Jumpers for goalposts – how kids playing football in the park provide a model for the workplace

Business coaches Alison Blackler and Michael O’Flaherty are introducing a new concept they call ‘Unsighted Coaching’ in football clubs and in the workplace. Tony McDonough reports

Business coaches Michael O’Flaherty and Alison Blackler
Business coaches Michael O’Flaherty and Alison Blackler


How many job advertisements over the years have specified ‘must be able to work on own initiative?’ But once people are in the job, they find everything they do is carefully prescribed and monitored.

Micro-management is culturally embedded in many areas of the British workplace and how many businesses and organisations are losing out by not enfranchising their staff to think and act for themselves?

A possible answer to this come, perhaps surprisingly, from that most traditional area of British life – football.

New concept

Experienced business coaches Alison Blackler and Michael O’Flaherty have devised a new concept that actually has its basis in a well established approach that we seem to have lost touch with. They call it Unsighted Coaching.

It is described as a “unique learning needs analysis and leadership development tool designed for managers, coaches, players and employees within the worlds of business and sport”.

Wirral-based Alison, who has coached senior managers in blue chip firms, including Sainsbury’s and writes regularly for LBN, explained: “If you think back to when we were kids. We would head to the park to play football, or maybe rounders. And did we need an adult to organise it for us? No, we managed pretty well by ourselves. It was literally jumpers for goalposts.

“And on some level, even though we didn’t realise at the time, we would be coaching each other.

Shouted at

“However, when it comes to playing football in an organised teams with qualified coaches, players are increasingly told what to do and not allowed to think for themselves – any maybe even shouted at if they don’t follow instructions to the letter.

“They are being de-skilled and not being taught to organise themselves.

“So when they become adults and get into the workplace they may not have the skills that would allow them to show initiative and so too many managers are simply instructing people on how to do their jobs.

“A lot of employees will have within them great ideas that could improve the productivity and efficiency of their workplace. Many are reluctant to speak up as despite an idea being initially well received, they have little faith it will considered or actioned.

“Unsighted Coaching demonstrates that if managers learn to empower their teams and give them the space to think for themselves and make decisions – what can follow are some great results.”

football, kids, boys
Left to their own devices, kids are more than capable of organising themselves, say Alison and Michael


Absolute control

Michael came up with the Unsighted Coaching idea while working with a number of professional football clubs and he described working with a coach at one leading club.

“He took a bit of persuading about the method which basically saw him stay in the dressing room while the lads went out and played and then came back in and discussed how the game went,” he said.

“At the highest levels of sport and business many managers and coaches believe the only way to get results is to take absolute control.

“However, at junior and development levels in sport – where winning at all costs shouldn’t be the only measure of success – directing and telling isn’t the best way to manage a player’s long term learning and development or enhance the player’s experience.

“After all, who enjoys being shouted at and told what to do in front of their friends or colleagues?  Some believe the best coach is a good talker, a strong-minded character and the dominant presence in the group.

“However, some would also prefer a coach who, when required, is calm, lets players make decisions, is supportive and builds player confidence through actively encouraging them to take responsibility for their own performance.

“With the support of a good manager or coach, teams and individuals learn and develop quicker than otherwise left to their own devices.”

Team talks

Unsighted Coaching has been designed as a learning needs analysis tool and an on-going learning methodology where the coach purposefully withdraws from observing play but is still involved in team talks.

Alison and Michael are already applying the same principles to their business clients and say the early feedback has been positive.

“Forward-thinking managers will empower the people in their teams, giving them the opportunity to learn new skills and to grow in their roles,” said Alison.

“They will also encourage people to speak up and get their own ideas across.”

Alison is a regular contributor to LBN and runs Wirral-based 2minds. She is also on Twitter: @AlisonBlackler

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