Mr Grimshaw's Fine Northern Blog
Made in Blackburn, Built in Sheffield

Lean Coaching - Part 2

Applying Lean Startup & Lean Production ideas to football clubs and coaching.

See the first part of this series in my last post about Lean Coaching.

The 6 Pillars of Lean Coaching

The Toyota Way has 6 underlying principles, and I have adapted them below into the language of football teams, and football coaching but you can read the originals on Wikipedia, I've left the titles as they were in the original which is why they sound like they have nothing to do with football :-)

At their hearts, the Toyota Production System, Lean Startup and Lean Coaching are about continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement


"We form a long-term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dreams." Business do this by saying they want to be the best product in a certain market, they want to revolutionize an old industry with new and modern products. In football this ultimately means winning football games, in modern parlance this is what gets called a project, managers go to a club because they are impressed by the owners project. For your club it might be to win Division A, be seen as a club that produces lots of players for your local professional club's academy or be the club where players enjoy their football the most.

Your long term vision is all about what you want your club or team to achieve and your long term philosophy (covered later) is all about how you achieve it.

The English FA have several courses aimed at the people who run clubs besides coaches, and as well as the weekly running of the club they also help with developing these long therm plans.


Kaizen is a Japanese word that means 'change for the better', once you have your challenge, vision or project Kaizen is how you get there. It favors smaller, simple changes rather than huge complicated upheavals, as I outlined in the section on Lean Startups, small changes are easier to measure and less wasteful.

In football this could be moving a player to a different position, changing the kind of training you do from drills to more small sided games, they are obvious changes but others include the way you talk to players, they way you as a coach behave during a game or the way spectators behave. Even things like changing what players drink at half time could be seen as change for the better.

The question that remains is how do you know the change was for the better?

Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi Genbutsu roughly translates as go and see, in industry that means going down to the shop floor and seeing how things are done and having a go yourself. For a software company it means measuring how long an action takes, seeing how much memory it takes up on customers computers and all the things that can effect the performance of the software. It can also mean going and seeing how people use your product, don't make any assumptions about how it's used. It can also mean watching how people use your competitors products, or looking at how they use existing products in the market you want to improve.

It's easy to think that as a coach you do this because you deliver the training, but just being there and delivering a session is not enough. Are you watching how the players respond? Are you making notes for what to improve next time? Which players benefit the most, which enjoy it the most? Are you sure the players have understood your coaching, asking questions is how you measure their understanding and it is how you learn what else needs to be improved.

It also extends outside of your training sessions, go and see someone else deliver a session, how can their ideas and methods improve your team? Many local FAs run monthly events for local coaches, in Sheffield for example they have a coaches club and they regularly have coaches of the caliber of Pete Sturgess, Scott Sellars, Dick Bate and other top coaches. Stuart Pearce & Gareth Southgate have also delivered sessions in the past. They put these events on for coaches to go and learn, they give handouts with sessions & notes for you to take away.

There's more to a football club than just coaching players, all officials in a club should go and see whenever they can, the Chair should meet with the clubs that you admire and see how they run things, Child Protection Officers should share best practice, and if you're lucky enough to have a grounds keeper, they should go and see how the best pitches in the area are kept in such good shape, they can go to other pitches that suffer from water retention and see how those grounds keepers deal with the problem.

You should even look at things totally unrelated to football, like how do other clubs make such a good return from their tuck shop, earning more on match days takes some of the burden off those who pay for the players to come to your club, which should take some of the pressure off you as you try and work toward your long term goals.

Continuous Improvement is so much more than just the players.

Respect for people

There are some obvious connections here to the FA's Respect campaign, and books like The Lean Startup miss out this pillar, but in football it's among the most important.

You need the players, supporters & club staff to respect you and to get the best from them you need to respect them too. We've all seen when a manager loses the dressing room, what they actually mean is that the players no longer respect them, and the quality of their work falls away and they become an ineffective team. I have been on the wrong side of this happening in football and in business and it is terrifying how quickly it happens.

Long-term philosophy

Think about 3 players, 3 managers or coaches and 3 back room staff that you respect, what is it about these people that has earned your respect? Take 1 quality from each person to make your model player, coach, and use these to build in to your long term philosophy.

Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term goals. If you have a player that will get benefit from playing in a match because they will learn from their experience, but it will probably cost you the match, you should play them. Players learn the most from competing against players that are better than they are

The great San Francisco Head Coach, Bill Walsh, had what he called his Standard Of Performance, in Lean Coaching we call this our Long Term Philosophy, and he applied it as much to the players and coaches as he did to the receptionists at the stadium and team head quarters, he built a team of coaches and staff around him that he taught this philosophy to and he thought them how to teach it to others. Walsh didn't think of himself as a coach, he was a teacher.

The right process will produce the right results

I'm going to call out the fact that in the examples in this section 'results' mean winning games or trophies. Don't forget that the right results for your team might not be how many games you win.

This pillar has been applied to sport in the past with spectacular results, perhaps the most successful American Football coach ever, Bill Walsh at the San Francisco 49ers, used to famously say "The Results Take Care of Themselves", and that was the title of his autobiography The Score Takes Care of Itself, My Philosophy of Leadership, an excellent book for any leader.

On the field Walsh's Standard Of Performance simply meant always try your best. In training he expected his players to practice with the aim of getting the play exactly right, not 95% right. For his coaches this meant setting an example to the players, and for receptionists this meant presenting the right image to guests and visitors. When Walsh took over at the 49ers they were a joke of a team, he won the Superbowl in his 3rd season and turned mediocre players like Joe Montana, a 3rd round pick who could throw the ball very far. Walsh saw that what he lacked in distance he made up for with accuracy. Walsh used that to revolutionise NFL offense by designing a series of short sharp attacking plays that used Montana's strength. Montana ended up as an NFL Hall of Fame player and 3 Superbowl MVP's.

Walsh was also excellent at managing people, he knew when was the right time to lose his rag, and when to just nudge a player back on track. This is also part of knowing the right process and Walsh learned it through making his own mistakes & learning from the mistakes of others.

Applying this to football might seem to fly in the face of what I said earlier about not having players queue and wait to take turns at a drill, but in training you don't have to follow the rules exactly. Want to practice corners? Then make every restart a corner, or a thrown in, or a free kick from outside the box. Engineer the situation in your small sided games to increase the frequency of the situation you want to practice.

One of the ways industry improves process is by bringing problems to the surface quickly, the quicker you find them the cheaper they are to fix. Imagine you're making a car and you expect to sell a hundred thousand of them in the next 12 months, so you gather together enough stock to build 100,000 cars, but when the first one rolls off the production line you finf there is a problem with the steering colum, and the solution is to redesign the cockpit to better fit, now you have 99,999 car parts that are pretty much scrap, at best they're taking up expensive warehouse space while you redesign & retool the plant to make the new version of the car. That's a huge problem, a huge PR blunder and more importantly a huge expense to fix it.

The way Lean companies fix this is to only hold in stock enough steering columns in stock to complete, say, a days worth of cars, that way when they first one rolls off the production line you and it's faulty you only have a days worth of parts sitting around. In reality if you apply the same logic to the manufacture of the steering columns themselves then you'd only have enough stock of steering column parts to build a days worth so you'd spot it before it got into the car. The right process has delivered the right results.

Add value to the club/team by developing your people and partners

This one sounds fairly obvious, better players means a better team. Well, that's probably true but it also covers the rest of the team too, remember Bill Walsh's San Francisco 49ers? Everyone was part of the team.

You might have 1 player who has a loop of cloth on their arm that means they get to call the coin toss at the start of the game, but encourage all your players to behave like the captain. If a captain is the best player, the one they all respect and look up to, why would you not want them to play like them?

Encourage all your team to give their thoughts on training, on how a match went, on the quality of training balls, on the state of the half time oranges.

Encourage your supporters to let you know how they think the team is doing, what the tea is like in the canteen. This doesn't mean your team has to be run by committee, but if you don't ask, how do you know what they think? By the same token, challenge them to improve too. How can they be better supporters, how can the team's committee improve, how can you improve.

Everyone involved in your team should agree with it's philosophy, if you've set that philosophy to be the team that wins everything, then all the players have to agree, all the supporters have to agree and all the staff have to agree.

Continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning.

Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation and the problem (Genchi Genbutsu, 現地現物).

Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options, implement decisions rapidly, become a learning organization through relentless reflection (Hansei, 反省) and continuous improvement (Kaizen, 改善). A common way to find the root cause is the 5 Why's

The 5 Why's.

The 5 Why's are a technique from Eric Reis' book, The Lean Startup and it is a technique for getting to the root cause of a problem and guide you easily through the process of considering the options.

Why did we get relegated?

We lost too many games

Why did we loose too many games?

We let in too many goals

Why did we let in too many goals

When we went a goal down, we let our heads drop and didn't try as hard.

Why did our heads drop?

We knew we wouldn't be able to win the game when they scored.

Why couldn't we win?

We didn't score enough goals.

That's an actual 5 Why's I did when the team I coach got relegated last year, I started off think it was because we let too many goals in, but as I followed the questions through and had a good think about each one I saw that the underlying cause was really that we didn't think we could win because we didn't score enough goals. We spent a lot of last year working on our defence and didn't see any improvment over the course of the season, we should have stopped, as coaches, and taken a better look at that, maybe with this technique we would have been able to avoid relegation? So far in pre-season the games have all concentrated on scoring goals, and I can see already that the team are more confident they can score.

I've been keeping track of the players progress with a peice of software measuring simple things like how many shots on target and how many goals and for each player the numbers are getting better each week. I use these numbers to show the players how they are improving or use them to back up the advice I'm giving or the challenges I'm setting, developing the people and partners. I use them to make decisions about what to do in training next week. They are my evidence for continuous improvment, gathered while I go and see. I use them to make my change for the better and with that we implement the clubs long term goal.

Data is at the heart of all Lean processes, and without it you are wasting time and effort all over the place. I use the data I gather to test my hypothesis about players, about drills I'm trying and about where players play on the pitch.

The software is built around the principles outlined in part 1 & 2 of my Lean Football Coaching and will be the subject of the third part of this series and will cover how to use data to implement change for the better and continuous improvment.

Tags: coaching