Continuing a coaching journey, first steps on the UEFA A License

The last few months have been memorable. The change in how we do things in almost every element of our lives has been momentous. It has the potential to force a change that will impact on the balance and boundaries between work, home, learning & life for the foreseeable future. With my day to day role at UK Coaching we have had to re-think how we engage with coaches and innovate to create meaningful and memorable learning opportunities in a new way. The context of the world we live in currently has added some constraints on how we can access learning, and this for many coaches has been a fantastic opportunity to connect with a wide and diverse range of resources, webinars and podcasts.

The timing of lock down and Covid-19 clashed with the start date of Block 1 of the UEFA A License. The first six days of the course were scheduled to take place at St George’s Park, and like many other coaches this was a cause for great anticipation. Understandably the course could not be delivered in its traditional style, so The FA have adapted the learning experience to make course content on-demand, home based and flexible. Although there is no substitute for the informal learning opportunities that you find on coach education courses, such as sharing ideas with other coaches, building connections and checking & challenging topics and themes, The FA have developed, quite quickly, a unique learning experience that could influence the future look and feel of future coach education courses. The circumstances of being a home-based learner have emphasised that learning lives outside the classroom, and giving learners the opportunity to digest, reflect and make sense of the content at their own pace has huge benefits.

Personally, a driver for me enrolling on the UEFA A License was a pursuit to develop my technical knowledge of the game in a high level of detail. When reflecting on my coaching practice, the learning I have immersed myself in throughout recent years has explored theory and novel ideas that have validated and expanded many aspects of ‘how to coach’. I have been fortunate to spend time with coaching experts such as Richard Cheetham, Jean Cote and Russell Earnshaw exploring my curiosity about creating exciting, playful and vibrant learning environments which has a positive impact on young people playing sport. The voyage outside of the world of football has been revolutionary to my coaching approach. It has shone a spotlight on the importance of putting the player front and centre of the learning process, being playful with your practice design, understanding how you can be transformational with your coaching behaviours and the importance of co-creating the learning environment with the young people you are hoping to impact on the most.

The UEFA A License breaks the game in to various phases, three in possession, three out of possession and several considering transition in and out of possession. Block 1 of the qualification zooms in on Building the Attack and supports coaches to understand more about how England teams bring this to life but importantly to give the space for coaches to consider what this looks like in their context and how it lives with their players. The contextualisation of the content is an important element of making the learning sticky, but also takes effort to make the themes and key messages appropriate for international players age appropriate for the young people I coach on a regular basis. Thinking about the future direction of the course I am very excited about using a games based approach, with challenges, gamified content and constraints led practices (as well as many other approaches) to bring this content to life for younger players, developing what I hope will be an exciting blend of technical detail and innovative coaching.

The format of learning on the course takes three stages, which supports coaches to digest their understanding of the content. The FA have produced a series of on-demand webinars that sit on their YouTube channel for coaches to log in to and watch ahead of the workshop. I am sure that many of us have sat in classrooms and wanted to press pause on lessons or wanted to take the opportunity to re-wind and listen again to specific detail and key messages. The benefits of on-demand learning gives everyone the opportunity to slow down or speed up the course resources, which is useful when everyone on the UEFA A License will have a different set of experiences and expectations as a coach.

From here you have the opportunity to discuss and make sense of the content with another learner from the course. From a personal perspective these discussions have been one of the most valuable experiences so far as you are able to see the content through the lens of another learner, share your ideas but also have a useful coaching conversation. Using these moments to understand more about what others see and retain in the content is useful as a curious coach but also as a coach developer. It highlights how learning is non-linear and that every individual will see different things in the same learning material. If time allowed it would be fantastic to have these important coaching conversations with a range of coaches, but this opportunity is useful to connect, listen and share.

The final stage of the workshop process is a semi-structured conversation with a group of learners and an FA Tutor, exploring and taking a deeper dive in to the key topics of the theme. With the shift to an online learning space, it would be hard for the coach educator to get a ‘feel for the room’ in the traditional sense, and as a learner it may be 20-30 minutes between being able to speak and share your views. But to be able to take the opportunity to listen and reflect in this space is invaluable. On a personal note, I am happy to take a step back and understand the views of everyone else before speaking myself.

Two key discussions and themes stood out for me throughout block 1 of the course and were ultra-sticky in their impact on my views of and potential ability to coach. Looking ahead to when we can get back on the grass again, I know that having sight of these topics will enhance my delivery and the experience for the young people in our team. These themes are:

  • The use of data & using insight to inform practice
  • The quadrant tool to put 1v1 skills under the microscope

Here are some thoughts on what stood out about these themes:

Data & Insight informing practiceQuadrant Tool putting 1v1 skills under the microscope
Huge range of data available when observing the Premier League and Women’s Super LeagueUnderstanding the detail of 1v1 battles across the pitch
Considering how to combine and “cut” data to provide unique insight (Passes in build third v movements in to finish third)Taking in to account the before, during and after of a player receiving the ball combined with what they are able to do with their eyes, body and feet
Considering the data for your team on a team and individual basisFurther links to theory around Skill Acquisition and Non-Linear Pedagogy
Innovative and real-to-life practice design informed by dataUtilising a tool that can be applied as a coach and shared with players in your team

Zooming in on the use of the quadrant tool, Paul McGuinnes (ex-Manchester United coach) details some key observation opportunities that are vital for coaches to consider when building effective practices for players, promoting perception-action coupling to be high on the list of practice considerations. I have detailed some ideas around how coaches might utilise this with the players in their care:

UEFA A License
Quadrant Tool – Cosiderations for coaches
Before• Where is the player looking?
• How long is the player looking for?
• How many times does the player look?
• When does the player look?
• Why does the player look?
• What is the body shape of the player?
• Are they under pressure from an opponent or in space?
• Is their body set to play backwards or move forwards?
• Does their body position allow them to recognise where teammates are positioned?
• Do they player’s feet allow them to move the ball quickly?
• Is the player in a position to play off their first touch, or will they be required to take multiple touches?
• Is the player able to play on their stronger side?
• Does the foot position of the player afford their teammate to make a range of passes?
During• Is the player aware of where their closest 1v1 opponent is?
• Is the player able to look forwards and find the appropriate space or teammate to play the ball?
• When in possession of the ball is the player able to scan for space and find opportunities to exploit?
• What cues is the player aware of to inform their decision making?
• Can the player appropriatly time their movements and technical skills?
• Does the player demonstrate appropriate physical strength and control while in possession of the ball?
• Is the player able to execute effective movement solutions to dominate the 1v1 situation?
• Can the player recognise and exploit the weaknesses of their opponent?
• Does the player have effective technical skills to be able to hide, manoeuvre and transfer the ball?
• Is the player able to apply the most effective skill in the current 1v1 context?
• Based on the nature of the opponent and the part of the pitch play is taking place, is the player able to display a range of technical movement solutions?
• Can the player add deception to the way they move the ball?
After• Is the player able to recognise the next best movement or action immediately after releasing the ball?
• Does the player repeat their actions in similar situations later in the game?
• Does the player recognise cues from teammates for the next phase of play?
• Is the player able to adjust their body position after releasing the ball to be in an effective position to support their teammates?
• Can the player repeat movements and technical skills in a range of 1v1 battles?
• Is the player able to execute disguise in the way that they move?
• How effective is the timing of the player’s movement?
• Is the player able to shift body shape, position and balance after releasing the ball?
• Can the player consider the timing of their movements to create additional challenges for their opponents?
• Can the player perceive the next anticipated movements and utilise their footwork to be available for a teammate?

The ideas around helping players become more skilful have helped me think about practice design and delivery, and in-particular how we as coaches can afford the players in our care the opportunity to discover movement solutions based on the types design of practice and challenge we set in practice. This creates more opportunity for perception-action coupling – in other words creating cues and triggers for players in practice that they are likely to experience in games.

When reflecting on the first block of the UEFA A there are so many take away messages that have consolidated my approach to coaching, especially the reasons behind why I coach the way that I do. The content of the course has also shone a light in areas where I would like to learn more as a coach, especially delving deeper into technical detail and making the content age-appropriate for the players in my care.

As a coach developer the delivery and content of the course has prompted me to think about credibility. As I haven’t played football at the highest level (far from it), does that mean I do not have the credibility to make a difference at the highest level of the game? I believe that by not playing at the highest level of football (or any sport) creates an opportunity to remove potential barriers, create a safe environment for your players to ask questions and experiment within the way that they play. Perhaps the opposite to credible is incredible!

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