By Peter Glynn
How to develop more young English talent capable of playing at the highest level was the focus for 78 academy youth coaches attending last week’s FA Advanced Youth Award course at St George’s Park.
Coaches from 38 professional clubs gathered with staff from The FA, the Premier League, the Football League and the PFA for part one of the nine-month long course, which focuses on the expertise needed to support young players involved in the professional game’s Elite Player Performance Plan [The EPPP].
Head of FA Learning, Jamie Houchen, explained that developing an understanding of the whole player and how different approaches are needed at various ages and stages of a young player’s development is the challenge for all those attending the course.
“The FA Advanced Youth Award course has been developed in collaboration with The FA, the Premier League and the Football League and specifically services the needs of youth coaches working in the professional game allowing coaches to become experts in all four corners of player development.
“The course doesn’t only look at the technical part of the game but also provides specific detail in the physical, psychological and social corners.”
Launched earlier this year, The FA Advanced Youth Award is the pinnacle of The FA’s youth coaching pathway and will become mandatory for coaches to work in the professional game.
Developing the decision making skills of young players through understanding the interrelated issues which impact on a young player’s performance is another key aspect of the course.
“The FA Youth awards are very much based around ownership and empowerment for the players and giving the players maximum opportunity to make decisions on the pitch,” explained FA Head of Elite Youth Development and Course Director, Jamie Robinson.
“We have to create practices that put players in those circumstances. The coach is a massive part in creating the right environment for players to improve”.
How to implement a playing philosophy, improve interactions with players and workshops on performance analysis were all completed on part one of the course.
Tottenham Hotspur academy manager, John McDermott, provided an insight into the Premier League club’s development philosophy before showcasing the types of practice which have developed the likes of Andros Townsend, Harry Kane and other young players at the Spurs academy.
Linking the development work undertaken in clubs with FA course content is something McDermott believes is vital for the quality of the course.
“I spoke to Dan [Ashworth] and Jamie [Robinson] and they were keen for clubs to come in and give a perspective on what they’re doing.
“Traditionally on these courses, where there has been technical work, you would actually have the candidates as the players, but what I thought was good was being allowed to bring up our players to demonstrate what excellence looks like.
“It paints better pictures and I think for people to get the context of what different clubs are doing is only helpful,” explained McDermott.
The introduction of the EPPP – the most significant reorganisation of English youth development since The FA’s Charter for Quality 15 years ago – has led to much change to the environment of youth development.
It is mandatory for coaches working in the EPPP programme to hold the UEFA B and FA Youth Award (Module 1-3 and assessment) qualifications.
Former Watford striker and current Aston Villa academy coach, Tommy Mooney, believes that graduates from The FA Advanced Youth Award are much-needed in the game and will provide greater expertise and understanding than he received as a young player.
“When I was 14 and 15 going into professional clubs there were older coaches and ex-professionals who perhaps had been in the game a little bit too long.
“Now we’ve got young coaches who are hungry and willing to the let the players learn rather than just getting across the point they want to make.”
Mooney, who played 642 professional league games in a career spanning 20 years, went on to praise the impact the course content has had on his own, and other ex-professionals, understanding of the game.
“Children and young players develop and learn in different ways and this course is an eye opener if I’m honest.
“With the way I played football for 20 years, you don’t think of the way young players learn, you just got on with it and as long as you scored your goals on a Saturday afternoon you were happy.
“This is an eye-opener for me and I’m sure for a lot of the other ex-pros, too.”
How the ideas and methods championed on the course are implemented in the day-to-day work in youth academies around the country does, however, provide the real challenge. An issue underlined by McDermott.
“When people leave these courses are they brave enough to try the concepts that are being promoted here?”
“The course can only do good but when coaches go back to the coalface are they actually putting into practice the ideas that they have gleaned from this course.”
To watch highlights from The FA Advanced Youth Award Course and interviews with course candidates click on the video player above