Q: What is your role here at St. George’s Park?
DS: I am Digital Learning Manager at FA Learning and, basically, I am responsible for how technology is used in football education.
I am structuring a digital strategy that encompasses online engagement, the on-going development of our online courses, e-learning platforms and how we use technology onsite in face-to-face coach education.
Q: How are FA Learning and Football Development embracing digital technology?
DS: We have had a range of online courses available for five or six years that cover a range of topics from safeguarding children to fitness. I think in total we have 13 courses online right now.
Recently, we have also engaged with digital partners through the Licensed Coaches’ Club.
We have had a two year partnership with TactX and produced the 3D animated sessions DVD-ROM for licensed coaches. And we have also just partnered with Performance Innovation Ltd who have got video performance analysis software with iPad, Mac and PC versions.
The Boot Room, The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club magazine, is also now available across a range of digital formats.
Q: How easy is it for grassroots coaches to benefit from the TactX and video analysis software?
DS: The benefit of TactX is that if you have got a group of players who are struggling to understand basic practice organisation and the player movements you want them to make, it can be a very useful communication aid.
As for the Focus video analysis software it is incredibly relevant. It is very easy to use, particularly on the iPad version. You can quickly tag videos with coach or player behaviours, and you can customise it very easily. It is very straightforward to use and at £60 through The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club, it’s incredibly good value for money.
Q: How is the forthcoming UEFA Pro Licence leading the way for digital usage?
DS: 2013 is a going to be a year of evolution for digital as we will be piloting different ways of engaging with the candidates coming onto the courses.
The UEFA Pro Licence course candidates are the first to be supplied with iPads. One of the key things to note is that it is very easy to get wrapped up in iPads being whizzy and glossy and people may think that’s why we have gone with them.
But actually it is a very capable device, one that, I think, is easy to use for coaches of all abilities. We will be using them to ensure that everyone can access the content that we are distributing and ensure they can get to it as easily as possible.
Plus, throughout that course, we are going to be offering one-to-one support with coaches looking at how they might use the iPad to support their careers and aspirations.
Q: How will digital learning be incorporated in other FA courses?
DS: It is important to recognise that we shouldn’t just be in the business of dishing out certificates. After someone has qualified we need to support and engage them with relevant content, continual personal development (CPD) and education.
The challenge there is volume. We go from a few hundred coaches at the National Course level to 27,000 a year across the whole game. We have to make sure we can support them with the use of technology and make sure that technology is robust.
We will start off by piloting with UEFA Pro Licence and The FA Advanced Youth Award, but in time we will then filter out that technology to all levels of the game.
Q: So all coaches should receive a tailored approach in terms of the content?
DS: Yes, the idea should be that we create an online environment to engage our coaches, to support them and to assist in their on-going education and CPD requirements.
The idea is that you are having content delivered to you that is relevant to your aspirations depending on your role and level of qualification.
Q: Why is it important that coaches embrace the digital age?
DS: Because their players already have. Particularly within youth coaching, anyone who has put a tablet device in front of a five-year-old will see that they pick this technology up very quickly.
In terms of how they deliver their coaching I think there are opportunities for individuals to improve themselves through the use of technology and help them deliver better coaching sessions.
I am cautious of saying that the digital age is here to revolutionise coaching. It will assist us in delivering education in the support of coaches and it will assist coaches in preparing, delivering, and evaluating sessions.
Q: How will digital play its part in the future of coaching?
DS: It will be integral here at St. George’s Park. Through the technology we have in the education wings: touch screens, video facilities and the ability to tag and analyse a coach’s behaviour, providing feedback immediately is going to be absolutely critical.
It will become more important again post-course. We will stay engaged with them between the residential periods and after their qualification so they can continue to come back to us with questions, continue to communicate with one another and learn and evolve.
I think that has to be fairly critical in terms of future development of football in England and within our coaching philosophy.