"I know from my own experience," Marcello Lippi told the audience at the 18th UEFA Course for Coach Educators, "that when you stop playing at 33 or 34, you think you know everything about tactics. That is simply not true. When I had been coaching for two months at Sampdoria, I was already doing things I would never have dreamed of, and, after four or five months, even more so. I had started on a process of continuous evolution."
The four-day course at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) national training centre in Coverciano has focused on preparing student coaches for the realities of their profession. "When I started," recalled Lars Lagerbäck who, after more than a decade with Sweden's national team, is spearheading Nigeria's FIFA World Cup campaign, "I thought I had to run everything, decide everything and tell all the players how to do everything. My advice to a student coach today would be to focus on blending individual skills into a team that is sufficiently well-organised to cope with games against teams who might have better players than yours."
The course combined practical training sessions with presentations, forums and discussion workshops aimed at highlighting best-practice standards to the 53 national associations who occupy various rungs on the coach education ladder. Packie Bonner, now the Republic of Ireland's technical director after 483 games for Celtic FC and 80 caps for his country, said: "Countries like France, Germany, Spain and, in some respects, England are in the front line, and that's why this course has been a fantastic opportunity to get together with our coach education colleagues and consolidate our thinking on how to improve. To listen to people like Marcello Lippi and to get the players' viewpoints from people like Lorenzo Amoruso and Graeme Le Saux, gives us an opportunity to gain knowledge to take back home and to feed into the education of coaches at all levels."
The course emphasised that there is a great deal more to modern coaching than the ability to deal with the technical and tactical aspects of the game. Hence the need to identify competences and to prepare student coaches in environments that are as realistic as possible. As Lippi stressed: "This is not just a question of knowledge. Character and personality are important – and so are communication abilities. The modern coach has to learn to dominate so many aspects, so knowledge needs to be combined with other qualities, such as leadership and charisma."
The Coverciano event therefore spotlighted the challenges facing coach education and the national associations that are currently seeking to restructure and upgrade their programmes. It underlined the need for highly qualified tutors and mentors who are able to challenge students; to encourage them to reflect on their values, their visions and their philosophies; and to lay the foundations for what is essentially a lonely job.
As England's former interim manager and technical director Howard Wilkinson said: "You're dealing with a profession that takes over your life – and, to be successful, you need to find ways of surviving for long enough to come to terms with the realities of the job. A successful coach is someone who can make the best of his players' qualities – and a successful educator is somebody who can do the same with his coaching students."
UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh added during his review of the course: "This has been about identifying challenges, assessing options, finding inspiration and implementing more reality-based education programmes."
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