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Coach student exchange excels

UEFA's innovative coach education exchange programme brought UEFA Pro licence students from Belgium, FYROM, Republic of Ireland and Switzerland to Nyon for the fourth such session.

Howard Wilkinson and Gareth Southgate have made invaluable contributions to the UEFA coach education student exchange programme
Howard Wilkinson and Gareth Southgate have made invaluable contributions to the UEFA coach education student exchange programme ©UEFA.com

Student coaches from four more European national associations have taken part in UEFA's coach education exchange programme for UEFA Pro licence students.

The coaches – some of them recent former players or already on the coaching ladder within club football – came to UEFA's headquarters in Nyon from the national associations of Belgium, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, and the gathering was the fourth of the programme's first official season.

"The idea is to provide pro-licence students with an opportunity to have international exchange, and to have access to UEFA, its tutors and materials," explained UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh.

Participants on each course come from three or four European associations and are led by their respective coach education directors. UEFA appoints experienced tutors/coach educators to work with UEFA's technical director and UEFA's football education services at each event, with members of the UEFA Jira Panel also actively involved alongside guest presenters. Jira Panel members Howard Wilkinson (England) and Michel Sablon (Belgium) joined Andy Roxburgh in guiding the student coaches through the three days of study.

The course offers room for discussion and debate, exchanges of views and practical training sessions at the Colovray stadium opposite UEFA’s Nyon headquarters. Specific topics cover, among other things, how a coach deals with crisis situations, the mental strength needed to cope with pressure, and human skills required to handle the media, supporter expectations and players.

A media session gives participants the opportunity to test their mettle in the flash interview situation seen on television after a UEFA Champions League game, as well as enlightening them on how to interact with, and react to, the written press, radio and TV.

Former England defender and Middlesbrough FC manager Gareth Southgate, now head of elite development at England's Football Association, was a guest at the course, and gave the coaches a comprehensive insight into moving from playing into a management role and the important lessons learned and experience gained as a result.

A key theme of the force was the strength of character and conviction of message that coaches need to survive in the game. Coaches such as Sir Alex Ferguson, who have enjoyed great longevity in the job, are shown as shining examples of those coaches who have survived, adapted, developed and matured into the well-respected figures they are today.

In a fascinating presentation, Wilkinson emphasised the need for total commitment, knowledge of one's strengths and weakness, clarity of thought, values, philosophy and message, and the capacity to manage people and situations. A coach, he said, needed particular human qualities as well as technical knowledge. "If you can get players to believe, to feel that they can trust you and that you are honest with them, and that you care about them, they will follow you anywhere," he reflected.

The course has proved a resounding success, with the associations and participants welcoming the opportunity to gather and swap experiences and viewpoints. "One of the advantages is that you discover people and mentalities that you didn’t know before," said Guy Hellers, the former R. Standard de Liége player, who played for and coached Luxembourg's national team. "Therefore there are exchanges between certain nations and certain sporting philosophies – UEFA's idea to put this programme in place is really excellent."

"I think it's very important to exchange ideas with other countries," said Marc van Geersom, Belgium Under-19 coach. "We have our own opinion of how we work with our guys, but to see what is happening in those other countries is also important, and we can adapt if possible within our vision."

"It's important that we benchmark what is happening elsewhere," added Irish coach education tutor and U21 national coach Noel King, "and that's the key – we're not working away in a different tangent, we're being kept up to date with exactly what is happening at the highest levels. It makes sure that you stay on track with what’s expected at the highest standards."