Day one of the UEFA 'A' licence (part 2) was broken up into four different lectures. To say that there was a lot of information to process would be an understatement of enormous proportions.
The first lecture, which ran from 9:30am-12:30pm was delivered by Billy Dixon, a performance coach from Portadown, NI. Billy has worked with various national football federations, Premier League clubs, Irish Rugby, an F1 champion, major media outlets and various corporate clients.
He spoke about confidence, and explained the concept that confidence is very much a transient characteristic. When players suffer a dip in form, it isn't that they lose their ability; they lose their confidence.
According to Dixon, one of the challenges of being an elite coach lies in understanding what motivates and drives each and every one of your players.
He explained that there are two passions in life - love and hate. The things we love can include football, money, fame, family and friends, while the things we hate can include losing, failure, dishonesty or laziness. There is no right or wrong answer to this, because everyone will have a different list of things they love and hate.
A successful coach is one who finds out what his or her players are passionate about and uses that as motivation to maximize their performance.
Dixon defined the difference between talent (something you are born with) and ability (something you learn to do). It is his belief that one doesn't need talent to be successful, but one does need ability.
One of the exercises that Dixon had us complete was something that we had all done before - we wrote down our strengths and weaknesses. He then added five characteristics that he claimed were essential in creating a successful team.
Strategic - Someone who can see the vision of what the end goal is; someone who sees the 'big picture'.
Tactical - Someone who can map out the route from where the team is currently to where the strategic goal is.
Instinctive - Someone who can see things that others cannot. In football, this is typically a creative player who often defies instructions but is capable of producing match-winning moments of individual brilliance.
Practical - Someone who just gets things done.
Bonder - Someone who brings everything (and everyone) together.
As a coach, you may have some of these five characteristics as strengths, but you might also have some of them as weaknesses. The truly great coaches, Dixon believes, make their strengths stronger and bring in people that make up for their weaknesses.
Dixon outlined some practical solutions to dealing with stress - an inevitable byproduct of working in professional football. The one that stood out for me was 'helping others.' Dixon said that by doing so, you change your mindset from looking inward to looking outward.
It is his belief that behaviour changes attitudes and he outlined how your posture, walk, eye contact, smile and tone of voice can all impact your players. How you relate to them will largely affect how they respond to you and the secret to success is to build loyalty. If you make your players feel important, you will in turn earn their loyalty.
Dixon's presentation was excellent, and while much of what he said might seem like common sense, there is a problem with common sense - it isn't very common.
After a quick break for lunch, we were off to the University of Ulster in the afternoon for a lecture delivered by Faye Downey, MSc., who is a strength and conditioning expert and performance consultant. Her presentation was entitled 'Training for Rate of Force Development and Power.'
The training of professional athletes is incredibly complex, and the area of strength and conditioning is one of the most likely areas where an elite coach would look to bring in a specialist. An expert with Downey's knowledge and experience should be viewed as a very valuable asset to a professional football club.
Downey explained the principle that power is equal to force times speed and that power is very much limited by the athlete's ability to generate force. She went on to discuss three of the five power-training options she utilizes (Olympic lifting, complex training and plyometrics) as well as the 'potentiation effect,' whereby force training is immediately followed by speed training in order to maximize results.
It was an overload of scientific information that left many coaches scratching their heads - further underlining the need for strength and conditioning experts in the game.
Just before dinner, we had a lecture from Gail Stephenson, who is the head of Orthoptics and Vision Science at the University of Liverpool. Since 1996, Stephenson has also been a consultant for Manchester United.
Stephenson's presentation confirmed just how in-depth and thorough the world of professional football has become.
Over eighty per cent of the information that players need to make informed decisions on the pitch comes from their vision. Yet, physiological vision function and performance analyses are not routinely performed at football clubs.
Well, they are at Manchester United.
Stephenson outlined the three most important aspects of vision: peripheral vision (the ability to see objects and movement outside of the direct line of vision), binocular vision (the ability to maintain visual focus on an object with both eyes, creating a single visual image) and spatial awareness (a person's ability to judge where they are in relation to the objects around them).
Here is a truly staggering statistic from Stephenson's research at Manchester United. The general population has a 'central' orientation to their spatial awareness (whereby their perception of where they are in relation to objects around them is central to their field of vision) in just three per cent of cases.
In Manchester United's first team squad, the percentage of players with a 'central' orientation to their spatial awareness is ninety per cent! When asked if she believes that this is an indicator of potential for United's Academy players, Stephenson said that they are currently researching this possibility.
After dinner, our final lecture was a lively discussion with Nigel Best, the Irish Football Association's Performance Manager, about the merits of the 4-3-3 system of play.
With 25-plus 'A' licence coaches in the room, there was plenty of opinion to go around.
The discussion centred on the roles and responsibilities of the players, depending on what formation was being utilized within the 4-3-3 system itself - one holding midfielder or two.
In ideal circumstances, my preference is to play with one holding midfielder.
Other coaches had different preferences, but one thing we all agreed on was this: the choice of system (4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-5-1) and the type of formation utilized within that system is entirely dependent on the characteristics of the players the coach has at his or her disposal. This underscores the importance of the coach's ability to profile players, so that he or she can then choose a system and formation that best suits the players' strengths, and minimizes their weaknesses.
It was a very busy first day, full of information and thought-provoking discussion. It was a great start to the course and one that leaves me looking forward to tomorrow.