From Monday to Friday of this week, I will be blogging from Belfast, Northern Ireland, as I complete the final component of my UEFA 'A' licence – an advanced coaching licence being delivered by the Irish Football Association, a member of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations).
The UEFA 'A' licence takes one-year to complete. The course is comprised of two residential weeks; the first is at the start of the course, and the second is at the conclusion. The workload includes classroom lectures and seminars, practical sessions, three practical assessments, a group presentation as well as an individual theory paper.
The practical assessments are the most nerve-wracking part of the course for most coaches. Not only are you being assessed by your instructors (and you must pass the final two assessments to be awarded the licence), you are also being judged by your peers. As many of the coaches on the course have been involved in football their entire lives – some at the very highest levels of the game - winning them over can be a daunting task.
The assessments work like this; you are given a topic and must develop and deliver a training session that meets the objectives of that topic. You have one assessment during your first residential week, with the remaining two assessments taking place some time before the second residential week, usually at the club at which you are coaching.
The first assessment is a 'phase of play' session (meaning the session must occur with the players in the area of the pitch specific to your topic, and usually builds towards 11v11 football), and is expected to last around 30 minutes. Warm-ups, functional work and warm-downs are not included in that time, as the coaches generally get assessed towards the end of the residential week, back-to-back, and are already warmed up.
It makes for long days though, as the coaches on the course are often asked to participate in the assessment sessions as players. It does, however, create a very collegial atmosphere; the coaches work together to get each other through the course.
The final two assessments are arguably the most challenging. You are given the topic of your second assessment in advance, and are expected to deliver a 45-minute session that meets the objectives of your topic. As soon as you complete your session, your assessor gives you your results.
If your session is deemed to be sufficient to warrant a passing grade, you are immediately given the topic for your third assessment. You then have 10 minutes to prepare your session, which is your final practical assessment.
It's fair to say you need to know what you are doing.
The theory paper has a variety of questions that you have to answer. Here is one of the questions from my theory paper:
1 (a) Assume you are the Manager/Coach of a team. What team shape would you adopt, i.e. 4-4-2, 4-3-3, etc.? Explain the reasons why you would adopt this shape.
1 (b) Also, indicate the roles/responsibilities of all the players, using a diagram(s) to illustrate the pattern/direction of runs expected from your players when ATTACKING.
1 (c) Finally, describe your team tactics/shape when defending, using a diagram(s) to illustrate your answer.
You can be as detailed and descriptive as you want in your answers. Personally, I think it is very important to cover every detail as a coach, so that you are prepared for every possibility that might occur in a game. However, when conveying instructions to your players, the simpler you can make the game for them, the better. Ultimately, you want to give them the freedom to make their own decisions on the pitch, while always being mindful of their role in the team's tactical plan.
I am really looking forward to this week, as I always enjoy a spirited discussion about the game – something that is sure to take place in the classroom sessions that the final week is primarily composed of. I am especially looking forward to the 'motivational' seminar, delivered by a good friend of mine, Watt Nicoll.
I worked with Watt for two years while I was the captain at Ipswich Town FC, and he is one of the most engaging, intelligent men I've come across in the game. His presentations are incredibly powerful, as anyone who has seen him speak can attest. His seminar (and the many stories he will share over a cup of tea afterwards!) is sure to be the highlight of the week.