I've done many a course in my coaching career to date. I've done FA courses in England, UEFA courses in Northern Ireland and numerous USSF, United Soccer Coaches, National Youth and Coerver courses in the US.
One of the things I've taken away from being on a variety of courses is that many people are looking for what to coach rather than how to coach. While this was probably important in the past as a method for sharing session ideas and best practices, we now live in such a connected world with a plethora of information, that what to coach can be found with the click of a button. Therefore, I think it's really important for coaches to look at courses through a different lens and focus on how to coach and other elements they can take away from their licenses.
The best course I've taken to date was the first part of my UEFA B license in Northern Ireland (technically my UEFA C). They have a more laid back approach to the course which created a good environment for coaches, allowing them to share, collaborate and try things whilst on the course. My favourite takeaway was their use of deliberate practice. After taking us through a module or a field session, we would jump straight into the same activity and coach it ourselves, gaining valuable repetition and the opportunity for immediate feedback. It's something I've stolen and and implemented in my current role.
The Perfect Course
There's no such thing as the perfect course. It's so difficult to cater a course to the needs of every individual. One of the things I like about Ian Barker and United Soccer Coaches is that they address it head on at the start of a course - you must come here and take ownership of your development. You have to be actively participating and buy-in in order to get the most out of the course. If you can preface it that way and empower those on the course, I think it's really important.
So I guess setting expectations at the start of the course... Here's a few more elements it might contain off the top of my head:
- A blend of classroom, field session, activities, group discussions, deliberate practice and reflection components
- An acknowledgement of the time and focus required and built in rest and social time
- A rotation of players (playing non-stop is physically and mentally draining)
- A coaching staff willing to be humble and accept that there is no single way to coach, they're just showing one way
More Than Courses
There is so much more to a coach's development than what courses and licenses they've racked up. I've been on many courses and will attend many more, but I'm not building a library of certificates and accolades to add to LinkedIn - I'm there to meet people, discuss the game, immerse myself in developing as a coach. But it's not the only way I can do that.
A lot of development is repetition and experience. It's the same for coaches as it is for players - we all need plenty of repetition, to learn by doing: what to do, what not to do, what I'd do differently next time. That experience gained can't be accelerated on a coaching course. It takes time.
Studying, shadowing others and mentorships are all supplemental methods of increasing a coaches knowledge but it's the application that's going to count and contribute to your experience and development overall.
The Future of Coach Education
I highlighted the idea of deliberate practice above and taking a more hands on approach to developing coaches. I think this is something we'll likely see more of in the future as Football Federations look for best practices and ways to better serve the coaches that take their courses.
I'm extremely interested in what United Soccer Coaches are in phase one of rolling out with their "we'll come to you" assessment piece. Having context of the players that you're working with and your environment means that you can get tailored and specific feedback for your development. Logistically it's going to be difficult in such a vast country, but I think they're on to something! The traditional method of cramming in assessments on the last day of a course is sometimes necessary but I love the fact they're exploring different ways of doing it, especially on such a large scale.
I'm aware of the US DA Academy coaches doing the French Federation courses and the Belgian FA getting a lot of love for their 2 v. 2 model and approach that produced their current golden-generation. I think we'll see more of their influence in the coming years, especially in the US. The USSF has also undergone a huge revamp (I'm looking forward to getting on one of their new courses soon). I simply hope that whatever route coach education takes, it's given time to grow and have its effects measured. It's no good taking a short term approach and tearing it up after one or two World Cup cycles - let it play out and see where we get to with our next generation of coaches!
Written By: Dean Atkins