How To Improve The Culture At Your Football Club

27 March 2024

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Developing The X-FACTOR To Transform Your Football Performances

How To Improve The Culture At Your Football Club

In football or soccer clubs around the globe there are some great environments to play football, get better and enjoy the experience and there are some less desirable environments.  Many factors come in to play when it comes down to culture and environment in clubs including the set up and structure, policies and procedures, external pressures, club history and traditions, location, player behaviour and leadership style.

For the purpose of this article we’ll be focusing on leadership style specifically for football and soccer coaches and how this plays a part in the culture at your club.  The intention of this week’s X-FACTOR is aimed to help football or soccer coaches understand themselves and their players better so that you can adapt your approach accordingly.

I’m sure you have come across some coaches who naturally sync with players.  Whereas with other players, they find it harder work.  One of the reasons for this is a person’s leadership style where coaches and players are more task-orientated or socially orientated and will at an unconscious level often gravitate towards someone with a similar leadership style.

Football or soccer coaches who have a socially oriented leadership style

If your preference is to be a socially orientated leader you’ll likely be the coach who places a strong focus on developing your players and supporting their journey.  You’ll likely care a great deal about how the decisions that you or your coaching staff make will impact them.

As a result, you’ll likely place a strong importance on:

  • Creating a team first mentality with attention placed on team morale, team building and team bonding all trademarks of a high performing team.
  • Developing and maintaining strong relationships through effective communication, be that active listening or good lines of questioning.
  • The well-being of your players will be paramount, where you’ll view them as people before footballers.
  • Motivating your players, commitment, effort and efficiency will be at the forefront of your mind.
  • A balance between challenging players to improve and supporting them to feel good in themselves.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is considered one of the most famous socially-oriented football coaches as you’ll note in a quote I mention below when I share further thoughts. 

Pro’s and con’s of socially-oriented coaching

Having a socially-oriented approach equals:

  • A better environment and culture in your club, which makes the training ground a nice place to be.
  • Players won’t feel like a number, they’ll feel that the matter as people and that their contributions are valued. 
  • Footballers will feel heard, they will be given opportunities to express their opinions which often means they’ll go that extra mile for the coaching team and club.
  • Coaching staff and players who feel like they are learning every day and improving, where a holistic approach is valued to benefit everyone in the club.

This sounds like the perfect environment to play football in however the reality is a lot different because:

  • In football you often don’t get time, especially in elite professional football where results and the league table are often at the forefront of the club executives mind.   To build a strong culture, time is required to ensure that a nice mix of people are recruited to ensure that your club gets long term results.
  • The CEO of the club and board alongside senior coaches are likely to form a vision of where they want the club to go however, a socially orientated approach by coaches can cause issues with the vision.  Difficult decisions often have to be made and the socially orientated coach can sometimes put these decisions off favouring a more democratic approach where people’s voices are heard. 
  • There is a risk that socially orientated football coaches can become to close or “pally” with players which can cause issues with discipline.  Blurred lines, a failure to understand roles and check expectations can also set in, in this regards, it means standards can drop.   

What about task orientated coaching?

The task-oriented coach is likely to be hands on and a doer who:

  • Enjoys setting goals so that they can make sure the team stays on track.
  • Is eager to finish what they set out to do and has a sharp focus on results, statistics and league tables.
  • Has a need for structure, identifying roles, tactics and plans to make sure the goals they want to achieve are met.
  • Is highly intrinsically motivated and eats, sleeps and breathes football.
  • Rarely gets distracted from what they are looking to achieve in training or in matches.

Pro’s and con’s of task-oriented coaching

As a task-oriented coach, you will be good at:

  • Telling players and coaching staff what is required to achieve their individual and collective goals.  You tend to communicate in simple terms not overcomplicating the process. 
  • Allowing your players opportunity to ask questions if they feel their role is unclear in the team.
  • Providing resources to ensure the job you want done is completed the way it should be.
  • You’re likely to be strict on discipline and will not tolerate those who are late to training.
  • You know your players well, as footballers, recognising their strengths and limitations on the pitch and setting your teams up accordingly.
  • Motivating your players and staff so that they drive forwards towards completing their objectives.

There are some real positives from being a task-orientated coach in terms of focus and drive to succeed however there are many downsides too:

  • The training ground can be an unpleasant place to be where players and staff are on edge, especially when results don’t go your way.
  • Criticism and blame can follow task orientated coaches undermining morale with the result an unhappy camp.
  • The task-oriented coach will likely see players as players not people, pushing them to their maximum in pursuit of their goals and not showing a great deal of empathy for the well-being of the player.
  • An environment which leads to poor enjoyment and productivity. 
  • Creativity can be stifled as the route to success is clearly marked out and anything that deviates from this formula is likely to be shot down.
  • Players often play in fear, lacking spontaneity and freedom.
  • The development of players and coaching staff is limited due to rigid structures and a lack of opportunity to explore how they can get better, develop and grow. 

Overall, is there a better approach in football coaching  – social or task leadership?  I’d be interested to know your thoughts. 

In my opinion, a coaching team can benefit from both styles as long as all of the coaches are aware of their strengths and flaws and are prepared to be open-minded to adapt their approach and keep each other accountable to agreed behaviours.  Kicking ego’s out of the training ground is key here and reminding each other of collective goals, regularly.

A question to ponder:

Can you be both a social-orientated and task-oriented coach?

Yes, you can you can operate somewhere in the middle or at one extreme as a task or social orientated coach.  Where do you think you sit based on the information above.  Where would you plot yourself on this spectrum?


The key is self-awareness, to work with your colleagues so that you can all integrate elements of each style purposefully when you coach.  Every coach has their natural way of coaching and to adapt your approach can be difficult for some, however if you appreciate you and other coaches and your players aren’t perfect and continually try to improve your coaching style, as well as your knowledge in tactics and technical learning, you won’t go too far wrong and your players will respect you a lot more.    

You may also want to listen to 3 recent episodes of the DEMYSTIFYING MENTAL TOUGHNESS PODCAST to challenge your thinking on coaching styles and practices:

A football coaches role is multi-faceted from being knowledgeable about tactics and technical aspects of the game to being well versed in their understanding of physical attributes and diet.  Psycho-social aspects also form a big part of the role too.  Developing, managing and disciplining players whilst trying to get the best out of them, day in day out is far from an easy job.  This forms the motivation behind this podcast episode, the last of a 3-part series aimed to support football coaches.  You’ll hear me discuss self-determination theory and the importance of being connected to each other as a coach/player, player and coach personality types as well as social and task leadership.

It’s very easy as a football coach to offer short snippets of praise such as “great goal” or “good pass.”  However, is this actually helpful for the footballer?  In this episode of Demystifying Mental Toughness, the second of a 3 part series for coaches I argue that yes it is helpful, especially for those players who gain confidence from coach praise and compliments.  However, if you as a coach challenge yourself to offer players more in terms of process driven praise and feedback you can enhance their learning so much more and shift their focus on to more helpful things.  Feel free to tune in, where I’ll encourage you to think about what helpful emotions and actions you are looking for your players to experience in different situations and how you can help them.

In and around most football clubs you’ll hear statements like “this is a MUST win game today,” “we HAVE to get 3 points today” or “great GOAL”.  It’s common and very natural to be talking like this, to be talking about outcomes and results – though is it helpful?

This is what I unpick in today’s episode of Demystifying Mental Toughness, the 1st of a new 3 part series for football and soccer coaches where I share some thoughts on why we may fall into the trap of talking so much about outcomes and results.  I also look to challenge coaches to consider the emotions and subsequent behaviours that are associated with such outcome talk for themselves and for their players. 



How can you motivate your players? One thing to consider is Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality.  

In this case we’re talking about relatedness which refers to the need to feel connected and a sense of belongingness with others.  Relatedness alongside autonomy, and competence is argued to foster motivation and engagement in activities which has a knock on effect where performance is then improved as are levels of persistence and creativity.  

A question for coaches how can you foster relatedness or connectedness between coaches and players as well as the group as a whole? It may be a game changer and get everyone pulling in the same direction.  You may also wish to consider your communication and behaviours in association with autonomy, handing over a sense of control to your players and competence, in seeking to master their skills.


In the zone

⚽️ For Football Coaches: 

Do you consider your players inner narrative about how they play football or soccer? 

Do you consider that some players may spend too much time in the past, dwelling on past successes or failures therefore struggle to focus on the right things in training or matches?

Do you consider that some players may be more future orientated and as a result procrastinate or try to predict the future a lot, again distracting them on the training pitch or in a match situation?

How do you help these players stay present moment orientated? 


WATCH: Why good leaders make you feel safe | Simon Sinek

LISTEN: Richard Ryan on Self-Determination Theory & Human Motivation

READ: Self Determination Theory, Relationships, Motivation and Personality…

EXPLORE: Chapter 16 of The Handbook of Sport Psychology reviews the various leadership theories and models relation to Leadership in Sport.

FACT: Players will also have a leadership style of their own, some will be social creatures whereas some will be task driven therefore learning more about your players as people and adapting your approach accordingly will serve you well as a football or soccer coach.

TIP: When players arrive before matches how do they behave? Some will be outgoing, joking and friendly with their team-mates others will zone out and want to be by themselves.  I’d question every player’s behaviour – is it congruent or in contrast to who they are as a person.  Do they need educating on how they individually can help themselves prepare for a match so that they can deal better with pre-match nerves?  Give it some thought…

QUOTE: “The owner or president is the person who controls the club. The coach’s job is to keep him happy. But the key to success, as a manager, is your relationship with the players. Important clubs and important players succeed when the environment is correct. The players must enjoy their work and feel free to express their talents.” – Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti


Clearly Ancelotti, is well aware of the pressures that he is under when he’s managing and coaching.   What I like about this is the importance that he places on his relationships with players.   This is a quote from Cristiano Ronaldo which highlights the point that Ancelotti doesn’t just talk the talk, he also walks the walk and has a great affinity with his players.

“He’s like a big bear, I’d say! He’s a cute guy, such a sensitive person. He spoke with us every day. Not just with me but with all the players.  He had fun with us.  He’s an unbelievable person. I just wish every player could have an opportunity to work with him because he’s a fantastic guy, a fantastic coach”. 

Ronaldo certainly seemed to enjoy his football when playing for Ancelotti and you can’t question if he was able to express his talents too.


Share The X-FACTOR with your friends, family and colleagues, and create a positive difference to the lives of more football players, coaches, parents and enthusiasts.

David Charlton Sports Psychologist

Best Wishes 

David Charlton

Online Sports Psychologist | Mental Performance Coach who supports many highly motivated athletes, young and old, developing their skills or who are already highly skilled so that they gain a mental edge and get the most from their talent across the globe from USA/Canada to Great Britain and Ireland to UAE, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.    

Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence

Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast

Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub 

Author of The Mental Edge

With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to transfer their skills from training to competitive situations, under pressure.

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

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