By Peter Glynn
Sixteen talented coaches have graduated from the first ever FA Elite Coaches’ Award.
Launched in January 2012, the new intensive 18-month long course aims to support the development of the next generation of highly skilled and innovative coaches working in the professional game.
Listen to the candidates share their course experiences in the video player at the bottom of the page
The course, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, focuses solely on developing coaching expertise through extending and challenging the invite-only candidates beyond UEFA A Licence level.
Directed by former FA Elite Coaching Manager and now Cardiff City Academy Manager, Dick Bate, and FA Learning Consultant, Alistair Smith, the Elite Coaches’ Award is a Level 5 qualification of equal standing to the UEFA Pro Licence course.
As Smith explains, The FA Elite Coaches’ Award is a specialist qualification developed to support and challenge coaches to be innovative, insightful and informed in their work on the training pitch and on matchdays.
“The FA Elite Coaches’ Award has aimed to create an academy in which to push and challenge a talented group of young coaches who have the potential to become great coaches.
"Over the course of the 18 months we have stretched all of the candidates to be innovative, creative and to break the mould with regards to coaching approaches and understanding of the game.”
Where the UEFA Pro Licence course carries a strong focus on off-field leadership and management, The FA Elite Coaches’ award is more practical in design.
Course graduate and England Women’s U17 coach Lois Fidler explained: “We’ve talked a lot at the moment about The Future Game, the evolving player and the evolving coach to meet those needs in the future.
“The Elite Coaches’ Course is very much about challenging our current mindset, thinking outside of the box in terms of how we deliver, plan and evaluate sessions to grow as coaches and develop and meet the needs of the game moving forward.”
Course content has included detailed study of the tactics and strategies of the evolving world game, the ingredients of effective communication, elite team and match analysis and the development of a personal coaching and playing philosophy.
Ensuring the course content is relevant to the challenges of working at the highest level of the modern game has underpinned the design of all the tasks.
Smith explains: “We’ve challenged the coaches to go above and beyond in their analysis and observation of the modern game. One scenario challenged the candidates to prepare the Manchester United team to face Barcelona in a Champions League tie.
"The task involved opposition scouting, analysis of strengths and weaknesses and preparation and delivery of the week leading up to the match including all the sessions and every aspect of preparing to perform: strategic, tactical, physical and psychological .”
Former Manchester United first-team coach Rene Meulensteen was then invited to present how the Old Trafford club actually approached the process and assess how the candidates had done.
Although other experts from the game have provided valuable insight throughout the course, importantly the candidates have been challenged to go out and visit the best talent developers in football and beyond.
“For all aspects of the course we have challenged the candidates to evidence their work and learning, and to critique it against with the best around the world.
"The only way they could do this is by going out and finding out what the best talent developers, both in and out of football are doing. Some of the case studies and lists of visits conducted have been excellent,” explained Smith, who was keen to stress the Elite Coaches’ Award is not a course where candidates simply listen to a variety of interesting speakers.
Self-responsibility for learning and the development of informal communities of practice with other candidates is fundamental to the learning approach adopted on the course.
“One of the impressive aspects of the course is how the students have developed their own collaborative groups. It’s here that the learning takes place as they are constantly asking questions of each other, seeking further knowledge and sharing their findings.”
Smith added: “The success of the course has underlined that if you can create the right environment, encouraging creative collaboration whilst at the same time challenging and stretching people to strive to be better and benchmarking against the world’s best, it’s exciting what you can achieve. For Dick [Bate] and I, and all the candidates, the course has exceeded expectations.”
Full list of Elite Coaches’ Award candidates:
Andy Awford, Liam Bramley, James Collins, Neil Critchley, Ben Dawson, Andy Edwards, Lois Fidler, Simon Hayward, Gareth Holmes, Michael Jolley, Louis Lancaster, Kevin Nicholson, Joe Sargison, Alex Weaver, Gary White, Neil Winskill
Issue 7 of The Boot Room, The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club magazine, includes an in-depth feature with Elite Coaches’ Course graduate and FA Youth Club Coach educator, Ben Dawson, on the study visits he has completed on the 18 month course