Sir Alex Ferguson has encouraged coaches to learn their trade and use imagination during a special appearance at the tenth UEFA Coach Education Workshop.
The two-time UEFA Champions League winner spoke to coaches, coach educators and technical directors from UEFA's 54 member associations on the last day of the event in Budapest, which aimed to raise the bar for coaching across Europe, telling them that coaches should face the toughest situations in order to attain the highest standards.
"I think the more difficult you make the challenge of being a top coach, well that's a challenge that any coach should take because if you're successful that way then you'll be successful anyway," Sir Alex told delegates. "Sometimes it's about inspiring to make players better than they are and the best that they could have been. On the football field, it's generally a player with character who wins the match."
Ferguson decided to set out on the pathway to being an elite coach at the age of 23 and while noting the change in many areas of coach education in almost half a century since, he told a session chaired by UEFA's chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu that many factors remained the same in the composition of a successful coach.
"Back then, I thought I had plenty of time but when I got involved, it became competitive for me," added Sir Alex, who retired from managing Manchester United FC in May after over 26 years in charge. "I made sure I got my coaching badges and to listen and observe how the well-established coaches went about their jobs. Getting the knowledge of running a training session was important and I got one of the best pieces of advice: use your imagination when looking at how to add to a player's profile. Try to think what would inspire players."
Among the key themes of the workshop were communication and dealing with back-room staff, both topics that Sir Alex discussed during the question and answer session on Thursday.
"Three things are very important when you are working with them: work ethic, loyalty, philosophy. You all have to be singing the same tune, no matter how bad the tune is. It's important that your people agree with you and the way that we at [Manchester] United wanted to play, that was very important. My attitude to a game of football: never give in. At half-time in a game of football, if you're behind, never give in.
"The human beings I've dealt with are far more fragile than the human beings of 30 years ago. And I say that in a good sense because they're coming from better conditions. I couldn't lose my temper the way I did back then with people nowadays! Also, what has become very dominant in the English game is the culture of players from different countries – at United I think there are people from 20 different nationalities and that's a challenge because people from different cultures have to be addressed and you have to make sure they are comfortable in their environment because it's a results industry and you need to get the best out of them."
The focus had been on communication during the morning sessions as well, with neurological expert Werner Mickler presenting information on improving interaction both to and from the coach. "In coaching, self-developed solutions are more effective," he told delegates. "In that way, solutions are better recognised and understood. It means that the most important thing [for a coach] is often not finding the answers but how you set the questions to enable the players to figure things out for themselves."
Effective communication was also the subject of a practical session held at the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) technical centre. Dany Ryser, former U17 world champion coach, led the practical session and interacted with Werner Mickler. This came on the final day of a gathering which, for the first time, merged the theoretical and practical aspects of coach education which had previously been dealt with at separate events.
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