Day three of the UEFA 'A' licence (part 2) was broken in four parts; a morning lecture and on-field practical, two afternoon lectures and an evening lecture.
The morning lecture and on-field practical was delivered by Kevin McGreskin, who has acquired his UEFA 'A' licence from three separate football associations. Kevin is an elite performance specialist, and is the Technical Director of SoccerEyeQ.
McGreskin's session was entitled 'Developing Game Awareness', and centred on the idea that the technical, tactical and physical difference between elite players is often minimal; the thing that separates the best from the rest is that the best players consistently make better decisions while under pressure.
The execution of skilled performance in football involves three stages: perception (the 'input' of what the player sees), decision-making (the 'processing' or thinking that the player does) and action (the 'output' of the player doing).
In a 90-minute game, elite players spend less than two minutes in possession of the ball. They take less than two touches per possession and have between 40-50 interactions with the ball. Over the course of a game, 98 per cent of a player's time is spent in the 'perception' and 'decision-making' stages - yet very little time is ever spent developing a player's ability in these areas.
The three levels of situational awareness in a game are basic perception (the ability to take in information), realization of relationships (putting context and meaning to the information) and anticipation (recognizing patterns of behaviour).
The five things that dictate the roles and responsibilities of players on the field are the ball, teammates, the opposition, the area of play and the state of play. The first three are dynamic variables (always changing), while the final two are semi-static variables (sometimes changing).
The on-field practical session focused on the dynamic variables - and it was one of the best sessions I've ever seen or participated in.
McGreskin used visual overload to train the players' abilities in perception and decision-making. He did this by introducing colours; coloured gloves, bibs, footballs and tennis balls.
McGreskin started with a very simple passing drill; two players 20 metres apart, each with a ball, with a player in the middle. The middle player received a pass from the first player, played it back and turned to get the ball from the second player. McGreskin then increased the visual stimuli to overload the player's visual perception and decision-making process.
He did this by getting the players to wear one red glove and one yellow glove. When the player in the middle received a pass, he had to look over his shoulder to see the opposite player (who was instructed to hold up one coloured glove as the pass was struck). The player in the middle then had to call out the colour of the raised glove, before playing the return pass and going to receive the second ball.
Adding more and more variables increased the difficulty; shouting out the colour of the glove being raised, tapping the inside of the opposite foot from which the coloured glove was on, introducing coloured cones around which the ball had to be carried before playing the return pass, etc.
McGreskin then proceeded to introduce interactive passing drills, where two teams of eight players (one team in green bibs and one team in blue bibs) passed two balls in a 30x30 grid, alternating passes from a green-bibbed player to a blue-bibbed player. Again, more and more variables were introduced to increase the difficulty; recognition of an external player holding up a coloured glove, calling out the colour of the glove before receiving the pass, introducing coloured footballs to correspond with the bib colours of the external players, introducing coloured tennis balls that had to be released to a teammate before receiving the pass, etc.
It was an incredible session, and put paid to the myth that training perception and decision-making skills cannot be done.
The morning session was adequately captured by a quote in McGreskin's lecture, from Abernathy, 2008: "Coaches should consider routinely using demanding secondary tasks concurrently with the practice of primary sports skills as a means of stimulating the continued automation of primary skills and the refinement of multi-tasking skills of athletes."
The first lecture of the afternoon was delivered by David Platt (not the former England international), who is a UEFA 'A' licence coach, a performance coach for the Team GB Olympic squad and a regional scout for Manchester United. Platt's lecture was entitled, 'The Winning Mentality: Recruiting, Assessing and Building Mental Toughness'.
Platt explained that of the four components of player development (technical, tactical, physical and mental), only the mental side of development has yet to be fully explored.
He gave numerous examples from his previous work, including as a coach at Liverpool FC. In his work with Team GB Cycling, he outlined the core values that the team has created: commitment (sacrifice), ownership (it's up to you), responsibility (benchmarks) and excellence (do your best).
An interesting area of discussion surrounded the recruitment and retention of players. Platt stated that off-field behaviour reflects on-field behaviour - you simply cannot flick a switch and expect a player's behaviour to change. So how a player behaves off the field - on social media, for example - often impacts a club's decision to recruit or retain that player.
Platt ended his presentation by advising the coaches to identify and be clear on their cultural and generic criteria for mental toughness. These core values should then be central to their recruitment, retention and development processes.
Phil Abbott, from Academy Soccer Coach (a session planning software company that the Irish FA uses for all of its coach education courses), delivered the second lecture of the afternoon.
While Abbott's session was very brief, he outlined the many areas in which technology plays a role in the modern game. He outlined the criteria for professional club academies in England to enter the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Program), as well as the funding that is involved for clubs in that program.
Abbott presented some other interesting bits of information: 65 per cent of the population are visual learners; the brain processes information 60,000 times faster than text; and visual aids can increase retention of information by nearly 400 per cent.
The message to the coaches was clear - technology can aid in your ability to get information to your players. How you choose to use that technology is entirely up to you.
Desi Curry, the Technical Director of the Irish Football Association, delivered the evening session. His topic was 'Modern Trends in Football', and was an extension of the lecture delivered the previous evening by Phil Melville and Nigel Best.
There were five topics that were discussed and debated by the coaches:
- What are the key technical aspects that are increasing/decreasing in the modern game?
- As a coach, which tactical formation would you choose to play, and why?
- How, as a coach, would you plan to 'counter the counter attack'?
- What are the key factors affecting set plays?
- As a coach, how do you prefer to defend/attack corner kicks?
I won't go into to detail about the discussions that took place, as it would likely fill a book! But I will leave you with this quote from the evening lecture that I found especially pertinent to Canadian soccer:
"Leaders take people to where they want to be; great leaders take people to where they OUGHT to be!"