Whilst studying for my UEFA B licence I was received an almost heaven sent email! In the summer months I had applied for a vacancy to assist the lead development phase coach at a nearby professional club’s academy. At the time of applying, I was obviously not even studying for my B licence and was honest about this in my cover letter. I tried to express my passion for youth development succinctly and sent it off along with my fairly varied CV. This was one of many other applications I went for over the summer before heading for my holiday. For this particular one, I had no expectation.
However to my surprise a response did miraculously arrive and I was invited to come and observe training and meet with the coach with a view to lead a practice the next session. This was the ideal situation I was looking for that would fit in alongside my B licence and I was truly grateful for the invite. The session I was given to lead was of my design but specifically with the defenders. I chose to progress things from 1 v 1s to 2 v 2s and into some unit work before the players joined together. The coach gave me some positive feedback and his general impressions and soon enough days later another email came through confirming the role to assist for the season.
Now before I go on, let me clarify this isn’t a formal role. It’s more of an agreed voluntary position and no expenses are offered. For me right now, regardless of the financial factors the opportunity is a great fit for my current situation and will help me at this crucial stage of my formal footballing education as I go through my B licence. Also, this isn’t the first time I have agreed upon the nature of such a position and think its a necessary step to take when trying to learn and progress in any given competitive field.
Session evenings I am able to attend are Monday and Wednesday. Match days unfortunately fall for me on Saturdays where I am involved with another commitment (More on that later!) The lead coach and I will meet half an hour before sessions would begin and he will explain how he would like the session to progress and where I can be more hands on. The club syllabus runs in six weekly blocks with different themes that could be interpreted to focus on both an attacking and defending emphasis e.g. Counter attacking, could be the theme but defending the counter may be the session objective. The facility available is an excellent all weather one with half a pitch apportioned to us while the other half is further halved and shared by other academy groups. The squad of players roughly sixteen of them, will arrive around ten minutes before the session will start and begin a dynamic warm up that the players themselves lead. Injured players even attend and explain their inability to participate to the coach. The academy physio is on hand and watches the session, stepping in when needed. The players then go through a technical warm up practice but on a number of occasions the coach has moved the players straight into opposed work with 1 v 1s and overloads with an emphasis on quick transitions. The two goalkeepers will go and work with the goalkeeper coach until required for the function or phase of play practices. Sessions will always end with an SSG divided into three sets. The sessions will last a 90 minutes with a debrief at the end along with any other business as the players lead their static stretches and make their way back to the locker rooms taking the equipment back with them.
The good thing about this particular role I have found has been the level of observation opportunity afforded. Certain weeks I would be afforded time to lead practices whereas others I would be a supportive figure sharing responsibility with small groups on a universal practice. The instances where I would be in an assistant capacity gave me time to watch the coach and examine his communication with detail. Of course dealing with greater ability players implies certain technical details are mastered or at least understood. Here the content of his words is often a blend of tactical instruction with technical guidance. The manner in which he speaks is mostly command led with occasion Q & A with lots of encouragement and praise whilst the players play. His organisation is swift and his knowledge of his players and their strengths and positional tendencies allows for a degree of realism and competitive individual match ups. He tends to let the practice run and tries to communicate to the group in between practice sets. His input during interventions is very precise and technical quality is always demanded. He tends not to correct things with a deliberate rehearsal unless he is completely moved to.
Now its important to note that these are the preferences and traits of one individual. So I cannot say whether this is atypical or typical of your average development phase pro club academy coach. What I have learnt and am continuing to learn are great things about structure and organisation and through knowledge of his players and of the practices he leads. But also the differences in player learning and performance that can be achieved through the subtleties in communication style. I believe the coach’s manner is like that of a teacher where he creates a competitive and quality environment based on high standards regularly complementing success and stepping in to correct when needed. His instruction is to the point and he can give effective technical and tactical details for the players to instantly apply that are relevant to their position.
Differences in style
There are a fair few things where I would differ in style but again this is down to the differences in us as individuals both as people and also our coaching histories. For example, I sometimes notice myself observing the same things as he does and his matter of fact nature often sees those details corrected fairly instantly after a restart. Whereas I may like to question and probe during a stoppage or even stop and intervene to reinforce more often using questions and corrected rehearsals, led by the players understanding. I think at this point it is also important to remember that this is a pro club academy and both the players and possibly coach are effectively working now for contracts next season. These pressures though naturally common at the upper echelons of the game are also felt to some extent at academy level also. As a result of such pressures on performance, this may or may not shape the coach’s communication style.
As I am currently going through the B licence I am actively being encouraged to go in and intervene with a command style that eventually moves away and shows variation for the benefit of the players’ long term understanding. But perhaps as I complete the process and allow some time to settle I may find myself adapting a more matter of fact way of correcting and managing practices, though at youth level I trust I wouldn’t. However the competitive and ‘professional’ environment I may find myself in could demand otherwise, but for the long term success of the players I hope this isn’t the case.