In the third instalment of an intermittent series of interviews about coaching badges and the standard of coaching in the United Kingdom, Football Further spoke to Pavl Williams, a Level 2 coach working towards his UEFA ‘B’ licence.
Pavl has been coaching youngsters of varying ages since 2004 and is (amongst other things) currently working with elite local players aged 6-16 at Manchester United’s Carrington training centre. He is also the editor of Better Football, a coaching website that offers advice and learning resources for developing better coaches.
FF: How has formal coaching education made you a better coach?
PW: Like the vast majority of coaches I came into the role with no experience of playing high-level football and very little experience of talking to children. The most important thing that formal coach education can provide is information about kids. Great coaching is about tailoring the practice to the participants. So without a thorough understanding of your player’s motivations, experiences and perceptions, it’s very hard to communicate with them in a meaningful way. The Youth Award qualifications are great for this and have especially restored a lot of my faith in The FA’s development plan.
Another crucial aspect is that I grew in confidence when I attended my coaching courses. Getting a Level 1 certificate (and the requisite Child Protection and First Aid certification) relieved a lot of the pressure associated with parents watching critically from the sidelines. Similarly, going and completing the Level 2 and Youth Award qualifications has afforded me more credibility in the eyes of my players and more respect within my club [AFC Urmston Meadowside], where, despite being one of the country’s best junior clubs, there are still only a handful of coaches who have gone beyond the mandatory Level 1 certification. This confidence allows me to experiment with new ideas and, I believe, become more effective at what I do.
The graphs, diagrams and match reports on Zonal Marking are pored over by thousands of football fans the world over and have helped push tactical analysis towards the centre of mainstream football debate in the United Kingdom. Set up in January this year, the phenomenally successful website received an average of 210,000 visitors per week during the World Cup and counts tactical mastermind Jonathan Wilson among its many admirers.
Variously believed to be the work of either a particularly public-spirited professional coach or a crack team of disaffected former Opta employees, the force behind ZM is in fact one man: Michael Cox. He very kindly agreed to grant his first interview to Football Further.
FF: A simple question to begin with. Why write about tactics?
MC: On an ’emotional’ level, it’s something that’s always interested me. There’s something of interest in almost every game, and you spot patterns and long-term trends that are actually more important, if less exciting, than one-off moments of magic.
On a less romantic note: because to create a successful blog/site, there has to be a niche, a particular area of interest. It seemed like a bit of a gap in the market. My favourite blogs are the ones that focus on specific areas: Les Rosbifs about English players abroad, or European Football Weekends about away trips. You know there’s going to be a constant theme, you know they’re the definitive source on that area, you know it’s going to be well-researched and display good knowledge. There should be more sites like that – down to really specific things. I love tactics, but if ZM already existed, I would have done it about something else; another niche area.
I write down the teams in full, along with numbers. I also have a magnetic mini chalkboard thing with counters, which is better than drawing a diagram out with a pen. Then it’s just a case of making notes about everything that’s notable, and then finding patterns. People sometimes think that the site is a bit know-it-all, but it’s amazing the number of times that I note something like “the left-back gets drawn to the ball too easily,” and the opposition score by exploiting the space in behind the left-back within ten minutes. As for not missing anything, Sky+ helps! It also means you can go back and pause the game when the camera angle switches to views where you can see the whole pitch, to see what’s going on.
In the second of a short series of interviews focusing on coaching badges, Football Further spoke to former Wales international Carl Robinson of Toronto FC.
A combative midfield organiser, Robinson moved to North America in 2007 after a 12-year spell in English football in which he turned out for clubs including Wolverhampton Wanderers, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Norwich City, as well as winning 52 caps for Wales.
The 33-year-old recently started working towards his UEFA A licence, with a view to becoming a manager once he hangs up his boots.
“I always thought I could be a good coach and, after playing under some very bad ones, I believe I have a lot to offer,” says Robinson. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I believe I have many excellent ideas for when the opportunity arises.”
Improving coaching standards, it is commonly agreed, is the surest way of improving the standard of football in a country. Nowhere is this issue more relevant than in Great Britain, where England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 (coupled with the enduring mediocrity of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish national sides) sparked a timely debate on the quality of coaching in a nation where technical deficiencies have long been an area of concern.
The soul-searching prompted by the failings of the Steve McClaren era generated a belated and somewhat begrudging acceptance in the English game that formal coaching training was probably quite a good thing after all. But what does training to become a coach in the UK actually involve?
Liam Graf, 24, obtained the Football Association’s Level 1 coaching badge towards the end of 2009 and will shortly be embarking upon Level 2. He spoke to Football Further about the work of a trainee coach.