Europe's coach educators are hard at work in practical and theoretical sessions at their latest UEFA course, which the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) is hosting at Coverciano.
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At the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) national training centre in Coverciano, on the outskirts of Florence, Chris van der Weerden is facing the most daunting experience of his budding coaching career. The former PSV Eindhoven player is playing the role of a trainee under the watchful eyes of more than 100 coach education specialists from all 53 of UEFA's member associations.
The 18th UEFA Course for Coach Educators is setting out to accelerate the trend towards a more reality-based learning programme for student coaches rather than the more traditional approach. So, on the first full day of the event running from 12 to 15 April, Van der Weerden was the guinea-pig student on stage during a simulation related to dealing with players and, in the afternoon, during a match between an ACF Fiorentina youth team and a UEFA side featuring the likes of Lorenzo Amoruso, Graeme Le Saux, Giancarlo Antognoni and Alessandro Altobelli.
"At recent coaching events," says UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh, "there has been a lot of debate about how to place the development of coaches in a more realistic environment than in the past. This course is attempting to highlight the issues to be addressed and to illustrate, through simulations, discussions and practical demonstrations, how best to proceed."
Roxburgh kicked off the course by examining the trends likely to influence the education of tomorrow's coaches. Although top-level coaches have a high profile, their tutors take a low-profile – but vital – role. Former England coach Howard Wilkinson reminded the participants in Coverciano that "teaching is the most important profession in the world", but the educational swing is clearly towards how to coach rather than what to coach.
This means giving student coaches a maximum of work experience under the wing of experienced tutors. Van der Weerden was monitored in Coverciano by his personal tutor Ruud Dokter and one of his first tasks was to interview Graeme Le Saux, persuaded to masquerade as a 17-year-old newcomer to the Dutchman's Under-19 squad.
The former Chelsea FC and England defender was joined on stage by Lorenzo Amoruso, centre-back for ACF Fiorentina and Rangers FC, to address the conference's core theme from a different angle – the qualities that the player expects to see in his coach. Both highlighted the importance of communication.
"I worked with Italian, Dutch, English and Scottish coaches," said Amoruso, now the holder of a UEFA Pro licence, "and I absorbed a lot of ideas. Some considered themselves as decision-makers rather than communicators and, at one of my clubs, I have to say that I simply didn't feel part of the team."
Le Saux, who worked under 15 coaches during 18 years of top-level football, added: "The lack of continuity was difficult for the players as well as the coaches themselves, and I definitely feel I could have developed into a better player if I had been given more time with the really good coaches I've encountered. Before I came on stage, I actually made a list of the coaches and I realised that the ones I considered to be the best were the ones who had the ability to communicate individually with every member of his squad.
"In my playing days, there was still a culture of thinking that, because we were wearing the same tracksuits, we were identical personalities. So I'm happy to see, at this conference, that the coaching tutors are encouraging the upcoming coaches to move away from this tendency."
Among the highlights of the second part of the course is a session with Italy's world champion coach Marcello Lippi.