UEFA's student exchange courses, aimed at those currently studying for their UEFA Pro licence qualification, are proving extremely rewarding for those setting out on a coaching career.
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A four-day course staged in Nyon brought down the final curtain on this season's sequence of student exchange courses aimed at coaches currently studying for their UEFA Pro licence qualification.
The fourth course of the 2013/14 campaign involved 94 coaches from the national associations of Belarus, Croatia, Denmark and Romania. The event was based on a varied programme of presentations, practical work on the training pitch, match analysis and, on the final morning, an interview in which Thomas Schaaf passed on knowledge he had accumulated during three decades as player, youth coach, assistant coach and head coach at SV Werder Bremen. "When you stop playing and start coaching," he recalled, "you realise that a lot of background information is missing – and that's what all of you now need to learn."
Romeo Jozak, technical director at the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), stressed that, apart from the content of the course, "the positive factors included inspiring presentations and the interaction between students from different countries, seeing the way that other national associations go about the job of educating their top coaches".
As usual, the course was richly textured by former star players now embarking on coaching careers, among them Croatia's Robert Kovač and Sergei Gurenko, a player capped 80 times by Belarus, whose playing career also took him to Russia, Spain and Italy. "This is the first time I've attended one of these courses," he commented. "Knowledge is very important to me. It's important to receive information, to learn in what direction football is moving and to analyse [UEFA] Champions League games. You learn what to focus on and can discuss tendencies and in what direction football is moving."
The practical work was pegged to the semi-final first leg matches of the UEFA club competitions being played during the course, with the student coaches required to design and execute training sessions based on the strengths and weaknesses they had detected during analysis of the teams involved.
The programme also highlighted the importance for the head coach to create and manage his "team behind the team", including the goalkeeper coach (former Irish international Packie Bonner was in Nyon to discuss this angle) and match analysts. Mikhail Vergeenko, the technical director who led the team of students from Belarus, said: "We gained great experience from this event, saw some areas that we need to work on, and learned things that will be invaluable for our progress."
"Our group contained 20 different personalities with different objectives," commented Denmark’s coach educator Henrik Brandenborg, "but the programme was so varied that it had something for everyone. We would love to come again."
It was, in fact, the second time that Belarus, Croatia and Denmark had taken part in such a course. Former national team player and coach Anghel Iordănescu, in his role as technical director, led the Romanian delegation into its 'debut' and said: "This is a fantastic concept that adds a truly international element to the education of our coaches." Romania's head of coach education, Dan Apolzan, added: "The course was excellent in organisation, in intensity and in content. For our students, it was a unique and highly-appreciated experience."
After two pilot events and a dozen fully-fledged student exchange courses in the last three years, the challenge is now to improve even further during the fourth season, which will kick off in September.