus to help players meet the demands of the game. Ensure the highest levels of analysis are carried out on a weekly basis to accelerate player development. It is imperative I work closely with college tutors and coaches within the academy. As the game is constantly evolving it is important that I strive to be creative and innovative.

Academy Coach

Jebel Ali International Centre of Excellence

January 2011 – June 2012 (1 year 6 months)

His current position is as a coach for Watford Under 15s.

You were one of sixteen talented coaches who graduated from the first ever FA Elite Coaches’ Award. As I understand this scheme was invite-only; how did you feel when you were approached?

My wife and I moved to Dubai in January 2011, which was a fantastic experience. It was there I received the email from the FA to be selected as one of sixteen to work towards ‘The Elite Coaching License’. To be invited was an honour and something I am extremely proud of.

Now that you are one of the highest qualified coaches in Britain, how has your coaching evolved? Do you think outside the box more? Are you more innovative?

Completing the course was a fantastic experience. Not only were we challenged by the tutors, but also the other 15 candidates. As a group we created a unique learning environment, where it was free to criticise others’ work. Criticism was never personal, and to be honest that is where most of learning took place. Receiving feedback from 15 top coaches and two world class tutors was what made the course such a success in my opinion.

My coaching methods have drastically changed and for the better.  I look at the game differently, for instance. I always watched the Champions League, however I am now fascinated by it. After studying Bayern Munich for 10 months and seeing how they operate, this really revolutionised my tactical thinking and opened up the door for me to do what I want, as long as I can justify it, and it works.

In a recent interview, you claimed that your coaching philosophy was ‘to help any player I am in contact with to meet the technical and tactical demands of the game, remembering to keep the principles of the game simple because the game is not.’ How exactly do you try and do this?

I try to achieve to this by making the training environment as close to the game as I can. If the game is hostile, aggressive and full of stress then training must be the same. I used to deliver sessions and just go through the motions, and I’m sure I am not the only one. Now I have an idea how training will start and that’s it. No session plan, I have no idea what I am doing half hour into the session because I have no idea how the session will unravel. If my topic is playing out from the back, what happens to my session if the players can do it in the first five minutes, I used to carry on with the topic for the next fifty five minutes, because that is what my plan states. However it is my role to challenge the players further and think of the next part of the puzzle. My coaching sessions were too prescriptive and now they are chaotic. I would advise any coach to stay away from signature sessions and try to deliver session they cannot handle.

For Football Manager 2014, the tactical side of the game has gone through a dramatic change. We no longer use a slider system on a 1-20 scale to set things like width, passing, closing down and so on. One thing that keeps occurring in various forum posts, Twitter and Facebook is users thinking they’ve lost an element of control and not being too fond on the new shout system. How does a coach/manager translate his instructions to the player on the pitch?

I think there is a place for all methods as long as it can be justified. There are also many factors to consider such as age group, sex, culture etc. Personally I feel there is very little you can do from the side, and if we want to develop decision makers we must leave them to their own devices. We have all heard stories when the manager has a rant at the players at halftime. My question is, does the manager do this for the benefit of the players or is it so he can get things of his chest?

Let’s say you’ve asked a player to play narrow, how did you determine how narrow he needed to be? What happens if he isn’t as narrow as you’d like – would you then ask him to go even narrower?

Again this would depend on the age group. I think as coaches we tell players what to do because we assume they cannot do it. I might want him to play even narrower as you suggest, however the player might have a better idea. If they solve it great, if they don’t I will trigger their thoughts and if they just don’t get it I may show or tell them.

How much of the above is also determined by how the opposition are playing?

My role is to develop MY players so I ONLY focus on them, never the opposition.

You’ve worked with both male and female footballers and a variety of different age groups. But how do you assess ‘potential’ and learn how good someone might become?

I would use the four corner model (technical/tactical, physical, psychological and social) remembering no box stands in isolation. For me the biggest difference is mental. I have met players far less talented technically and tactically, nevertheless they make it due to their drive, passion and determination. There are few good paragraphs on this in Gary Neville’s book.

Football Manager uses attributes to determine how good the player is on a 1-20 scale. So if I had a striker for example and he only had 11 for finishing and I was a top club, I know he would need to work on this and improve. How do you determine what a player needs to work on and how do you judge ‘how good he is’ at something? Is there some sort of system you have in place for such things?

To build rapport with your players, why not ask them? They may have better ideas than us, if we agree with them then great because it shows they are on the same wavelength. If they mention something completely  different then my job is to say I think you should work on this, back it up with evidence and then mention the benefits.

In the above scenario how would you try and improve the strikers finishing? Would it be a case of more shooting practice? Football Manager allows me to use individual attribute training, so I can focus on it that way. Is there anything similar you’d use?

I always used to work progressively.

-Reading the pass

-Movement

-Finishing

I like to mix it up and sometimes work regressively:

-Finishing

-Movement

-Reading the pass

How do you deal with players who might be technically brilliant yet lack the mental aspects of the game? Is there anything different you’d do in training to help them compared to someone who is more all round in their game play?

There are many different training methods and I believe they all have a place. I just feel you have to get the dosages right. I used to find technically gifted players only enjoyed the game at the end of training, and they were disruptive during drills etc. This used to get to me, but then as mentioned earlier, if the game is hostile…then training must be. The drills do not create this level of stress and the players switch off. If I want to produce better footballers then surely playing football in training with clever challenges would support this.

You can follow Louis on Twitter @LouisLancs

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