A slightly different approach with today’s article- no specific match analysis, instead an overview of why I believe the FA need to improve their provision for grassroots coaches. My main focus of this article will be ‘The FA Level 1 award in coaching football’, or as I like to term it, ‘The FA mickey mouse award’. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed completing the course and had a great time, however I feel it lacked sufficient depth. Our grassroots coaches deserve better.
The FA value their Level 1 course at £150, and for that money I would expect better. They don’t lie in their initial advertisement of the course; we are promised a guide to ‘safe and enjoyable coaching’, and that is certainly what we get. But shouldn’t we be getting more than that? Money aside, is being told how to deliver ‘safe and enjoyable’ coaching really going to benefit our players development? I don’t think so. The FA states that the key stages of development in a young footballers life come between the ages of 8 and 12, and being Level 1 qualified enables you to coach children between the ages of 5 and 16, need to say any more? We are putting the young footballers of England in the hands of coaches who are just the subject of an ‘introductory’ course, and to be quite frank I believe that is unacceptable. A lot has been made in recent weeks of the standard of the Premier League, I can tell you one thing- it isn’t going to improve if our Level 1 award doesn’t improve.
For me, training sessions should address the tactical, technical, physical and cognitive areas of the game. The Level 1 award promises to ‘develop technical skills’- I myself wouldn’t call ‘shooting’, ‘passing’ and ‘heading’ technical skills, in my mind they are no more than fundamental, basic skills, skills that any aspiring coach should be able to teach without the aid of a course valued at 150 pounds. In fact, the drills and training exercises that the course did deliver were in my opinion too basic. One, named ‘Robin Hood’ if I remember correctly, involved a group of balls being placed in the middle of a square, with small groups of players on each corner of the square. Their task was to run into the centre, collect a ball, and dribble it back to their corner. This would continue until all the balls were gone from the middle, upon which the group with the most balls would be crowned the winners. Considering completion of this course allows you to coach players up to the age of 16, a drill such ‘Robin Hood’ is nothing short of pointless. How is it benefiting our players development? All it involves is a basic turn and a 15 yard dribble under no pressure at all- a basic skill. Our players should be challenged technically and tactically, drills should be comprised where players receive the ball in a crowded area and are forced to make their own decisions; do I or don’t I turn? Have I got room to dribble? What direction do I turn in? What direction do I dribble in? We need to start bringing up our players with the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, I personally don’t feel that a game of ‘Robin Hood’ is good preparation for any match situation.
I could highlight almost all of the drills in the Level 1 manual as being too basic, however I’ll save myself the pain and just describe one more. A shooting exercise this time, in fact this particular shooting exercise is the one upon which I was assessed on. Two goals are set-up, opposite each other, around 40 yards apart. On either side of the halfway point there are two ‘gates’ comprised of two cones a couple of yards apart from each other. There was two groups of players, one formed a line behind one goal on the left hand side of the pitch, the other formed a line behind the opposite goal on the right hand side of the pitch. The aim of the game- you’ve probably guessed it already; the first player from each group would dribble the ball through the ‘gate’ and then shoot at the open goal, following that they would then join the line of players behind the goal they had just shot at, and so on. My problem with this drill is near enough identical to my problem with the ‘Robin Hood’ drill- does it challenge the players decision making? No. Does it challenge their tactical awareness? No. Does it challenge their thought processes? Not really. Players should be challenged in training exercises to make decisions for themselves, and the Level 1 course delivers next to no challenging material for coaches to put into practice at all. Our young players require more!
The course content
The FA states that the Level 1 award will deliver information on the following:
- Player and coach development
- The FA’s respect programme
- Laws of the game
- An introduction to The FA’s Long Term Player Development Model
- An introduction to football for all
Now that all looks very nice, but does the course really deliver all of the above? Perhaps more importantly, are all of the above really necessary? I think throughout this article it has been established that the drills presented don’t aid player development. The drills presented are neither tactically, technically, physically or cognitively challenging enough and don’t give our players the opportunity to develop their technical skills, their tactical awareness, nor their though processes.
The FA’s respect programme- I can see why it’s part of the course. Coaches do need to be educated on what is and isn’t acceptable conduct on the touchline. I would however question the length of course time spent covering the rules and regulations regarding conduct etc. For me, most of it was common sense and more emphasis could have been placed on the player development aspect, upon which I feel the course was lacking in significantly.
Laws of the game- Ridiculous. A coach paying £150 for a course doesn’t need to be told the rules of the game. I would suggest that anyone taking the course has followed football for long enough to know the laws of the game, plus there are so many grey areas in the game nowadays I don’t even think those at the top of the game are 100% clear on some of the laws.
An introduction to The FA’s Long Term Player Development Model- On paper it looks like a very beneficial element of the course, however in practice I would question how 99% of the material presented was delivered with player development in mind. Too much on basic skills, not enough on how to develop and improve.
An introduction to football for all- This element is in fact one of the major downfall’s of the course in my opinion. There is too much focus on spectators, parents and administration- an award in football coaching should be more advanced than this. We need to start placing more emphasis on developing our players on the pitch, yes the off the pitch elements are important, but they should be covered by a separate course. The Level 1 should be focused on 24+ hours of on the pitch player progression.
The FA Level One award in coaching football is impossible to fail, and it shouldn’t be that way. The course need to challenge the minds of our country’s coaches, allow them to develop, and in turn this will aid player development. With all due respect, some of the members on the course that I participated in had about the same coaching ability as a banana, and guess what? They still managed to pass. Rather than being a course aimed at those who are new to coaching, I believe there should be less of an introductory flavour to the course and more of an advanced element. I will leave you with one statistic- a recent study showed that there were 26,000 Level 1 qualified coaches in England, and only 6,000 of those had gone on to complete the Level 2 qualification. I believe that has a lot to do with the price of the Level 2 course, but in my mind it just shows how interesting and inspiring the Level 1 award is. Our grassroots game needs a major overhaul.