The UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup winner shares lessons learnt across more than 35 years of coaching.
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Rafael Benítez joined more than 40 coaches and technicians at UEFA HQ in Switzerland this week for the UEFA Youth League Coaching Forum.
Benítez worked extensively in youth and development coaching before taking his first steps in a senior role, going on to lift the UEFA Cup with Valencia in 2003/04 and the Champions League and Super Cup with Liverpool a year later.
The Spaniard shared his experiences over more than 35 years in coaching with 40 youth coaches and club representatives from teams which played in this season's UEFA Youth League. It is a competition that the 62-year-old believes provides great benefit to young players and their coaches.
"In the Youth League, you go to play against different players, different teams, different countries, different systems and different ways to play. You stay in a hotel and it's a different environment from the normal league – everything is totally different and it's really good for the players," he said.
"[Top youth teams] used to have three or four tournaments abroad, and that was important for me [as a coach]. To play against top sides in Europe was a great experience and you could see your level and experience different cultures. That’s the main thing for me, giving this experience for the future."
Benítez's top tips
Benitez also offered advice for coaches looking to enhance their own careers, either by staying within the development system or by becoming a head coach at the highest levels of the game.
"You can learn from anyone," he explained, detailing how as a young coach he visited Claudio Ranieri in Italy to study his methods, but also how he shared a questionnaire with other coaches at the club.
"You have to continue learning and you have to pass this information to your players. Try to make them understand the game and make them think. I've had a lot of players who were 28, 29, 30, who said they wished they had worked with me earlier, because now they were learning different things. You ask them questions and give them problems, and they must try and find the solutions. It is important that they understand why they are doing things."
Acknowledging the way in which the modern coach must communicate with younger players has changed, Benítez also stressed the need for a coach to display important qualities to their squad.
"If you want to be a leader for your players, you must have passion, you have to enjoy it and you have to show you are prepared," he said.
"You have to be an example for them, and you have to be honest with them. To be honest is sometimes complicated, but if they know you are honest with them and are trying to improve them, they will trust you and they will follow you."
As well as hearing from Benítez, attendees at the two-day event also gained valuable insights designed to expand their knowledge and promote discussion and debate.
Elite youth football trends, the laws of the game and athlete mental health and training discussions were all on the agenda, as well as a key case study from the successful FC Midtjylland academy in Denmark and a presentation from the NBA on how basketball's leading league nurtures young talent around the world.
Continued benefits for the coaching community
Benítez is the latest high-profile coach to work with UEFA in recent weeks, following on from another successful Pro Licence Student Exchange Programme in which Hansi Flick, Roberto Martínez and Aitor Karanka discussed their careers and the latest footballing trends with budding coaches from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Scotland, Slovenia and Switzerland who are studying for European football's top coaching qualification.
Hansi Flick, Germany men's coach
"Trust, quality and fun – these are the three key elements I bring with me everywhere."
Participant Marisa Wunderlin – head coach of FC St Gallen in Switzerland's women's top division and assistant coach of the national team – believes the course is an important stepping stone for a coach's development.
"It gives you new input, new insights, and makes you think about things," she said. "There is also information on how to coach or manage players from different cultures and backgrounds, so there is a very broad coverage of topics.
"Coaching in women's football, you can sometimes feel alone because you don't have this experience automatically, but exchanging ideas like this is how you learn, and UEFA can act as a catalyst to enhance this development in coaches."
Roberto Martínez, Belgium men's coach
"Working as a professional football coach is not a job, it's a way of life."
What is the UEFA Pro Licence Student Exchange Programme?
The exchange programme brings together Pro Licence students from different footballing backgrounds for discussion and debate, exchanging of views and practical training sessions.
Typically taking place three to four times a year at UEFA's HQ in Nyon, the programme has moved online since the COVID-19 pandemic, with discussions and presentations including leadership, decision-making, how to create a high-performance environment and the human skills required to work with different cultures in football.
Led by their national association coach education directors, students also learn from experienced frontline coaches, such as Benítez or Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as UEFA's team of technical instructors: Packie Bonner, Werner Mickler, Peter Rudbæk, Kris van der Haegen and Howard Wilkinson.