Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

Caring at the ‘core’

Last week I was away with the Northern Ireland U17s at the Nordic Cup in the Faroe Islands. The one thing that strikes me on every trip is that it doesn’t matter what level of athlete I coach, everyone wants to feel cared for.

I’m very fortunate that I love what I do at CORE NI and when working for IFA. For this reason, I find it easier to care for the people that I am coaching.

It could be a four-year-old child coming to CORE Kids for the first time, a young footballer who just signed for Chelsea or one of the boot campers at our 6am class. Even though I will have different coaching methods for each, I still care the same amount for them all. I want them to be able to catch a ball for the first time, to play in front of 70,000 people or do their first ever body weight chin up and be equally excited about each achievement.


If this wasn’t the case, then I wouldn’t last very long as a coach. If I was only interested in working with professional footballers, then I would just go through the motions and not really care about anyone else. It doesn’t matter if you are working your way up the coaching ladder or aiming to work with a specific group you must care for the people you are working with each step of the way. Each person should get the level of respect, time and dedication that is required.

One way to help introduce caring into your coaching is through the RIVER model. I first heard this while listening to The Way of Champions podcast.

R – Relevant and Remarkable
From the start make your athletes feel connected to what you are doing. Your session should not be planned around you but the athletes. Telling them that this is why you are doing things and how it can help improve them.

I – Important and Inspired
This is not coach focused but athlete focused. Ask their opinion on certain topics and how it felt doing the things you planned. This sense of ownership makes your athletes feel important. From here they will be inspired to work harder, do more and connect with you a lot better.

V – Valued and Validate
As well as inspiring your athlete they feel valued, part of the team and culture you are trying to develop. They are not just a number or someone that you think about during training. Let them know that you care about what they think and feel on and off the pitch. Once you have listened to them and they have shared their opinion validate it by adding their ideas into your session.

E – Empowered and Excited
Empower them to be the athlete they were meant to be. Give them the chance and freedom to express themselves in the right environment. The things that they once thought were impossible may now become a challenge that they want to take head on. They will land to training and games excited with this shared vision you both have created and hopefully the results will follow.

R – Revered and Respected
Now you have gained the respect of your athletes, soon their opponents will do the same. The culture you took the time to build with each other will make you stronger and harder to beat.


You can argue that there are successful coaches out there who don’t care or have the respect for others and all they want is the win. I’m sure there is, but I wonder how long they keep winning and more importantly keep the respect of the players. Alex Ferguson said that it was always a balancing act between players fearing him and loving him. Somewhere in the middle is respect.

You can’t have one without the other, so make sure you care for your players and earn their respect at the same time.

Read the full story in this week’s paper, available in your local newsagents today or subscribe to our Digital Edition by clicking below