Encouraging spontaneity but avoiding chaos in Portsmouth's choreographed dance - learning the Cowley philosophy

Pompey’s new management team are in search of the perfect choreographed dance.

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Sunday, 4th April 2021, 9:55 am

It’s that moment when football can be elevated to art, a Swan Lake ballet for a discerning Fratton Faithful audience to afford a standing ovation.

At this time, by Danny Cowley’s own admission, the Blues are on the dancefloor giving it their all at the end of a family wedding with a tie around their head. Probably more YMCA or Agadoo than The Nutcracker.

That’s to be expected, with the teachers still at a formative stage with their students, but the routine is slowly being implemented and the complexity of the steps will develop.

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For a man who is quick to admit his attention to detail does veer into the realms of control freakery, the Cowleys have assumed the role of instructors; a duo to orchestrate the moves through repetition and learning.

But at what point does the conducting become stifling and restrictive: a straitjacket to restrict any freestyling performances.

It’s an issue the new head coach considers when searching for a balance to encourage spontaneity and avoid anarchy. No one wants a punch-up and flailing arms under the disco ball at the end of the night.

Pompey head coach Danny Cowley

‘I think for us, we’re trying to give them principles and a framework really.’ said Pompey’s head coach as he considered the fusion of freedom and order for his players. ‘That’s all it is, a framework for the players to fill in the gaps.

‘That’s how we want to work and why really as time evolves we give the players more and more ownership.

‘First and foremost you have to build the framework, you have to build the scaffolding and then the players make the decision within the framework.

‘That’s how you get joined-up thinking.

‘I actually think sometimes unpredictability is the hardest thing to defend against.

‘In the final third, sometimes spontaneity can be really good.

‘What we want to do is, I suppose, always have that spontaneity within the framework and structure of how we play.

‘Otherwise if we had everyone acting spontaneously, I suppose, you could end up with chaos.

‘Again, chaos and control are probably at different ends of the continuum.’

Pompey’s players have now had a fortnight to soak up the philosophies of their new leaders, while supporters have been able to do likewise with clear and deliberate messages being sent out from the new management team.

The feedback on both fronts has been overwhelmingly positive, as have the results, as the Cowleys get the kind of buy-in they know is required to make their approach thrive.

The methods for doing so has been borne out of 14 seasons of developing their football and coaching principles, recent months of introspection and and, in reality, a lifetime of perfecting human understanding.

‘You always want to reflect,’ Cowley added. ‘It’s only experience if you want to reflect and learn from that.

‘You are always looking at your methods, way of working, communicating and helping the players to learn really.

‘That comes from relationships, human relationships, developing those relationships to a point where the players have absolute trust in you as a person, knowing you have their best interests at heart.

‘Once you get to that point you can really help them, and also make them good learners.

‘I see humility and curiosity in this group. They are really important skills to then want to develop and improve.

‘You also have to stand for something.

‘So decide what you believe in, decide what you want to be and how you want to be perceived.

‘Then live by it. Commit to it.

‘If you can get everybody committed to it - your noses pointing in the same direction - that’s when things can take off.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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