Football coaching development: bridging the grassroots/pro divide

Posted by Rowland Jack on 17 novembre 2015

By Sebastian Chan, I Trust Sport

In light of the failures of the England team in recent international competitions, the FA has devised new plans to help improve the structure of grassroots football. Although the full impact of Greg Dyke’s FA Chairman’s England Commission is not yet clear, the November edition of the CIES Football Observatory report has suggested that the number of youth team players trained by Premier League teams has reached an all-time low.

The lack of players from academies breaking through to the first team is either the result of clubs not giving opportunities to their young players or of insufficient quality among players in the youth setup. Home grown rules introduced by UEFA and the Football League were meant to address the former problem. Nonetheless, it still does not address the latter issue.

For the past three years, I have dedicated my weekends to coaching the next generation of players. I have seen players of great potential moving onto professional clubs. I have also met a range of aspiring coaches all hoping to work at the highest level. However, they often express that they find it hard to make the jump from grassroots to the professional game due to limited opportunities.

Recently, I attended the FA Youth Award Module 2. Aside from the chance to share ideas with others, it also reaffirmed my opinion of the difficulty for talented young coaches to find an opening at professional clubs.

While some of my colleagues have played the game at semi-professional level, the majority went into coaching because they never quite made the grade.

Although we now have one of the most advanced scouting networks for players in the world, the same could not be said for coaches. Often coaches at professional clubs were themselves professionals. People might counter this by mentioning the success of Andre Villas-Boas. Yet the current Zenit manager’s breakthrough came when the late Sir Bobby Robson moved into the same apartment when he was 16. It is hard to imagine that many others will have comparable good fortune.

One of the barriers for grassroots coaches in making it into the professional game is the difficulty in obtaining the right licences. In order to coach teams at the highest level, a coach needs to have a Pro-Licence. However, before that coaches need to have completed Level 2, UEFA B and UEFA A Coaching Awards. Whilst most counties run Level 2 courses, the remaining courses are only being held at St George’s Park with limited capacity.

With such fierce competition, places are allocated in order of merit. Unfortunately, this process has seen grassroots coaches lose out to seasoned professionals who are working at a higher level. Additionally, grassroots coaches do not have the financial resources to afford to go on courses. At present, the UEFA B course will cost a candidate £720. The UEFA A will set a coach back £4,695. Whilst courses hosted by the FA are of great value, grassroots clubs are unlikely to have that amount of funding available to support their coaches. Access is another problem. Although St. George’s Park has some of the best facilities in the world, it is fairly inaccessible by public transport. Grassroots coaches have been put off from attending these courses as a consequence.

Therefore, many aspiring coaches will find their ambitions of working in a professional role quashed after completing their Level Two. Whilst it is good to see Greg Dyke’s Commission providing more opportunities for grassroots coaches by introducing the Youth Award Module Three to local counties, more should be done in particular by elite clubs.

One of the biggest issues the Commission hopes to address is a lack of well-qualified coaches in England. A report published in 2014 suggested there were 1190 UEFA A coaches and 205 Pro-Licence coaches. This compares bleakly to Germany and Spain where number of UEFA A and Pro-Licence coaches are 5 and 10 times higher than England. It is concerning to note that there is a lack of data beyond these statistics. This applies not just in England but also across the continent as a whole. However, the general consensus has been the majority of professional coaches have been professional players before moving on to coaching positions. This presents a problem. There has yet to be any credible research showing that professional football players make great coaches. The biased and narrow selection process hinders the opportunity for quality grassroots coaches to progress. If the best coaches are not working with the best players, how are the stars of the future going to emerge?

At present a grassroots coach’s best chance of joining a professional setup is by working with one of its soccer schools. Nonetheless, soccer schools often fall under the community department of the club structure and receive little attention from the club. In many cases clubs view soccer schools as part as of their corporate social responsibilities (CSR). Unlike the academy, the senior squad coaching staff almost never turn up to these sessions.

Professional clubs need to do more to develop talented young grassroots coaches. They should recognise that good players need excellent coaches and it is worth investing more to achieve that. At a time when football in England is struggling to develop talented new players, too much blame has been attributed to the influx of foreign players and the lack of skills of local players. Unfortunately, not enough is being said about the quality of coaches. By opening the door to talented coaches, irrespective of their playing background, professional clubs would be able to impact individuals and turn them into better players.

Aside from recommendations made by Greg Dyke’s Commission, the FA should consider investing more to develop quality coaches. At present, aspiring coaches find it hard to obtain funding to pursue their dreams. The FA should consider bursaries to enable grassroots coaches to attend UEFA B courses. They could also set up a mentoring programme whereby grassroots coaches can be matched up with a staff from the England set-up for the former to gain more experience. This would greatly enhance the chances of aspiring coaches succeeding in the professional environment, particularly at academy level.

For the past decade, a lot has been said about improving the grassroots game to develop better players. Whilst it is encouraging to see more courses made available for coaches, opportunities within the professional game remain limited. Both professional clubs and the FA should utilise this window not only to include more people in the game but also to provide the chance for talented individuals to live the dream.

Football coaching development: bridging the grassroots/pro divide

Ultimi post del blog