Adding the 2011 UEFA European Under-21, U19 and Women's U17 Championship titles to the UEFA EURO 2008 and 2010 FIFA World Cup crowns understandably made Spain a reference point at the ninth UEFA Workshop for Coach Education staged in conjunction with the Football Association of the Czech Republic (ČMFS) in Prague this week.
When asked to name the key to success, the technical director of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Ginés Meléndez, immediately replied "coach education. The basis for all our successes is the quality of the coaches who do a lot of hard work at the clubs and send players into our national teams perfectly equipped to play at the highest level. UEFA has had a lot to do with this, because the coaching convention and the coach education programmes have helped to raise standards all over Europe."
Coaching the coaches is one of football's unsung elements – and the three-day event in the Czech capital obviously attacked the issue of how best to set about it. "The footballing environment has evolved over the last ten years," said Nico Romeijn, coach education manager at the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), "and coaches need to be equipped to dominate three main areas – coaching at games, leading purposeful training sessions, and managing the team and its individual components." As UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh pointed out: "These days, how to coach is generally more important than what to coach."
The emphasis of the workshop was therefore on how UEFA can best offer continued support to the coaches who take on the crucial task of educating the coaches of the future. This was the lead-in to an in-depth review and discussion about UEFA's coach education programme, including the newly introduced exchange scheme in which UEFA Pro licence students – many of them high-profile former or current players – from three national associations meet at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon for four or five-day courses that provide added international value to the coaching courses organised by individual member associations.
In Prague, there was also close examination of plans to add specialist branches of UEFA-endorsed licences for goalkeeper coaches, fitness coaches and futsal coaches to the central core of the UEFA Convention on the Mutual Recognition of Coaching Qualifications (or UEFA Coaching Convention). These were the topics broached on the final morning by former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner; by the senior technical adviser to the Football Association of Norway (NFF), Andreas Morisbak; and by Spain's Ginés Meléndez, who took up the post of technical director immediately after guiding his country's U19s to the European title in Romania in July.
Also up for review were the structures and methodology related to courses that lead to the UEFA-endorsed A-youth licence. Nico Romeijn ran through the Dutch structures based on allowing students to combine practical work at clubs with residential meetings and specific assignments and tasks. "The assignments," he said, "are based on the sort of problems they are likely to meet as coaches and we also encourage students to reflect on their own performances and to trace their own paths."
Antonin Plachy, head of coach education at the host association, endorsed this theory when he analysed the educational parameters currently in place in the Czech Republic. "You need to combine a relaxed atmosphere among students with high performance demands," he commented. "It's important to create an environment where student coaches can fulfil their own potential, can feel inspired to solve problems in their own way, and can focus on the development of talented and creative players."
As UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh said in Prague: "Coach education is about preparing students – many of them ex-players – to teach and convey ideas, to help them to develop leadership qualities, and to prepare them for all the realities of the coaching profession."
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