Kevin Nicol is talking eloquently about self-appraisal. The 40-year-old, who played for Raith Rovers, Hibernian and Peterhead in his homeland, has recently been appointed head coach of Norwegian second-tier side Mjondalen. Norway has been Nicol's home since 2007 and he says living there has changed him as a person – and more specifically as a coach.

The identikit picture of the Scottish manager is of a gruff, stone-faced figurehead, barking out orders and causing players to quiver at his mere presence. Certainly, Nicol confesses that the stereotype fitted his own demeanour during his earliest years in charge of Asker, his first coaching job in Norwegian football. Over time, though, he realised it was a method that wasn't working.

“I was much too hard on some of the boys. In Norway, the culture is a lot more democratic, diplomatic, [there's] a different way of bringing up kids in school and you have to involve the players as much as possible in decisions, you can't just tell them what to do all the time,” he says. “These are things I have gradually learned as I've got older. I did a Masters degree in performance coaching at Stirling Uni and that taught me a little bit more about the pedagogical side of coaching and teaching, and instead of just shouting at people you are actually trying to develop them and give them leeway for some mistakes.”

Mjondalen manager Kevin NicolKevin Nicol in Mjondalen training

“You often end up coaching how you were coached. I think deep down, I am a very competitive person. I got a psychological profile done once and it was all red. Red is more the hardworking, type-A personality, very driven and can get quite angry at times. I wanted to be the hardline Scottish manager, the angry guy, but I found out about two years down the line that younger players were quite scared of me, didn't want to speak to me. So I had to calm down a bit. It's very important that coaches learn to give players autonomy and freedom of choice within their daily work.”

It is an approach that chimed with the ownership at Mjondalen, who had been alarmed following a slide that covered 10 defeats in 13 matches for a team that had been relegated the previous season under Vegard Hansen, the man Nicol replaced. The Scot was installed last month (August), set about a tactical reshuffle and says he has seen changes in his players' attitude already.

“The main thing for me was to change the environment a little bit and get some smiles back on faces, to get more enthusiasm into our game. We have got many young players who play in the team so it is very important that we create an environment that is safe for them to maybe make mistakes there, to feel comfortable playing under pressure and that we are not going to kill them for doing anything they shouldn't have. That was a big change, and we have changed the playing style slightly to a more intense, high press. It has looked good and I think the fans have enjoyed what they have seen.”

In the remaining weeks of the season all but one of the opponents Mjondalen are scheduled to face sit below them in the table. Nicol says that at their best his side “can beat anybody” and since his appointment they have won three of their four matches - including Saturday's 2-1 away victory against Stjordals Blink - to narrow the gap to the teams in the Eliteserien play-off places to just four points.

Life is good for Nicol in Drammen, the city he calls home, a place he first experienced during a loan spell at Stromsgodset when he was still a Hibernian player. When he left Peterhead in 2006, he spoke to his then girlfriend about the possibility of returning to Norway one day. He proposed during a holiday in Fuerteventura and a day later he took a call from then 1. division side Haugesund offering him a deal. Almost two decades on, he has no regrets.

“We love it, it is very safe over here,” he says. “It's just little things: the infrastructure for electric cars is unbelievable, every second car is electric. My wife has one, I'm thinking of getting one, they have charging stations all over the place. The schools are great, every town has artificial grass where kids can play, it's not locked, goals don't get stolen. There's less vandalism, it's just a different kind of mentality over here. It's not perfect, obviously, there's still crime but it's different.”

Mjondalen manager Kevin NicolConsto Arena, Mjondalen's stadium

So much so that while Norway is in the midst of a cost of living crisis, the experiences of people there are markedly less impoverished than in Scotland.

“Last winter, it affected clubs quite considerably. Because it gets so cold in Norway, we actually use underground heating quite a lot for artificial grass. There were some clubs that were running out of money. We have noticed a difference over here, prices have gone up but thankfully there is probably less poverty in Norway than in Scotland at the moment just because the standard of living is quite high. We pay a lot of tax and in that way poor people get a lot more benefits than they might in Scotland so the ramifications of the high energy costs have not maybe hit us as hard as in Scotland. It's quite tough back at home, I believe, and it makes me feel very grateful that we are okay over here.”

A typical day for Nicol starts early at the club and ends late at the same location with thrice-weekly runs to take his son, a budding midfielder in the youth set-up at Mjondalen, to training. Nicol's tasks encompass all that you would expect from life in charge of a modern football club, especially one that has ambitions of returning to the top flight.

“Mjondalen itself is a small place, there are only about 8000 people that live there. It is one of the smallest clubs that has been in the top league in the last 20 years or so. The hardest thing for a club our size, it's not got a huge budget, is actually staying in the top league.

“To do that we are probably going to have to develop our own players better and sell them for big money so that we can generate the income to hopefully build the club even more – that is the strategy of the club at the moment. It's a traditional football club that has been around for many years in Norway and even though it is a small place everyone in the town loves the club. I'm from Kirkcaldy and Raith as a football club is probably around the same size but Kirkcaldy as a town is much bigger.”

Raith was the club where Nicol made his debut in Scottish football but it was at Hibernian that he was given his shot at the big time. It was a chance he readily admits he failed to take.

“I never fulfilled the potential that I had. I wouldn't say it was my biggest regret but after I moved on at Hibs [I realised] I just didn't do enough when I got into the team. There were international guys around me and I kind of missed the boat a bit. I got to a certain age, 22 or so, and there were young guys coming through like Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson and it was natural for the coaches to play the younger ones who had more potential and were better than me. I never enjoyed it enough and that is perhaps my biggest regret in football. I felt quite uncomfortable playing in front of 20,000 people, things like that.

“Sometimes on the team bus you would hear Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor talking about how many goals they were going to score at Ibrox or Parkhead on the way to the game. They had absolutely no fear and that was how I knew at that time I was completely different.”

What coaching did for Nicol, however, was present him with an epiphany. One that helped him to realise that his true calling in life was to coach.

“My highlight in Scottish football was making my debut for Raith Rovers, my hometown team at 17. But I have enjoyed being a coach more than a player. People think I'm crazy when I say it. As a player, I was probably the most professional player at whatever club I was in, so dedicated but, at the same time, I wish I had let my hair down. I was too serious. I wish I had gone out and had a few pints here and there and maybe I might have played better.”