UEFA is following the express wishes of its 53 member associations by creating a new coach education path with its Fitness for Football programme, for which a pilot seminar is taking place in Oslo this week.
The event involves Europe's coach education heads coming together with fitness and medical experts to examine the way that football training and fitness training can be combined for players' maximum benefit. Deliberations focus on how fitness training can be linked to skills and teamwork training – skills being considered as the absolute priority in nurturing footballers.
"Why are we here?" UEFA's chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu told the delegates. "It was a request from all the 53 national associations to receive more support on specialist coaching aspects – goalkeeper coaches, futsal coaches, fitness coaches. We brought this topic to the Jira Panel, who are the guardians of the UEFA coaching convention. They appointed Andreas Morisbak, one of UEFA's technical instructors, to create a group of recognised experts in their domains.
"There is still a big gap between national associations as regards what fitness means," Lupescu added. "There are a lot of fitness experts without knowledge specific to football. We want to create a clear, football-specific message, and also to stimulate the associations on how can they integrate fitness topics within their coach education programme. We need fitness training, but we need football-specific messages."
Morisbak explained that UEFA had carried out a survey among its member associations, asking various questions, such as whether they had specialised fitness courses in their coach education programme? Was special priority given to fitness topics? Did they think there was enough knowledge about this topic in the association? Did the associations want UEFA to design guidelines or a course on this topic?
"We saw from the survey that there was a very different amount of time for this subject in different countries, and we also observed that there are different cultures, different types of knowledge," said Morisbak.
"I want to stress the main thing, in my opinion, is that skill is the heart and soul of football," Morisbak explained. However, he added, in addition to skill, players must have the necessary physical fitness for matches. "So, a training situation has to be as similar to the competitive situation as possible, in terms of the type and demands made on the body. The demands in training must be as similar as possible to the demands of the situation you are training for."
Morisbak explained: "Football is a very complex sport, but too many people seem to have a tendency to fixate on the many individual fitness factors it requires, thinking a player must do something specific to develop each and every one of them. Then different people with expertise in these different fields, but limited football-specific knowledge, step in. Without knowing the specifics of football or how their particular area of expertise fits into the bigger picture, they have a tendency to put too much emphasis on their speciality.
"They come up with general guidelines on what to focus on in training – for example, running speed and technique, strength, suppleness, endurance and general coordination. These guidelines will almost certainly be wrong in terms of learning outcomes, the need for specificity, prioritisation and time. If too many individual but general factors are considered important, it is too easy to fall into the trap of considering everything important and so not working on any specifics.
"The key debating point is that alongside the development of skills and teamwork, players must be fit enough to maintain their skills and teamwork in regular matches over an entire season. This requires football-specific fitness training that is part of the players' overall training process."
Morisbak and other speakers emphasised a key element of the philosophy behind the Fitness for Football programme. The wish is not for general fitness training – what is needed is football-specific fitness training. Finally, fitness training should not be isolated and taken out of the learning process; it should be an integral part of the overall training process.
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