The FA have come under a lot of stick in recent times due to the lack of English coaches and the quality of players coming through at grassroots level. Accompanied with the amount of foreign exports currently plying their trade in the English leagues, it is a common opinion that the level of coaching within this county is substandard when compared to that of, say, Germany or Spain. Whilst it is true that the aforementioned nations have thrived at international level over the past decade or so, to say that the FA don’t have a plan when it comes to the long term aim within our national game is a little short sighted.

I’ll admit that I was one of those who have voiced this opinion but, having just completed my FA Level 1 coaching badge, it is an opinion that has drastically altered. It is certainly true that England have not been able to compete for a number of decades now, the decline getting steadily worse as the Premier League cash cow flexed its financial muscles. However, the FA have started to make valuable strides within the game in a plan fronted by current England manager Gareth Southgate before he took the helms from the ill-fated Sam Allardyce reign.

To say I went into the course a little sceptical was an understatement. With my poor opinion regarding the state of the English game at the forefront of my mind, I shamelessly admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to undertaking the course. How wrong I was…

The course itself was excellent, from the classroom parts to the practical. It is easy to think that the classroom parts would be spent listening to a FA tutor preach about how good the FA is and the rights and wrongs of coaching. This belief would be incorrect. We were encouraged to interact on a regular basis whilst getting an insight into how to break the game down, something every armchair football supporter claims to be able to do but in reality would struggle running their local pub side.

This was a real eye opener, with equal time spent on watching videos on how teams (not just professional) set out when they are in possession off the ball, when they are not and when they are in transition between the two. ‘Homework’ consisted of watching the Manchester United v Liverpool game and seeing how they dealt with those three different aspects of the game. I’m sure you can imagine my wife’s response when I returned home that Sunday afternoon after leaving her with two kids all day and telling her I had ‘homework’ to do!

Where the course really came in to its own was during the practical sessions. Here we were encouraged to follow the ‘Plan, Do, Review’ guideline which is exactly how it sounds: Plan a session, do a session, review a session. Having been split into groups, we all took turns to plan and execute a 10 minute sessions designed for the under 10 age group, which was followed by a five minute debrief. We, as adults, were to ‘act’ as the children and partake in each other’s sessions (this was exhausting!).

The feedback given on each session was particularly helpful, putting improvements to the group rather than lecture us on what we could have done better. After this, we were taught some drills we could use as arrival activities both for training and matches.

Over the course of the next fortnight, we met frequently for more of the same and it was clear that, under the coaches ever watchful eye, we all improved immeasurably as coaches. We all delivered exercises during the final week that we would not have been able to during the opening week.

From a personal point of view, the course has improved me as a coach beyond recognition. Gone are the stale training sessions I delivered prior to the course, with fun, engaging sessions (well, so I believe!) in its place. The FA hold a strong belief that we should execute a ‘70% ball rolling’ method during both training and pre-match. Again, this is pretty self-explanatory but I can bet my bottom dollar that there are a lot of coaches out there that, if they were asked, would say that they achieve this figure easily but don’t. Using this as a guideline opens up an array of match related activities which I have tried out on my team over the last couple of weeks to great success.

Match related drills are a great way of building sessions. Prior to the course I would spend around 45 minutes of a training session doing an array of drills before finishing with a 15 minute match at the end. Using the new method allows me to produce a series of drills during match related scenarios which leaves the children feeling as if they have just played an hour of football but have actually spent the time thinking about the game with a series of individual and group tasks that I set them during the game.

The three week course was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The FA have recently revamped the course, something that they have consistently done over the past decade or so, and the model which they are currently running is excellent. As a coach of two years (not including the six I did before my son was born), it really opened my eyes to different methods and techniques. The classroom bits were interesting, from exploring the different models in which the FA are currently employing to breaking down a match step by step in order to understand the game better.

From a personal standpoint, I was advised at the end of the course to move straight to level 2. From a team (and I guess personal as well) view, and this may well just be coincidental, our results since I started the course have been excellent. Perhaps more pleasing is that we are playing as a team, beating a previously undefeated side 5-3 before winning our last by a large scoreline (something I really don’t take pleasure in. I tried to help the opposing manager by suggesting he add an additional player to the game but he didn’t want to).

After now completing the course I have a completely different view when it comes to the future of English football. If, and this is a big if, England are not competing at international level 10 years from now it is not the fault of the FA. They are teaching football the right way (albeit costly). No, the blame will fall at us, the coaches. We have the tools at our disposal to teach children how to play football. If we can’t find eleven ‘gems’ between us we are doing it wrong…

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