The sun is pounding on a pristine 4G square in Aberdeenshire, the air is filled with the soft thumb of footballs in rushing nets and – somewhere in the middle of it all – I’m trying to figure out if I have what it takes to become a football coach.
This, it turns out, is not easy, and a career spent mainly analyzing teams, players and coaches in the media is not a guarantee of success. Fortunately, I’m not alone – there are about 40 of us on this special course, which was set up by the Scottish Football Association, part of the effort to develop a new generation of footballers who can take this elusive next step into coaching ,
Some participants are here because they coach their children’s team and need the qualifications, some coach teams of 13-year-olds and more, while others are talented junior footballers who are taking the first steps in a post-play career. A young lad is a goalie for Scottish League Two side Cove Rangers while another leaves mid-week friendly in a preseason against Aberdeen’s Premiership side. As for me? I just want to learn and see if I can.
This is about a more comprehensive problem. The Scottish game knows that something drastic has to change to reverse a decline in standards that has become institutional standards. When Scotland crashed out at the Women’s World Cup in the summer, it continued the embarrassing trend that no Scottish football team – male or female – has ever reached the knockout stages of an international tournament. The last time the men even qualified was in 1998.
But what exactly needs to change?
Part of the goal of this special course is to overturn the stereotypical image of the “British footballer” – a player who is physical, runs a lot, makes his lines clear, makes strong tackles, and little else.
Proud of this outmoded model – to a lesser extent in England like Scotland – is one reason why our European neighbors are able to make their way to comfortable 3-0 victories against us: this rejection of the “other,” a regrettable and deliberate hand. because we ignored progress, we took a blissfully ignorant path. In order to develop better modern players, the way they are taught must evolve.
With that in mind, techniques such as “Skillful Silence,” a term used by SFA Regional Player and Coach Development Manager and one of our instructors in Aberdeenshire, Calum MacDonald, are considered critical to producing a higher quality of young footballers.
“We want to promote creativity, to recreate the conditions of street football,” he says. “I take my son to the park to throw a ball, I look around and there is no one who only plays soccer, children have to learn by themselves.”
One factor attributed to the English and particularly southern London production line of high-tech footballers is the number of “cages” scattered around congested urban areas. Players like Ryan Sessegnon, Wilfried Zaha and even the German Mesut Özil believe that learning to play in a closed space with older guys has made them the players they are today, while many Premier League managers, including Arsene Wenger, have expressed. Football academies are about to coach teenagers and kill the X-factor of improvised creativity. Let the players play is the new mantra.
To a certain extent, this also applies to coaching. My course emphasizes that attendees should not follow a rigorous teaching method, but should adopt new ideas to improve the game and ensure that players enjoy the game.
Tales from the early-season break-up of hills and busy beach runs are synonymous with amateur and VHS era professionals, but no one has ever enjoyed them.
One of the first exercises we are shown is to change the old, systematic thinking of soccer past. Multicolored cones are scattered on the lawn and the participants who can participate are asked to jog between a color of the cone. A short time later we get a ball and dribble to a different color, then the same with our left foot, then in-and-out of bowling, then a sprint. The exercise goes on at a fairly tame pace for about 10 minutes, until Mark Slater, SFA Club Development Manager, brings it to a standstill and explains the amount of running we’ve done is tantamount to some of the terrible meetings managers continue their players Put their players through every summer.
The important thing is that we have made all the running with the ball on our feet, get important touches, improve control, feel more comfortable with the ball. Everything is relative to the actual game.
At Premier League clubs, coaches now work closely with sports scientists to design training exercises that mimic game situations and the manager’s requirements, combining the best practices and the appropriate amount of fitness work while always using the ball. Why do players run seven miles on a flat line when doing dozens of short sprints on Saturday at 3pm?
“Players get bored when they are asked to walk,” says MacDonald. “They will always go, ‘When do we get to play a game?’ If I can hold players who run five-page, amateur football or even football, that means I’ve done my job, that’s your job as a coach. “
Being interested in young players is one of the biggest challenges for the game. For their part, the SFA hopes that by improving coaching standards, fewer players will fall through the cracks created by ever-evolving distractions, especially in their teenage years. Some coaches give tips on how to include players who tend to skip training specifically to play Fortnite.
This special course lasts five days of training, teaching how to train and then deliver my own sessions until I finish qualifying at the Scottish FA 1.3 level, the step below a C license. The rung up is a Uefa B license, then A, and finally Pro – the qualification required by Premier League manager.
Participants will fail or fail;
Rather, they are encouraged to impress and improve each other, forming whatsapp groups and sharing coaching exercises among new colleagues as homework preparation. Some of the courses feel a bit like school, especially presentations gathered in a classroom around a teacher, but the giving and taking of ideas is constantly encouraged.
On the last day I have to direct an assigned training session of my invention after being instructed to defend one against a s- not my strong suit. I identify and (try) the principles of defensive philosophy that I want to convey (intervene early, correct body shape, guide them where you want) and always show them with the ball. In the course of the drill I have to stop, correct, explain and allow the play.
Then players go to “game-related training”, in this case a four-a-side match with conditions that make it easier to learn the previous exercise. All this applies to real football. If you want your team to push high on the field, players can be trained through practice exercises and then learn to use it in small games – all done with the ball. MacDonald and Slater give me feedback on my sessions, with attendees also being asked to contribute. It is constructive, praise is given and everything makes sense.
Well, it seems I hear two coaches proudly boasting about the “Beasting” session their players will receive in the preseason, running up hilly hills and wandering over sand dunes.
Not every coach will be brilliant, not every player will get a chance to reach their potential, but by improving the standard of coaching, Scotland will perhaps bring players who are capable of taking the next step.
And the next time I watch a game and hear someone complaining that the manager should have done “something” to prevent his defender from being bypassed by an opposing winger, I might know what that “something” should be.