Want To Be The Next José Mourinho? Here Is How To Take The First Step
Posted by Dean Holden at April 23rd, 2015
by Ed Aarons, 8 April 2015
The Guardian’s Ed Aarons learns the ropes during the FA’s Level One coaching course at Warwick School in Redhill. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian
Standards of coaching in England have long been criticised but great strides are being made, as undergoing the intensive level one course revealed…
It is 9.30 on a Saturday morning. Twenty-two male and female volunteers aged between 16 and 65 are crammed into a classroom at the Warwick School in Redhill, Surrey, as the course tutor, Neil Cumming, makes his introductions.
“The first rule of coaching? Be on time,” he says with a wry smile as one latecomer sneaks through the door and makes his apologies.
This is the first of 20 FA level one coaching courses that will be organised by the Surrey Football Association in 2015, with a staggering 25,000 people forecast to achieve the qualification this year in England alone. Costing £170 and consisting of 32 hours of tuition spread over three consecutive Saturdays and two Monday nights, its popularity means the Football Association now estimates that 80% of all junior clubs in the country have at least one qualified coach, compared to less than 1% in 1998.
“I’ll talk to colleagues in some major football countries and they really are astounded when we start talking about the large number of volunteers who have given up their time to do this,” says Les Howie, who has been the FA’s associate director of grassroots coaching for nine years. “When I think back to the old days, we have already come a long way.”
After being asked to list positive and negative role models as a getting-to-know-you exercise, Cumming begins by outlining the FA’s long-term development plan, which is based around the “four corner model” devised by the player development adviser, Craig Simmons, in 2004. This encourages coaches to concentrate on nurturing the technical, physical, psychological and social benefits of youth football rather than adopting a win-at-all-costs mentality.
For example, having participated in adult football for several years and not having any kids, it was news to me that there are now no league tables for teams up to the age of 11, with the emphasis very much on enjoyment instead.
“It’s the way you put it across,” says Cumming. “We’re not saying that we don’t want competitive football – every game that you play is competitive – but we just want to get away from a prolonged period of time when winning is all that matters.
“Success from a grassroots point of view is that kid who I coached when he was six, seven and eight has now been picked up by Crystal Palace to play in their academy. That can be a very proud moment if you have put a lot of time and energy into helping them at an early age.”
We are also shown a video of adults playing a game on a giant pitch with double-sized goals to emphasise the necessity of mini-soccer – the small-sided version of the game introduced after the publication of the Charter of Quality by the FA’s first technical director, Howard Wilkinson, in 1997 – and given tips on how to offer praise effectively by concentrating on effort rather than ability.
After lunch we are allowed to escape the classroom for a couple of hours to have our first taste of organising not “drills” – “we are trying to get away from that military approach,” says Cumming – but “sessions”. “Through the gate” is the first simple exercise, which involves passing to a partner through a pair of cones before moving to the next gate. We are then shown how to introduce “progressions” to increase the difficulty, culminating in a race between two teams to pass the ball through each gate and return to their base.
Each stage ends with the group being asked to deconstruct what we have learned with reference to the “four corners” before we are set the task of preparing our own session – complete with detailed diagrams in our assessed workbooks – with a partner next week. As the large majority of the volunteers on the course are involved in junior football, Cumming also reminds us of the importance of allowing kids to express themselves and be creative – an approach that the FA believes has been ignored by previous generations.
“Some people just remember what it was like 20 years ago,” admits Howie. “We have to take some of the blame for that perhaps because of the way we communicated in the past. But hopefully now we are much more open to modern ideas and encouraging players to think for themselves.
“When you’ve got a dad who suddenly finds himself coaching his son’s team and he hasn’t played for 20 years, it’s about giving him the help and confidence to help the team enjoy playing the game.”
Attendance at a first aid course and a safeguarding children workshop are also mandatory to complete the qualification. It is, however, the two hefty coaching manuals and accompanying DVDs we are provided with that make it good value for money.
The FA subsidises about £80 for each course as part of its attempt to redress the imbalance with other European rivals such as Germany and Spain, although Howie believes the oft-quoted statistic about those countries having substantially more Uefa B qualified coaches can be misleading. In fact, the English system requires a coach to pass both their level one and level two badges – more than 100 hours of tuition – before attempting the B licence, while it takes only 16 hours in some countries to reach a similar level.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had very similar numbers to Germany, even though we have a smaller population,” explains Howie. “What we’re beginning to see is the benefit of some of the changes we have made.”
After spending all of the second Saturday moving cones around in the freezing cold, I am definitely already starting to feel like a coach, albeit not the next José Mourinho. Cumming gives us some pointers on how to improve our sessions before our final assessment, although he insists we will all pass with flying colours.
Previously, the equivalent junior team managers’ course was not assessed and required only one day’s attendance. However, Cumming thinks the level one qualification encourages more people to continue their development through initiatives such as the FA’s Licensed Coaches Club, which provides significant discounts on future courses and currently boasts more than 35,000 members.
“It’s down to the individuals where they go from here,” he says. “I will give everyone a signpost of where I think they should be heading with some timescales but it’s very much down to their own energy. I think that’s right because you have either got a passion for it or you haven’t. If you come on this course and you enjoy it then we are there to help you push yourself.”
My final assessment proves to be a nerve‑racking experience but, inspired by the support of our group and after so much practice, Cumming is able to give the good news later that afternoon: we are now all qualified football coaches.
“We’re playing catch-up in some areas but we have a massive base to start from,” Howie reflects.
The establishment of 30 new “hubs” equipped with 3G pitches across 30 English towns and cities is the next stage of the FA’s long-term plan, a project that still requires £50m worth of investment. As the Premier League basks in the riches of its new £5.1bn TV deal, Howie knows exactly how far some of that money could go.
“We’ve done a lot of good work to get to this point and I think we’re on the cusp of achieving something great with the right kind of financial support,” he says. “If we increase the number of people who are being coached properly, that’s only going to make a future England manager’s job easier.”