By Sam Wilkinson
I recently completed the FA Youth Module 1. Prior to the course I had heard mixed reviews about it – some saying it was a step in the right direction while others said it was more of the same from the FA. With this is in mind I wanted to go into the course with a completely open mind. The following article will share my thoughts and observations from the course.
The course opened with the tutors explaining the layout of the 4 day course – it was to be a mix of theory based tutorials (60%) and practical sessions (40%). Before we began the first tutorial it was explained to us where the FA YM1 fitted into the coaching pathway. I was told that the FA were aware that the regular Level 1 and 2 courses did not “sufficiently prepare” coaches to work at grassroots level and that the Youth Modules had been brought in to help fill that development void. One of the tutor`s made a comment that a lot of the content on this course will directly contradict the content he taught on a regular FA Level 2 last week! What struck me immediately was why are the regular FA L1 and L2 courses still in existence if they are known to be flawed? I questioned whether or not they felt the current coaching pathway was disjointed and needed to be in a more progressive and logical pathway? The tutors replied that the FA were working to get more “synergy” on the coaching pathway.
We then progressed onto the first 2 tutorials. In general the tutorials were informative and logical – they covered the different learning styles of young players and the need to cater for those different learning styles when coaching. The information was particularly relevant to novice coaches that would not have any experience communicating with or managing group of young players. The tutors talked about the need for realism and decision making in practices which seemed to be a refreshing change from the regular level 2 course. In general the tutors were very approachable throughout the tutorials and encouraged questions and discussions on the topics.
Having listened to the tutorials and heard talk of “realism” and “decision making” I was looking forward to the first practical sessions as I always feel that the proof is always in the practical application of the theory or philosophy…..what followed was a massive disappointment! The first 3 sessions were about developing movement fundamentals (these are basic movements such as running, turning and jumping). Session 1 involved a game were players guarded gates while other players attempted to run, jump or hop through the gates without being tug. Session 2 involved players running around a grid in groups of 4 and copying the movement of a designated player e.g jumping, hoping or balancing. Session 3 involved a game where players had to place cones on top of other cones as quickly as possible while opposing players grabbed cones from one side of the pitch and brought them across to the other side. At times a ball was incorporated into parts of the sessions but they were mainly delivered without the use of footballs. We were told the idea of these sessions was to develop the key movement fundamentals that young children require. I queried why these movements needed to be taught in sessions that were unrelated to football as all fundamental movements that are relevant to the game can surely be developed in football specific sessions – the tutors agreed with this but also pointed out that it would be hard to incorporate hopping into a football specific session! I pointed out that hopping was rarely seen in a football game! Much of the movement fundamental theory and practical work would have been better suited to an early years Physical Education course then to a football coaching one.
The course continued with more tutorial sessions that covered dealing with mistakes, motivation and building self esteem. As with the earlier tutorials they were all very informative and gave some good insight into how to communicate and deal with young players.
The next practical session started with a “self practice” exercise that players could engage in while waiting for session to start. The practices were juggling routines that varied in difficulty. While the idea of “self practice” is a good one surely the pre-session practices should have relevance to the theme of the session itself? This then prepares the young player and gives them the necessary skills for the upcoming session. The juggling routines came across as a way of merely keeping players occupied before a session. From there, over the course of the next 2 days we were shown half a dozen more games that ranged from Pass and Move to Score First and Win to Risky Business. While all the games were entertaining what was apparent throughout them all was that they lacked the realism and decision making that the tutors had spoken about inside the classroom. Many of the games involved players waiting for turns or serving from stationary positions, the possession type games lacked any direction, the finishing games required the defenders to run out from the side of the goal when it was their turn while none of the games had any relationship to each other or progression from one to the next. This is where it became clear that the course did not transfer the theory from the classroom onto the grass! There was clearly a lack of real understanding of how to use and develop realism, decision making and awareness when actually coaching.
At this point I would like to point out that on the whole both of my tutors were very approachable about these queries and were happy to be questioned or challenged during the course. On some occasions they were in agreement about the limitations of the practices.
We concluded the course by delivering in groups one of the practices we had seen during the course. This was not a pass or fail assessment but one that designed to gain feedback from the tutors and other coaches. All the coaches showed fantastic eagerness to deliver the sessions – and it highlighted to me how strong the commitment to learn is from many grassroots coaches – not only do they give up their time to work as volunteer coaches but they also spend their own money (and a lot of it!) completing coaching qualifications. I can’t help but feel passionate and enthusiastic coaches are being let down by a coach education system that over charges and on the evidence of this course still under delivers!
My final observation from the course is a massive one! Never at any stage of the course (or any other FA course for that matter) was there mention of a Game Style or Playing Philosophy! They mentioned very briefly that the Future Game document was available for purchase but not once did they explain or bring up what the Youth Modules were working towards or trying to achieve. Because of this I felt that all the work covered in the course was completely random, disjointed and lacked progression. As John Cartwright often alludes how can you put in place a Coach Education program when you do not know what it is trying to achieve???
In conclusion I would like to point out that I am a Premier Skills coach and a complete believer in the Practice Play methodology but as a young coach I pride myself on having an open mind and being prepared to take new ideas on board regardless of where they come from. I was determined to go into this course with no pre-judgement as I had heard many good things about the Youth Modules and was hoping that they would be the step in right direction that we have all been hoping for. I found some of the classroom tutorials were logical and supported many of the ideas we at Premier Skills have been advocating for over 10 years now. I found the tutors to be very approachable and open to discussion and debate, but unfortunately when it came to the practical application of the coaching theory I found the same limitations as the previous FA courses I have attended – no vision, game style or playing philosophy, no continuity or progression through the work and a lack of understanding of how to apply realism to the actual sessions. I know some people will disagree with my observations and will have a different view of the course but in my opinion if the Youth Modules are the future of the game in this country then we still have a long way to go!