Purist or Pragmatist?

by Erik Imler

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)?



About Erik Imler

A Retired Professional Player, NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992), and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team (Barcelona, Spain)who is dis-satisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States and motivated to create a youth program that addresses the most prominent technical deficiencies in many youth players - passing & receiving.

  • Eric, I coach completely different to how I played. I was a hardworking, aggressive player that loved a tackle. I think that is in my DNA like it is a lot of US kids. Though I ask for some of those qualities, within reason, from my players I also promote decision making and creativity. I felt I had some creativity but wasn’t allowed to explore it and in my playing environment it was almost coached out of me completely by the majority of coaches I played under. Perhaps its because of those influences that I compensate the other way?

    • Dan, that’s interesting. I can relate to your comment.

      Through gaining various coaching experiences and insight – comparing my previous playing days’ of training/matches with my current coaching values and philosophy (based on my sessions), result in such a contrast.

      I also would consider my coaches when I was playing, to favour a more aggressive and all-action style of play, instructing physicality, over more technically intricate play.

      My coaching philosophy, at the moment, includes placing player creativity and player adaptability at the forefront of thinking – possibly ‘the purist’, basing on the above. However, it is suggested our coaching philosophy changes over time.

      Maybe there are coaches who adapt into both types at different times. In which, does adaptability (using both purist and pragmatic appropriately) make an effective coach?

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