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The Problem in Coaching Style Without Substance

Martin Sjogren, Norway’s coach, would later suggest that it was England’s first goal, a rather soft penalty, that had unsettled his team. “We began to crack a little and made some poor decisions,” he said. There is some truth in that. Thorisdottir, having conceded the penalty, seemed to freeze, unsure of her every touch, her every move, as if haunted by her error.

Sjogren’s claim is not, though, the whole truth. To attribute Norway’s collapse exclusively to individual mistakes is, at heart, to confuse symptom with cause. The problem, the one that caused Sjogren’s side to bend and break so spectacularly, was not an isolated series of unrelated incidents but a systemic shortcoming. England showed its hand, and its opponent failed miserably to adapt.

Part of the responsibility for that lies with the players, of course. Mjelde and Thorisdottir, certainly, are experienced enough to have identified their team’s weak point and reacted accordingly: sitting just a little deeper, perhaps, or refusing to be coaxed out of their line by White’s movement, or drawing Blakstad in closer for greater protection.

But a vast majority of it falls on the shoulders of Sjogren himself. A sequence of individual errors could be evidence of some great psychological failing, but it is distinctly more likely to be proof of a flaw in a team’s strategy. High-caliber players make consistently poor choices only when they are faced with limited options. And that, ultimately, is down to the coach.

The caliber of player in women’s soccer, particularly in Europe, has risen steeply in recent years. The slick, technical style that has proliferated at this summer’s European Championship has offered ample proof of that. It is hard to make the argument, though, that the quality of coach has tracked quite the same trajectory.

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