Day two of the UEFA 'A' licence (part 2) was divided into the three sessions; one each in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Dr. John Kremer, a Sports Psychologist from Queen's University in Belfast, delivered the morning session on sports psychology in football. He covered an incredible amount of content, beginning with the premise that every time a coach opens his or her mouth, the coach impacts a player's perception of his or her own performance. Depending on what the coach says to the player, this can have either a positive or a negative effect.
Kremer believes that coaches are, by the very nature of their jobs, sports psychologists. The very best coaches have a high capacity to understand players; they can adapt their style of coaching, depending on the needs of each player.
Kremer used this quote from Sir Alex Ferguson to explain the point, "Footballers are all different human beings. Some are self-motivators, they need to be left alone...for some, you need causes, your country, them and us...and those causes can be created by the manager."
A key message that Kremer delivered was that as a coach, you need to look at who you are, what you can do, and what you cannot do. He believes that you should not surround yourself with people who are like you – you need people who challenge you, who offset your weaknesses. It was the same message that was delivered the previous day by Billy Dixon.
Kremer said that players are not limited by their physical capabilities, as many players do not fully explore the limits of those abilities. The thing that limits players is their minds.
An over-emphasis on results in football – especially at the youth level – limits our ability to produce players with, what Kremer called, 'NAch' – Need to Achieve. This over-emphasis on results in turn produces an abundance of players with, what Kremer called, 'FF' – Fear of Failure.
Given the state of youth soccer in Canada, this discussion struck a chord with me. Kremer's information confirmed everything that is wrong with results-driven youth football in Canada, and more important, everything that is right about the CSA's Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) plan.
Kremer went on to discuss, in depth, a number of other important topics. Mental toughness, balancing the three Cs (control, confidence and commitment), 'IZOF' (Individual Zone of Optimum Functioning) - which is the stress level at which an athlete optimally performs - and mental imagery were all explained, discussed and debated.
When speaking about mental toughness, Kremer said something that resonated in the room. He said that an athlete must play their sport for themselves. If they do it for someone else, they will be mentally fragile as a result.
Faye Downey delivered the afternoon session, and it was an extension of the lecture that she delivered on day one.
The topic of her presentation was "Trunk Stabilization", and touched on issues surrounding stability, what the stability requirements were for elite football players, how Olympic lifting can aid the development of stabilization, as well as some practical applications of stabilization and strength training.
One of the remarkable aspects of Downey's session was the topic of running.
Many professional football clubs employ athletics coaches to train and develop speed in players. Yet scientific evidence proves that footballers do not run like track athletes. Downey went on to explain and demonstrate the correct running technique for football, and then had the coaches practice the technique themselves.
Downey also said that SAQ (Speed and Quickness) training has little or no impact on developing speed in players. The reason is that it does not improve the player's ability to generate force, which is a key component of power (speed).
It was another fascinating presentation, and demonstrated yet again how advanced the game of football is becoming at the highest level.
Given the years of study required to reach Downey's level of knowledge in her field, it was asked why this information was being presented to the coaches, if only at a superficial level. Her response was interesting – she said that having a broad knowledge of the mechanics of training footballers in a sport-specific way allows coaches to have an informed conversation with specialists like her when planning and periodizing their training calendar.
Phil Melville, a staff coach for the Irish FA, and Nigel Best, Performance Manager for the Irish FA, delivered the evening session. There were four topics discussed over the course of the lecture: the use of statistics in football, trends in the modern game, blocking at set pieces and zonal marking vs. man-for-man marking at set pieces.
I won't go into great detail about the discussions that took place. With 28 passionate, knowledgeable coaches taking the course – as well as the excellent instructors – there were plenty of ideas put forward for debate. No consensus was found on any topic, which only proves that there is more than one way to play the beautiful game.
Day two is best summed up by a quote from Alfie Wylie, staff coach for the Irish FA. At the conclusion of our morning lecture, he dismissed the class by saying, "Remember, your mind is like a parachute; it only works when it is open!"