The UEFA Coaching Convention, which ensures well-structured and ever evolving coach education for Europe's member associations, has just celebrated its 20th birthday.
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How do people celebrate birthdays? Blowing out candles, cutting a cake, chinking a few glasses with friends and family? How many interpret birthdays as a cue for looking back at achievements during all those years gone by?
But those involved in coach education could well use the 20th birthday of the UEFA Coaching Convention to reflect on two decades of progress. The wider public, on the other hand, can be forgiven for not posting birthday greetings. After all, the intricacies of coach education are pretty much a hidden world or, as Howard Wilkinson once put it, “a bit like the swan that’s gliding gracefully across the surface but pedalling like mad underneath.” The former England manager, who is still deeply involved with UEFA’s coach education programmes, has a fairly radical slant on the impact made by the UEFA Coaching Convention: “I would honestly argue that, if it wasn’t for UEFA, coaching in some parts of Europe would still be in the dark ages.”
Andy Roxburgh, the long-time UEFA technical director who played a major role in the design and implementation of the convention, recalls that it was conceived in the 1990s when: “The Executive Committee felt that coaches were the key people in terms of raising standards and improving European football – not only at pro level but right through to the amateur and grassroots layers of the game.” The brief was to create unified minimum coaching standards, protect players from unqualified coaches, and establish coaching as a recognised profession. The level of coach education in all UEFA member associations has been raised, and the major impact is that it has smoothed the way for free movement of qualified coaches within the continent, in harmony with European legislation.
20 years old and still growing
To summarise two decades in a few words, the six founder member associations – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain – who signed the convention in 1998, kick-started a process that reached culmination only eight years later, by which time all UEFA member associations had jumped on board. At the moment, the total stands at 54 and, even excluding the broad base of UEFA grassroots C licences, 165,773 UEFA-endorsed diplomas (from grassroots to Pro levels) have been issued.
The convention has evolved on the basis that educating coaches is a dynamic process, that past practice is not necessarily best practice, and that improvements must constantly be sought. And they have been found. To adorn the trunk of the tree formed by the UEFA grassroots C, B, A and Pro diplomas, elite youth, goalkeeping and futsal specialisms have been added as branches. Programmes have been designed to encourage female coaches to earn UEFA badges. Coach education courses have been redirected towards reality-based learning. There is greater focus on the education of educators and continuing professional development.
The convention itself has been streamlined – and will be again in 2020. And, in the hidden part of the iceberg, a lot of readers will probably be unaware that earning a UEFA Pro licence entails 360 hours of tuition, with at least 216 hours dedicated to on-the-pitch activities and work experience. Many associations go far beyond these minimum requirements.
There is no shortage of plaudits for the convention. “This is a profession and it’s something you have to learn. So the training process is vitally important,” comments Didier Deschamps, world champion as player and coach. “Coach education has to be well-structured, multi-layered and constantly adapted to the evolutions of the game,” adds the previous wearer of the world crown, Joachim Löw. “UEFA realised this many years ago with the introduction of the Coaching Convention.”
The birthday, however, is no excuse for UEFA to pat itself on the back. The national associations need to be congratulated for embracing the UEFA concept, investing resources (and the €100,000 per year contributed by UEFA) into implementing the programmes, and making them work efficiently. The convention is a great example of the marriage between UEFA and its member associations. And that happy marriage has just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 182