Coach Education Neglect

By Roger Wilkinson

I see Thierry Henry has been outed in the English press for ‘working the system’ by being ‘fast tracked’ through his Uefa A qualification. Hopefully this will put coach education under the spot light because he’s certainly not the first one.   However, in his defense – common feedback from coaches that have done the UEFA B or A License is that the methodology shown on the courses lacks quality and credibility. Comments along the line of………“the practical sessions were poor but I kept my criticism to myself because my main motivation was to pass the course” are what I often hear.

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When you look at the price young coaches have to pay for coach education courses in the UK and some other countries, you realize that coach education is not about producing quality coaches but is instead a fund raising “cash cow” for the national associations.

Looking back I realize I was so privileged that my easily affordable coach education was during the “golden age” of English coaching. Courses were influenced by the greats -Greenwood, Allison, Howe, Gradi, Sexton, Venables, Cartwright and Bate. All were thinking, innovative football men. They not only talked the game (the salt and pepper shakers were never still at lunch time as they experimented with tactics and formations) but more importantly they showed it on the grass with practically delivered inspirational sessions. Their “pearls” of coaching detail and innovation were constantly there for us to gather. Their credibility was also high due to the fact they were successful football league or international coaches in their own right – they talked the talk but they also walked the walk.

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Surely when addressing the current coach education system, the following fundamental questions have to be answered:

Is the current coach education system affordable and accessible?

Do the key development stages – 6-11/12-16/17+ years of age have enough skilled coaches working in them?

Does the current coach education system train coaches to work cleverly and knowledgeably in these different stages?

Does learning and development continue when players leave age group football and are exposed to coaching at senior level?

Does the current coach education system educate senior coaches on how to combine development of players with winning?

If, like me you answered “No” to most of these questions – then you have come to the conclusion that there is a flaw in the coach education system.

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So from these questions what are our coach education priorities?

  1. Director of Coaching.

What becomes obvious is that the Director of Coaching is the most important role in a national Football Association. Let me re-emphasis this – it is the most important role! They must be that rare combination of outstanding and successful coach, visionary leader and teacher with a focus and passion to develop outstanding coaches at all levels.

  1. National Game Style

The Director’s number one priority is to create an exciting national game style so that coaches at all level know where they heading to. A game style built on great individualism linked to tactical understanding.

  1. Coach Development

The next priority is to train and develop a team of innovative coach educators. All of whom must be able display and teach with outstanding methodology, especially in their practical demonstrations. I say this because an observation of today’s coach education shows that although modern technology has definitely been an asset, too often power point and paper work has replaced effective practical demonstrations. The power point theory backed up with a poor practical demonstration excused with “It didn’t quite work but you can see what my session was aiming at!!” Is a no!! no!! and does not have credibility.

So it is only when we recognize and face the challenge to inspire and produce an army of outstanding coach educators delivering innovative courses, that Thierry Henry will be inspired enough to attend every minute of the course. When we are regularly developing highly skilled players that can turn “gormless” to great, we’ll know that we have a truly great coach education system.

Sorry one more question! If you were running a national coaching scheme and had one of the greatest coach educators of all time on your doorstep wouldn’t you grab him with both arms and use him as much as you can? It’s amazing how often the outspoken passionate thinkers in the game are marginalized by the ‘powers that be’ when they are the very coaches that need to be involved.

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18 thoughts on “Coach Education Neglect

  1. Enjoyed the article Roger. Only thing that I would reiterate on is in relation to skill acquisition verses winning. Many coaches take the short option to winning without developing players especially at younger ages where speed can be a major contributor without necessary having skill. The unfortunate thing about todays world, no one accept second place in the short term even if it does mean a pot of gold at the end.
    Colin
    ps NZ next week

  2. I wrote this is January on this blog: In Germany, Hennes Weisweiler had a major impact on ‘teaching football’, likewise Rinus Michels in Holland. Michel Hidalgo and Aime Jacquet worked for France’s Technical Department.

    However, the ever-wise English England did not use Ron Greenwood, Malcolm Allison, Dave Sexton, Don Howe, and do not use Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and John Cartwright to rectify their coaching scheme, and maybe, just maybe therein lies the root of the problem…

  3. Very interesting article, I myself attended an ‘A’ licence course a few years back. I enjoyed it immensely and took a lot from it. As a non ex professional player, and there were forty of us, only one passed the course. Contrast this to the ten pros who were on the course, and yes everyone of those passed. It is not for me to say that they all deserved to pass but in my experience of 18 years in an academy and three years at Conference football, I wasn’t enamoured by the coaching quality of some of the ex pros.
    There are some brilliant coaches in the game both pro and non pro and these are the ones that every aspiring coach should watch and learn from. In this era information is abundant with social media. Simple searches provides quality sessions online from a vast array of coaches.
    There’s never been a better time for someone to get involved in coaching at whatever level.

    • It is easier now for coaches to find out info, however I think much of that info is confusing, misleading and poor quality. It is very easy to get swayed by one method over another. Practice play felt right for me, so I have stuck with it and have had some great results by not changing methods. This is for me where most go wrong at all levels, the constant moving from one topic to another without mastering any.

  4. What I notice these days is that a coaching qualification has the same boost to personal ego as any other qualification in any walk of life. You need to get that piece of paper that says you have passed an exam and many people tuck it away somewhere in case they need to produce it some day.
    The FA have introduced the Continual Professional Development (CPD) hours which is a good idea in theory because it is intended to stop people from merely ‘collecting’ certificates. So each year you must attend an allotted number of coaching hours, viewing other coaches, approved by the FA, putting on sessions and having acquired those hours you are then able to renew your subscription to the FA Licensed Coaches Club, a necessary requirement to retain your qualification.
    However, I don’t think that the ‘thirst for knowledge’ is really the result of this innovation. I find that the thought process is – “how many more hours do I need in order to fulfil my next year’s subscription?”. The attitude should be, as it used to be, – “who are the coaches doing the sessions and will these sessions be really good and stimulating?”. Too often I find that coaches, having accumulated the necessary hours in any 12 month period, wait until the following 12 month period commences and then start to investigate the sessions they need to attend to accumulate the next lot of hours. So I am questioning whether many coaches are really being inspired, stimulated and motivated in wanting to attend sessions put on by elite coaches, regardless of whether they need the hours or not.
    What I have observed is that the traditional Coaching Associations, which were formed upwards of fifty years ago, have in many cases disbanded and disappeared. They used to do an invaluable job of putting on sessions for people who had done the old FA Prelim Certificate and started coaching Youth Clubs or local amateur teams. Of course, many went on to coach at higher levels and qualified at Full Badge Level (now known as ‘A’ Licence). I understand that the Birmingham Coaches Association is no longer in existence and I believe that was a particularly strong Association. During the 1960s I was a member of the West Riding Coaches Association and the attendances for sessions and events were huge. Both coaches and players of the major clubs in that area, Leeds United and Huddersfield Town, gave up large amounts of time voluntarily. I no longer live in that part of the country but I have been unable to locate the Association so I suspect that it has disbanded. Perhaps anyone who reads this blog from that area can confirm or deny this situation. I particularly remember the amount of time and work that Jack Charlton and Ian Greaves put in on the sessions.
    In the South East we are fortunate that the London Football Coaches Association and the Surrey Football Coaches Association are surviving and putting on many excellent sessions. Readers of this blog will be interested to know that John Cartwright is the Chairman of the London Football Coaches Association and always does a session each season, which is worth the annual subscription fee on its own.
    Basically, what I am saying is that the FA’s idea of CPD hours is valid, but to produce good coaches who can lead English football into a new era, we need coaches who are inspired and not hounded into attending official coaching events and parting with large amounts of money.

    • Your quite right Steve
      I was a member of the Oldham SCA for years.
      Liverpool also had a thriving one.
      We held regular sessions from the North West Regional Coaches on a regular basis in the 80’s, Dick Bate in particular a regular visitor. Also Pat Howard.
      Even held our own prelim courses. Joe Royle a regular visitor to our monthly meets.
      A few of our members did progress and get coaching jobs at the original school of excellence that most clubs had.
      Not full time, but to get better knowledge, and pass it on to their respective junior teams.
      Always felt there was a downer on non pros attending any type of course.
      I myself attended many evening sessions put on foc for the west riding Assoc.

  5. Thanks for the comments.If you are a thinking coach you are constantly adding to your knowledge but you do have to have a base of outstanding methodology to add on to. I was an experienced and qualified club coach but when I was schooled by John in the Practice Play methodology it established for me the extended understanding i had been searching for . More importantly it gave me the insight to analyse and constantly add quality to my work. Even now when working at any level and assessing my work i so often think “Ah that’s what John meant’.
    Coach education has to be inspirational and accessible, and as you say Steve, coaches want to be motivated by the likes of Ian Greaves who were first class, that s why you remember them!!

  6. Hi all. The introduction of Direct Play methods into English coaching brought a ‘cold wind’ into it. Detailed thinking towards the game was reduced and with it coaching ability. Lilleshall NRC, had been the ‘homing ground’ for coaches over the years and all the names described in previous comments were regular occupants there. Learning the game of football went on in a relentless way during stays there — on and off the field! Practical work was delivered in front of vastly experienced coaches and Theory continued from Lecture Room to dining room – to lounges/bar and even to bedrooms late into the night. The ‘hands dirty’ approach to learning that had been the structure on which players had developed was not recognised by the ‘new order’ of acedemics who became leaders of our development style.
    I, like many others who forsaw a ‘one brand fits all ‘game-style developing from the newly introduced dogma, became highly critical of the methodology but it persisted and reached all levels as a ‘winning way’ to play the game. The important values of individual skill appreciation and learning became lost as the ‘3 ‘F’s ‘ dominated football thinking (F)ast-(F)orward-(F)ightball. Detail disappeared from the game and the sameness we see today became the ‘only game in town.’
    My argument was football is a skilful game that required individual quality from all players in all positions…. even Goalies! The ability to recognise when to play long and when to choose other variables had been disregarded by academic-led dogma. The playing vision of Direct Play failed to cover all the important skills and game understanding issues that needs to be part of the ‘arsenal’ of quality footballers —– So i designed PREMIER SKILLS COACHING METHODOLOGY as a development approach with a variable playing vision. This vision was targeted in stages from junior to senior levels and contains skill learning and game understanding from realistic practiicses and playing qualities throughout. I believe there is a ‘one brand fits all’ that must be tthe guiding principle for all coaches….and that brand is ..EXCELLENCE !

  7. Direct play has now been replaced with counter attack, and is the talk of coaches at 2 coaches assoc demonstrations this week alone.
    Whilst not against counter attack in adult football, you need to develop players that can do something with the ball first.

  8. Hi all. I have recently listenend to Ken. Baker, a former Educational Secretary in GB. He has said that learning is best acquired by the use of REALISTIC PRACTICAL methods. How right he is! it’s about time our academic football coaching hierarchy started to listen. I have been ‘banging this drum’ for half a century with regards to football development. Like the building of a house where a desk-top paper design becomes more a solid visible structure as each skilled craft gradually completes their part of the building — the ‘building of a complete footballer’ emerges through a gradual process of realistic periods of practice and playing under the tutelage of coaching craftsmen/women.
    Thanks Ken. Baker, for confirming my belief in the importance of more extensive use of a ‘hands dirty’ approach for teaching football skills and game understanding.

  9. Hi John…In grassroots football I think that for many years there has been a tendency to run a training session using a long-standing formula. The warm up and the work on a technical skill or piece of play, have been practised and then the game is tagged on at the end as a kind of ‘sweetener’. Very often the game does not bear any connection to the work that has just been undertaken. But because the players mainly come to play a game then the coach offers the motivation to the players that if they apply themselves thoroughly to the work, then they can play a longer game. But unless the game is aimed at bringing out the points which have been practised then it is of little value.
    If the coaching process is based on realistic practical methods then it progresses naturally into a game which, of course, is how the Premier Skills approach is put together. As the players become more and more competent then the preparatory work is gradually reduced and the practice through a game situation is increased.
    It is all a question of recognising that because kids no longer play for hours in their own ‘pick up’ games then the coaching must compensate for this wholesale change in behaviour. In the past, unrealistic, static practising may not have been as damaging because of the amount of time spent in street games, where basic technical skills were cultivated away from the official training environment. But now the total change in play and practice means that the coaching by realistic practical methods becomes of vital importance.

  10. Hi all. The Premier Skills Method of development is ‘street football’ in a modern context —- I recognised the imortance of first establishing a playing vision as an achievable target — loss of street practice time also had to be overcome —the natural ‘practice-play’ learning situation of the street became the essential aspect of the Premier Skills development method —- there had to be a continual and gradual process for delivery of individual skills and and att/def game qualities (including a correct introduction of goalkeeping) —- there had to be practises that were realistic to actual competitive game situations —- the work had to possess constant, realistic assessment practises throughout the work to provide accurate, visual development improvement for coaches to see —- these assessment practises provided visual information for a coach to decide whether a standard of work had or had not been achieved. Accordingly, if a standard had not been reached players would continue with the work, but if satisfied with the work, a coach could move forward to the next work along the development ‘pathway’ towards the playing vision.—- realistic Practice-Playing performance is the foundation of the Premier Skills Development Method —- at each playing level, PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY AND PLAY WHAT YOU PRACTICE is the phrase that best describes the moulding together of a modern coaching method with the street/playground games of the past.

  11. On Wednesday Villarreal ‘B’ played FC Porto ‘B’ in the Premier League International Cup at Millwall FC. There was a very small crowd in attendance and I should not think many people were even aware of of this competition.
    But what those people who turned up did see was how both teams used their central defenders as constructive, play- making players, as well as performing their more orthodox ‘stopper’ roles which we see each week in our football.
    These four players were among the most skilful on the pitch. Whenever a team mate was in possession in any area close to the centre half and was unable to play it forward, then the ball went back to one of the centre halves who had ‘dropped off’ the back line and he restarted the move with a pass to a better placed colleague. Sometimes the central defender came forward with the ball, but it was clear how teams such as these regard their central defenders as ideally placed to both initiate and switch the point of attacks.
    In England we still want to ‘force’ the ball too often into areas close to the opponents’ goal. We recognise the need to have a skilful, imaginative player in midfield but we must first of all look more closely at working the ball into midfield. The centre halves of both Villarreal ‘B’ and Porto ‘B’ maintained close contact with their central midfield colleagues and so were constantly to be found in ‘start again ‘ positions.
    In the divisions below the Premier League, where there are more British players to be found, most central defenders appear to command their place in the team because they are good at heading and can kick the ball a long way. It is becoming rare to find British centre halves who play in the style of those performing at Millwall on Wednesday night.

  12. And unfortunately, rather like the plague, this epidemic affects the game style of many teams in countries that predominantly speak English and have taken on board the tenants of the FA Coaching Scheme!

  13. Hi all. Our attacking game consists of 8v11 opponents. We fail to develop offensive qualities of GK’s and Central Defenders. I have made many comments in these ‘blogs’ over the years about the lack of individual playing ability in these positions. Our foreign opponents are not so blind to the importance of individualism in ALL positions on the field.
    Premier Skills playing vision incorporates high playing ability from ALL playing positions and develops players from junior through to senior levels — Wastage of playing numbers in attacking or defending situations in our game is simply the product of not establishing a satisfactory game-style. Our interpretation of the game through Direct Play and Fightball Football methods excludes the need for individual quality from all positions —– it just requires limited football ability and lots of futile effort.

  14. Everton produced a much improved performance in the second half of their FA Cup semi-final against Man Utd and I think that this was at least partially due to John Stones bringing the ball out of defence and getting forward in support of their attacks. He now had a much greater effect on the game and with his all round ability,he should do this more often, and be encouraged to do so.
    The problem is that we only see such play when a team is forced into this kind of situation when they are losing and time is running out. Everton were 0-1 behind at half time with little chance of turning the game round if they continued playing in the manner of the first half. Cautiousness and a safety-first attitude holds back our football and we must produce more young defenders with Stones’ ability and then fully develop their game.

  15. Back In the seventies eighties we had a coaching culture English managers dominating European competitions. The likes of Bobby Robson and Jack Charlton learned the trade as a coach. These guys were out in schools, military camps, local clubs coaching. Whilst still a player Bobby Robson made a 60 mile round trip three times a week to coach the Oxford University team can you imagine the current pros doing this is it any wonder when they land the big gigs don’t seem to be able to effect the team or the individual.
    One of the most iconic pictures from the archive is of Casetaris café of Farrell, Musgrove, Cantwell, Bond, Sexton, Allinson, all becoming managers and coaches.

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