Learning to lead through sports coaching
Five things we can learn from Jesse Marsch

Five things we can learn from Jesse Marsch

Our football teams may not be able to play like Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg – but there is still plenty that grassroots football coaches can learn from the American football coach.

Marsch is possibly the most exciting coach in the European game right now. A direct heir to Ralf Rangnick in the Red Bull franchise, his Salzburg team play fast, direct football with pressing, counter-pressing followed by quick vertical attacks.

It’s a style of football that is impractical to aspire to – if not completely impossible to copy – for amateur players given the fitness levels it requires.

The coach of the moment

But his teams’ high-octane game model has won Marsch plenty of admirers apart from Rangnick and he is something of a man of the moment.

I started reading Doug Lemov’s book The Coach’s Guide to Teaching last week, for example, and he features heavily in that.

Then I listened an episode of Dan Abrahams’ Sports Psych Show podcast that by coincidence featured Lemov, who cited Marsch as an example for many of the concepts he explains in his excellent book (which I’d recommend to coaches of all sports and not just football).

Then, best of all, I watched the Coaches’ Voice Academy CV Live webinar with Jesse Marsch and that gave me a real insight into this young coach and his exciting philosophy. Sign up or log in to watch the CV:Live webinar here

Here are my Top 5 things that grassroots coaches can learn from Jesse Marsch.

1. Have a game model

What comes through loud and clear in the CV Live webinar is that Marsch has a game model that he passionately believes in. He wants his teams to press (relentlessly) but – more like Marcelo Bielsa than Pep Guardiola – he wants to win the ball to score goals. Not just to win possession – but to score goals, and to do it quickly. He uses several clips in the webinar to illustrate his point.

This game model is easy for him to explain – and it must be easy for his players to understand. If we can encapsulate our philosophies – or our game models; the “how we play” ideas underpinning our coaching – then it will be easier for our players to get on board with it and the more successful we’ll be.

2. Have a shared vocabulary and be clear what it means

I find Jesse Marsch’s commitment to having a shared understanding of a common vocabulary fascinating on several levels. Firstly, I can understand that for a coach with English as a first language, who learnt to speak football in the USA, it must be really important for him to be absolutely sure that what he says and what his Austrian team’s players understand him to be saying are one and the same thing.

Jesse Marsch coaching football

But on another level, I see this as a massive factor in the culture he is building at Red Bull Salzburg – because language is such a key part of any culture. Marsch wants his players to play a role in that culture: according to Lemov, he told his players that he wanted to use the phrase “empty the tank” with them – but left it up to them to define what it meant. That involves them massively in the creation of the team culture and, again, is likely to make it more successfully embedded. We can do this with our grassroots teams, too.

3. Use the power of stories

Stories are hugely powerful ways to get information and facts across. It’s a scientifically proven fact that if I try to give you a load of information I’ll bore the hell out of you. But if I tell you a story, you’re far more likely to pay attention and possibly even remember it.

Marsch uses stories with his players. He tells the story of Roger Bannister, the first man to run a four-minute mile. Before Bannister’s effort, people said the four-minute barrier was impossible to break. After Bannister had broken it, dozens of other people all broke it too within the next six months or so. Marsch’s point is that fatigue is often a mental barrier, not a physical one. But using a story to get his point across makes it more likely to get into and stick in his players’ minds.

4. Create trust from your players

Jesse Marsch’s game model is inherently risky – something that will be plainly obvious to his professional-level players. When out of possession, he asks his players to press at an almost suicidal level and commit fully to winning the ball back quickly. No forcing errors; no jockeying into less dangerous areas; no blocking off passing lanes; just 100% attacking the ball.

That strategy will only be successful as long as his players trust in him – because if one player doubts him, the whole system will fail. So it’s critical that Marsch earns the trust of his players.

There are lots of ways to gain trust. We aren’t all going to be able to earn it in the same way Marsch does. But it’s something to take away and aim for in our own personal ways.

5. Trust your players

The other side of creating trust from your players is trusting in your players – and Marsch clearly trusts in his players and shows it.

In the CV Live webinar, he talks about how he likes to have a big squad and, with the fitness demands his game model puts on his players, it’s easy to see why. That means squad rotation, and it means he can’t put his first-choice team out every week. So he has to pick his second-, third- or even fourth-choice players in – and he does, and he trusts them to deliver the goods.

As he says, they’ll only get better if they play – so let’s let them play.

Grassroots coaches can read more about Jesse Marsch’s coaching philosophy in Doug Lemov’s book The Coach’s Guide to Teaching and, for Coach’s Voice Academy subscribers, can watch his CV Live webinar. (There’s a seven-day free trial for new subscribers.)

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