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New fitness focus to complement the UEFA Coaching Convention

The launch of a specialist Fitness Competence Framework represents a key milestone in encouraging coaches to gain a greater understanding of the game's physical demands.

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How much should coaches know about football fitness training? The answer will probably vary between levels of the game – at the elite end, dedicated experts are often employed to look after players' physical conditioning, but the further down the pyramid you go, the more a coach is expected to fulfill multiple roles including that of fitness training.

That is why UEFA has introduced a dedicated Fitness Competence Framework into its coach education programme, providing a standard level of understanding for coaches at each level of the game.

The fundamental aim of the new Framework is to develop coaches who understand and are comfortable with the physical demands of football and who, when structuring football training programmes, will confidently account for the physical demands to produce performance-related plans which as well mitigate risks of injury.

National association input

Rafel Pol,  Spain fitness coach, addresses the squad during UEFA EURO 2020
Rafel Pol, Spain fitness coach, addresses the squad during UEFA EURO 2020Getty Images

Creating the Framework has taken time and a great deal of painstaking work, research and consultation, not least with UEFA's national associations.

UEFA has been able to understand the associations' requirements thanks to a survey in which 51 of the 55 members participated. Just over half reported that between 76% and 100% of their professional/elite clubs currently employ full-time fitness coaches.

However, almost 40% of the national associations stated that there was no minimum requirement to operate as a fitness coach – maybe slightly surprising bearing in mind that coaches, physios or team doctors all need qualifications. Among those who do have requirements, only 18% demand a UEFA coaching licence, whereas 43% require a degree in sports science.

The survey also revealed that 16 associations have embraced the need to formalise the education of fitness coaches and have developed their own national fitness diplomas. Of the 35 that have not, 25 added that they have plans to do so in the future.

To help associations adopt the Framework, UEFA has created educational materials, best-practice principles, videos and presentations, all of which are available via an online fitness community.

Expert guidance at every level

To support the Fitness for Football programme established in 2013, UEFA is collaborating with its Fitness for Football Advisory Group, consisting of leading specialists in the industry, charged with pinpointing the key concepts and specific competences that coaches with UEFA-endorsed diplomas should possess. The result is a framework which outlines the basic guiding principles for the fitness component in UEFA education courses – a core structure which associations can furnish to their own requirements.

For the Fitness Competence Framework to be a valuable tool, it must cater for the coach educators working across the full spectrum of UEFA diplomas from the grassroots-focused UEFA C Diploma up to the UEFA Pro Diploma, as well as four specialised diplomas covering youth development and goalkeeping.

To illustrate this, fitness components in the UEFA Youth B and UEFA Elite Youth A courses are focused more on the demands coaches face while working with players at crucial stages of physical development and maturation, when they need to negotiate transitions from youth to elite youth and/or elite youth to senior professional football.

Chris Barnes, Fitness for Football Advisory Group member

"The coach should have a multidisciplinary (technical, tactical and physical) approach to designing training sessions. If all goals can be effectively achieved in a 60-minute training session, coaches shouldn’t be led to deliver longer sessions, merely to keep players on the field for longer durations. It makes sense to aim for the minimum [effective dose] rather than create overloads."

The UEFA Coaching Convention

This addition of the Fitness Competence Framework ensures the UEFA Coaching Convention continues to evolve with the game.

For more than two decades, the Convention has had a clear mission: Setting high standards to improve the quality of coach education in all UEFA member associations, with the aim of developing better coaches and, ultimately, better players and the overall quality of the game.

Thanks to standards enshrined in the Convention, there are currently 190,000 licenced coaches trained and qualified to UEFA requirements, who are practising their profession across Europe and beyond.

The UEFA Coaching Convention

Additional reading

Interview with fitness expert Paul Balsom (P20-23)
How a player's date of birth can affect their career (P16-23)

Fitness coaching during the pandemic

Feed to succeed: the importance of diet to footballers