The first cycle of Fitness for Football seminars reached a successful conclusion in Baku this week as the third such pilot event engaged a total of 17 UEFA member national associations in the dialogue between coaches, coach educators, fitness experts and medical staff.
Following similar courses in Oslo and Istanbul over the past year, UEFA's head of football education services Frank Ludolph could be satisfied that all the European national associations had now been involved in the initial pilot process.
"We have received rewarding feedback as delegates appreciated the expert guidance on this specific and important topic," he said, as the four-day seminar in the Azerbaijani capital came to a close on Thursday. "The coach education directors heard useful new ideas in the field of fitness for football that could be integrated into their respective national coach education concepts.
"The pilot cycle is now closed and all national associations got the opportunity to participate. The concept will be taken to the next level. As of next season this topic will be further fine-tuned as a part of the UEFA Study Group Scheme. The specific expert group is in place to work on the details."
Through a busy agenda of presentations, discussion groups, observations from delegates, practical training sessions, workshops and Q&As, the seminar nurtured the ongoing Fitness for Football dialogue while also communicating the clear football-specific message that underpins the philosophy of this UEFA Jira Panel-inspired initiative.
Paul Balsom, performance manager of the Sweden national team and Leicester City FC, spoke on Tuesday about the physical demands of playing football, explaining that "if coaches understood the demands of the game, they could tailor training methods more appropriately". The key thing is to replicate in training the demands of matchplay, he said, and a later practical session comprised training exercises for the coaches and coach educators to evaluate and calibrate.
One point that came across was that for all the methodology for quantifying the sport's physical demands, such as GPS tracking and HR monitoring, processing these stats effectively and purposefully remains a problem.
Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt of the UEFA Medical Committee looked at injuries and their prevention at senior level, using the UEFA Champions League injury study – which covers the 2001–13 period – to share practical information about the frontline of football. Kreutzfeldt showed that injury risk increases the higher the standard you play, yet he also considered the situation at youth level in a separate presentation.
Leicester City physio Dave Rennie took an integrated approach to injury prevention and treatment in his address, stressing the importance of communication between physios or sports scientists and coaches. "If we work in a collaborative fashion then we have a chance," he said, adding that coaches had to be educated because injury prevention was the foundation for team development – "it enables the coach and it also gives opportunities to the players by making them robust".
Long-term player development dominated Wednesday's proceedings, meanwhile, as Fritz Schmid, a UEFA, FIFA and Swiss Football Association (SFV-ASF) coaching instructor, led a variety of different contributors on this multi-faceted subject. "Key stakeholders must establish a common understanding of developing young football players," he said. Later in the day the delegates divided into groups for workshops, facilitating a sharing of best-practice examples. Paul Balsom was impressed by the interaction between the participating FA representatives and their willingness to exchange invaluable know-how.
With UEFA fitness experts also assisting the UEFA fitness working group members, the associations were both stimulated to integrate relevant fitness-related topics across the coach education levels, and familiarised with the latest trends in this domain.
This cascading of information from UEFA to the associations and beyond was embraced by Andrey Leksakov, technical director of the Russian Football Union (RFS), who said: "We believe UEFA is going in the right direction in expanding various technical areas. These events are very beneficial and extremely informative with a strong practical dimension. This seminar enables us to benchmark what we do in these areas against UEFA's own activities. Many thank to UEFA for the opportunity to share our own experiences. We are one football family."
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