Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Winter Football issue - is Futsal the answer?

It's a common issue every year for grassroots football across the country.

A downpour of rain over night and your weekend can be ruined in one moment when you receive the dreaded message.

'Game is off'.

It is a constant point of debate amongst supporters of grassroots football. What can be done to stop this annual period of postponed games due to waterlogged pitches and bad weather?

Some of this discussion turns to the state of facilities for the grassroots game. 3G pitches were recognised as the way forward, with the core issue being funding. While the Parklife scheme is being
rolled out across the country by Sport England and the FA, a lack of facilities at this current time has been considered a real issue. And hearing the prices that some of these football 'hubs' are going to charge to hire it anyway, I'm not sure it's going to solve much of the problem.

Just this weekend, a central venue league for under sevens which play all their games on a 3G astro had to call off their games anyway. We can have as many astro turf pitches as we want but if even they get ruined by the weather, we need another plan.

A familiar sight
Another idea has been to move the grassroots football season to the summer. Whilst this is a decent proposal there will be issues around holidays, the great summer tournaments we have in that time and importantly, sports such as cricket would really lose out. 

More recent talk has centred around an alternative solution. Leagues have begun to pilot winter Futsal programmes.

This just seems to make so much more sense than the current, traditional set up. There are plenty of halls, such as in primary and secondary schools, with the space to play games in. The facilities would not be hard to come by with the right planning and are probably cheaper too. Futsal goals may be an issue, but again with the right preparation this can be organised in good time. It could be as simple as running through the start of December to the end of January, the times were traditionally rain stops play. 

This is not an attempt to stop kids playing in the rain, as some might worry or claim the world is going mad. I love football in the rain, but it is this period where games are routinely called off due to the pitches being unplayable that we need to find a solution for. Additionally, the pitches that regularly take a hammering could get a much needed rest as well and be in better condition potentially by the time the football season starts up again.

From a player development perspective, this could be massively beneficial too. Whilst Futsal is a sport in its own right, there is no denying it could be a great tool for improving a player's technical ability, especially in the early ages. That combined with decision making, with less space and time on the court, can add to the holistic development of a player. 

We wouldn't quite need these facilities...
It could be viewed from a multi-sport perspective too, with a variety of health and social benefits. This would offer something alternative, something fresher, to also give young players a chance to try something new that actually they may want to take up later down the line to stay physically active.

There would, I am sure, be other minor barriers. Such as knowledge of the rules of Futsal for players, coaches and importantly, referees. Or having to buy enough Futsal specific balls for the games.

Once again, these are problems that are simple enough to solve and while it may take some more of our time (and money) it may just be worth it. 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Expected goals, expected scepticism...


As Jeff Stelling fumed about Arsene Wenger citing expected goals post-match (what does he even know, anyway?), his Soccer Saturday cronies laughed in the background. 'Yeah, you tell 'em Jeff!'

It is not the first outdated rant that a member of the Soccer Saturday team has made, as poor Marco Silva will tell you.

It is no surprise that these 'Football Men', as they often referred as within the game, are as usual off the mark with a new approach within football. I would guess that it threatens their own positions, as they begin to look more and more outdated. 

It is also not surprising that he had absolutely no idea what expected goals really is, as many who dismiss it as pointless do. 

A rant like Stelling's about expected goals is a dangerous one however within football because it will have been lapped up but unsuspecting fans, players and coaches who also have no idea what expected goals, or 'xG' as it can be known, even is. As a result, they will themselves be dismissive as it's a load of nonsense according to good old, lovable Jeff. 
Jeff rants about xG, Marco Silva and
 how football was better in his day

But if you dig a little deeper the whole concept of expected goals is very interesting and above all, useful. How many times have you been discussing a game you've just watched, particularly as a fan of one of the teams, bemoaning the missed chances that have impacted the outcome of the game?

Expected goals actually helps us work out if that is true or not. It is a metric that quantifies the likelihood of an effort on goal actually being scored through an algorithm.

Why should fans care? Well, they don't have to, and they probably don't, but when someone is bemoaning a team's fortunes such 'on another day that shot goes in' or 'we were unlucky' you can actually go a long way to proving it to be true or not.

xG has come to prominence somewhat more as it has started to appear on MOTD (after the corner statistic flashes for each game, how sad am I?) since the start of the 2017-18 season. For anoraks like me, it's really cool that something like this is being embraced in the mainstream media. It is something I think will quickly become the norm amongst football fans in the coming years.

For coaching, scouting and analysis, it is just one of many developments in football analytics. Any team who outwardly promotes their use of analytics is labelled as using 'moneyball', which I think again shows that there is a long way to overcoming the dismissive nature of football towards stats!

A metric like expected goals can be huge for departments across a club. Coaches can assess where they might need to work with a striker, in terms of their finishing or the positions they pick up. Analysts can identify exactly that for them. Scouts can back up subjective attitudes towards a player with objective data like this. If a player truly does pick up good positions but just isn't scoring them yet 'xG' will help identify this, making the recruitment process a whole lot more efficient.

I am by no means an expert on this area, far from it (!) but I do recognise it's significance and how it could aid my own coaching in football if I wish to pursue it at a higher level one day.

As analytics becomes more sophisticated it is slowly being dripped into youth development in the professional game - which can only be a good thing. The more objective we can become to supplement that alongside the more subjective information and ideas we have about players the more informed decisions can be made about young players and their future. Too often, decisions on young players are made on a whim because of a personal opinion from one coach, which may not be representative of that club as a whole. 

In terms of grassroots football, it may not have as much significance due to the nature of the game at that level with various constraints that would not really allow for it, not least of all; time. But just by educating players, or coaches, they can start to think a little more objectively about things rather than relying on their own confirmation bias.

The dismissal of expected goals as a metric by the more old-school thinkers is a strange one, but as I said above not surprising. Statistics, especially the interesting ones, possibly threaten this type of individual's 'traditions' and 'values' and maybe they worry will be rendered useless as modern football develops. Those who embrace it however, will find the benefits. What is to lose anyway?

Though the 'Football Men' may not like it, expected goals is here to stay and is slowly becoming the norm. Furthermore, there will be many more useful statistics to come that will be far more meaningful than the original 'possession' that brought stats into play in football. Analytics is developing in football into something very meaningful, so think before you dismiss it without even understanding it!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To learn more about expected goals and analytics in football, here are some interesting articles!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40699431 - BBC article

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/nov/22/jeff-stelling-expected-goals-stats-xg-soccer-am - Guardian article

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLcXH_4rwr4 - FourFourTwo documentary

https://experimental361.com/ - Very good website that breaks it down

https://statsbomb.com/2013/08/goal-expectation-and-efficiency/ - Goal expectation and efficiency

Friday, 15 September 2017

The relative age effect revisited

Last year I wrote this article on the relative age effect. Since then, for my dissertation in my degree I researched the impact of the coach as a social agent on RAE and whether their knowledge levels are sufficient in combatting birth bias. If you wish to read my dissertation feel free to contact me or comment below! 

Istvan Balyi, a sports scientist, devised the long-term athlete development model during the 1990s. Balyi recognised that the talent identification process in sport was flawed and that someone who is identified as talented at a young age does not mean they will always become an elite athlete. An easy example is that often a young player would simply be physically mature for their age and stand out as a result because they could use their size as an advantage at that time, leading to smaller talents going unnoticed.

Balyi's model sought to restore the balance between training load and competition during childhood and adolescence, recognising the different stages that young people are ready to develop at. If
fundamental skills were taught during these optimal stages of development, it could help divert the focus away from short terms results (or selecting the current best performers) and focus on long term development. For this reason the Football Association adopted, and adapted, this model in order to create a holistic method for coaches to follow.

This is relevant when discussing the Relative Age Effect (RAE) as the theory suggests that those born earlier in the year, and thus more likely to be bigger in physical size, benefit in the early years of talent identification and selection. But why is it that coaches and scouts identify more physically mature children as 'talented'?

My dissertation research primarily sought to gain an understanding of the knowledge grassroots coaches have of the relative age effect, and furthermore how they impact this and their understanding of the FA's Long Term Player Development model (LTPD). It involved over 200 coaches answering questionnaires and some attending a focus group.

In my results, there was a chasm in levels of understanding of RAE between UEFA qualified coaches and Level 1 grassroots coaches. On the face of it, this is understandable. Coaches who have more time to invest in themselves and coach at a higher level were more likely to have encountered education on RAE. It was also identified in the focus group that Level 1 coaches are more likely to be a parent or family member with less spare time than a career coach who has UEFA qualifications.

However, this is problematic because when children are identified to be selected for a professional club it tends to be in the grassroots game, probably coached by coaches with Level 1 or 2 qualifications. These coaches tend to have less of an understanding of the Relative Age Effect and as a 'social agent' may be allowing RAE to manifest as a result. They may be giving increased and better quality opportunities due to their perception of a player as 'talented'. This is known as the Pygmalion effect. A player who may have more talent but just hasn't been able to showcase it yet because of their current physical disadvantages may miss out on these opportunities. It has been shown in research that "talent" at a young age is not a very good indicator of their chance of making it as an athlete and this could be a possible reason why.

My research found that the majority of coaches (particularly those with the Level 1 and/or 2) felt inadequately educated on the matter. Though there has been an increased emphasis on implementing RAE into coach education, the majority of coaches responding to the questionnaire felt they had not been made suitably aware of the issue. This suggests that although most have encountered RAE not enough time has been spent on it nor has there been much depth to this education. Due to the time constraints of coaches who volunteer in the grassroots games, ideas such as short refresher courses and online modules were recommended for further education on the Relative Age Effect, which could also count towards any FA Licensed Coaches Club (FALCC) members continuous professional development. Details such as ways that coaches can combat RAE were mentioned, as they felt that a lack of solutions were provided for coaches to use at grassroots level. More information on how the FA's LTPD model can reduce RAE would also be hugely beneficial! A holistic approach will reduce the reliance on one area where someone may be forging ahead, such as physical development, which is mentioned is not always a good indicator of future ability.

In the FA's adapted LTAD model they introduced four corners which they believe impact a player's development. Technical, Psychological, Physical and Social. In the questionnaire and focus group, participants were asked to rate which they felt were most important but also which they felt they could impact on the most. The issue with identifying young people as naturally gifted is that this means that they do not believe they can coach this. It is 'nature' after all! However, this is another mechanism that allows RAE to manifest

The physical corner of development was also recognised by the coaches as less important to consider and less likely for them to be able to impact on. Whereas it has previously been an accepted idea that in English football too much emphasis is placed on a player's physical ability to help win games, it might also be a less conscious factor that creates this birth bias. Because coaches do not consider it as important, they are less likely to cater someone who is physically smaller and recognise that they need more time to develop before they are discarded as not good enough! Furthermore, if a coach does not believe they can affect a player's physical development due to it being an issue of 'nature' then that player may suffer more in the future too.

This was an interesting topic to cover for my dissertation and one that I consider very important in the grassroots games, particularly at the younger ages. Players are picked up (wrongly in my opinion) at ages as young as four and five nowadays. Everyone is in a rush to beat each other to talent and therefore these decisions are made in an instant. Subconsciously, are these people going to identify the smaller, younger, possibly less noticeable players or the players who make an impact on the game in that moment in time? Hopefully this is a trend that will begin to change and more due diligence will be made!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

VIDEO: England DNA - Bearing fruit?

There was plenty of disappointment as England crashed out of the semi finals in the Women's european championships against Holland.

Expectation was high following the progress Mark Sampson's side had made over the last two years. Prior to the game, England had been the tournament's best side with emphatic wins over France and Spain in particular. Though they lost 3-0 in the end, and lessons must be learned, it is important to also recognise the development of a side that had exuded confidence during the competition.

Across the board, this has been a summer of success for England national sides. Great strides have been made where previously as a nation we have found it hard to compete. At youth level too there have been some fantastic performances, where the style of play has been clear to see. Too often England teams have struggled to dominate games, where the opposition have had the lion share of possession and territory.

In my blog last year before the Men's European Championships I wrote how what fans truly wanted to see was positive performances that hinted at a brighter future, and I think this is what we are beginning to see now.

While we are still waiting for players to find more of a pathway into their club's first teams (blog on that to come soon), there have been individuals that have shone this summer.

Solanke - u20 World Cup Best Player
In the u17 European Championship, it was Jaden Sancho who won 'Best Player' while his club team mate Phil Foden also starred. Dom Solanke won player of the tournament in the u20 World Cup, no mean feat in which several others impressed such as Jonjo Kenny and Freddie Woodman. At the other end of the 'international journey', Jodie Taylor looks set to finish as top scorer at the Women's European Championship when only a few years ago she had been cast into international wilderness.

There is plenty to be positive about following this summer's events, that is for sure. Hopefully in the future our teams will continue to grow, become more confident and make their mark on tournaments to come.

The link below is to a video I have made in an attempt to capture this summer's success. I made one last year (link) and this is what I hope is a progression of that.

ENGLAND DNA - BEARING FRUIT 

If you have any feedback, please comment below!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

No ball games

This blog is inspired from my journey walking back home as I came through a car park one afternoon last week. Empty, bar one car in the corner , through this long open space I thought to myself about what a great place this would be to have been able to play football on the streets with friends.

A high bush to stop the ball (in most circumstances) going out onto the road behind it, markings that you could use for goals and enough space to fit at least a five a side, if not more! To me it seemed ideal. That was until I saw the dread sign: NO BALL GAMES and this brought back some memories of my own.

In the council estate that I lived in as a kid, there was a great open space (partly on the road) where we could play football. Specifically, we used to play 'four goals' in which the loser is knocked out and generally replaced by someone else. This space lent itself perfectly for that with bollards, railings and speed bumps marking the goals. In this game you had the perfect risk/reward dilemma. Sit back and defend your goal and you allowed the opposition to attack you, play offensively without fear and one mistake would mean your empty goal was badly exposed! You could play in doubles if the numbers demanded so, add restrictions to make sure the game doesn't get out of hand and change the size of the goal if needs be.


However, this area had the same 'no ball games' sign that I saw the other day in the car park. And we were reminded of it by people who were not even remotely impacted by us playing football there. But we began to grow tired of this, playing in the hope that someone wouldn't come and yell at us wasn't as fun.

Furthermore, if our ball went over the fence and into someone's garden it was not coming back. If we were lucky, on the right day it would be thrown back but we played carefully trying not to kick the ball too high knowing that if it went over the grumpy man who lived there would pop it. Bye bye 2006 World Cup Teamgeist ball.


It made me think, nevertheless, about the complaints of a lot of grassroots coaches these days. One of the main ones I hear is that kids do not play on the streets like 'we' used to do and that Generation Z are more concerned about playing on their consoles. But is this a rather simplistic excuse for those who do not want to take responsibility for a supposed lack of 'love of the game' from young children?

Do less and less children play on the street because of technology or because of the conditions of modern society, in which parents prefer to keep them where they can see them? And as highlighted, the restrictions on places nearby you can play? What if there is no local park and a parents doesn't feel comfortable sending a child on their own to play further away?

Someone I really respect said to me that in England, particularly in football, we are great at listing problems but not so keen to provide solutions. In this discussion, I think that is pertinent. How about we set our minds on how we can recreate these conditions that allow street football, which many great footballers have been born out of, rather than complaining that the youth of today aren't as interested?

How about we encourage our players to play football outside of sessions, which it feels like they do less and less? Those who do so will notice the difference, as will their peers. Creating unstructured play opportunities is becoming more and more popular. At Feyenoord, they leave footballs on their pitch for an hour before training for those who want to come early and play. Bristol Rovers recently developed a very interesting initiative where they gave ownership to their players and let them play on the street with various obstacles.

Hopefully we can begin to consider how we can engage young people and create conditions for them that replicate the classic street football games but also encourage them to go out and 'play' more!

On the same estate where I used to play, it slowly became deserted where once lots of kids would play football. I noticed recently when I went back there that more and more kids are back playing football (and various other games to include others who are not football fans) accompanied by parents who come down to watch and talk with other parents! Maybe that bodes well.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Youth football: Where do we draw the line?

This blog post is inspired from reading Michael Calvin's latest brilliant book 'No Hunger in Paradise'.

The book does a fantastic job of capturing youth football and its realities within the professional game. At times it is heart-warming, at others it makes you despair.

And while reading it, it reminded me of everything that is wrong in youth and grassroots football.

Four, five, six year old boys are sold the dream. They are invited to 'academy development centres', promised contracts once they turn eight, their heads are filled with ideas of the riches that come with the game.

The reality is, barely any of these players will end up in the professional game as footballers. That is the cold reality. So why are these young people so unprepared for this? The percentages are tiny, minuscule. To be clear, I have never stopped a player progressing to an academy that I have coached, nor would I ever. It is a wonderful opportunity. Nevertheless, the reason I am so passionate about coaching in grassroots football is because although children do not all become professional footballers, they do all become members of society.

Do kids truly get to learn to love the game?
And inevitably, whether it be at eight, ten, twelve or as they approach the potential offers of scholarships, these players are discarded by their respective clubs. On a visit to AFC Ajax last September (blog here), their academy recognised that by releasing players, they are admitting that they have failed the players and that the coaches are not doing their own job.

I see similar parallels in grassroots youth football. Young children are released for not being 'good enough'. Firstly, good enough for what exactly? Secondly, why do they need to be good enough? The very definition of grassroots football is the introduction to and enjoyment of the sport.

How do we change the ever growing commodification of academy footballers, though?

I firmly believe players shouldn't be registered with professional club until fourteen years of age, but we know that this is never going to happen, nor is it practical. Clubs find loopholes round the fact that clubs are not allowed to sign players until they are eight as it is, as identified earlier in this article. An alternative might be that you can not release players on the grounds of ability until the age of fourteen. That way, you my get some degree of patience. For example, some players may struggle through a growth spurt (or a lack of one). Quite often clubs will get rid of a player like this whereas all they need is someone to give them the opportunity once their body settles down. I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on this!

Another cause for the concern in the growth of young players becoming commodities for clubs, if they are not already, is the presence of intermediaries. I find this abhorrent, simply put. As players approach sixteen they no doubt need some form of support in this area but surely that should come from the club providing education? That way we will get less players getting caught in a tug of war battle, incited by an 'agent' which would let them get on with their development with minimal distractions.

No doubt there are good agents about, as highlighted in Calvin's book, but does a nine year old really need an agent? There are too many people looking to milk the next superstar for everything they have and it is a stain on the game.

As players become shifted from club to club looking for the 'best' offer, this throws up many issues not just for the child as a footballer but as a person. Is this really what is best for the child?

It all came too soon for Sonny Pike
Clubs ask players to relocate at young ages to be near enough to the training ground - otherwise they may not be asked to stay on. I have witnessed parents share a genuine concern for having to move their child just to play for a professional club's academy at just ten years old. Equally, there are some parents who push their children too far. Taking them to clubs left, right and centre. Are they being given sufficient education on their child's welfare and what is truly best for their development as a player?

I am indeed aware that this is the 'nature of the beast' that is academy football and the professional game, but does that make it okay? Clubs are going above and beyond now, seemingly having no shame in the length they will go to sign a player. Two huge clubs now have been punished and yet it feels like we are only just scratching the surface here.

And finally, is it all a bit too much? Children can not cope with the same strains as adults, battering them year in year out, is it a dangerous game to be playing with their mental health, as well as physical? These players train up to four times a week plus a game. Will they be able to form a stable social life? Are they getting as much time to concentrate on other areas in their education? As I said, not every child can become a footballer.

I guess my question is, where do we draw the line? And are we currently crossing it?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The FA Youth Award

On Friday 7th April, I was delighted to undertake (and pass) my FA Youth Award assessment. This was the completion of a 'journey' that I had begun in 2013, having just turned eighteen and coming out of the level two course I had completed at college. 

With the introduction of the youth module content into the level 1, level 2 and soon to be UEFA B, I thought this represented a good time to review the FA Youth Award, and the impact I have seen it have on myself (and others). This blog will hopefully give an accurate account of the course, and the messages it hopes to give coaches. 

Youth Module 1 - Developing the Environment

A lot of people I talk to, who have been through at least two of the youth module courses, claim that this is the better of the courses in the FA Youth Award. From my perspective, I think this is due to the way it changes people's perceptions. 

The youth module one is a fantastic introduction to the award, and the course overall, as it starts with the most important thing. The kids. And more specifically, how we allow them to enjoy football. 

Our very neatly prepared 'Space Recognition'
session on the Youth Module 1!
The four days on this course were intense, but fun! We were being educated in the exact way that would be expected of ourselves when working with our players back at our clubs. The exercises we were shown were fun, but worthwhile. A game as simple as 'skills corridor' had your technical focus for players to practice but with a fun element and challenges to it (depending on how you adapted it). This is a session that I used with under eights that I coach just a couple of weeks ago, albeit slightly adapted and renamed 'skills volcano'! 

As with the title of the course, the environment created by a coach is the key focus here. How do you manage mistakes? This in particular was something of an eye opener for candidates, as we began to recognise mistakes as learning opportunities. Looking back, this seems so obvious but it is not always as simple as that. Looking after a player's self-esteem is equally as important, and ties in well with this. This was something I connected well with, as it has always been my belief that you should make each and every player you coach feel valued. You will always see more development than berating them for mistakes, in my opinion. Have you ever seen a player perform better in tears? Probably not. 

Youth Module 2 - Developing the Practice

I attended the second module of the youth award almost a year later, a good time between having attended module one. This gave me the chance to consolidate my learning from the first course, and I was raring to go for the next instalment. It didn't disappoint. 

We were now moving onto 'the practice' and this was a great course for working on how we design our sessions. The practice spectrum (Constant, Variable, Random) was introduced and it was time to consider the returns we wanted from our sessions. High levels of repetition (constant/blocked practice) with less realism or less repetition but more context to the game (Variable, Random). There is no right or wrong answer, only appropriateness for YOUR players based on their needs and stage of development. It is important to remember that these courses were largely centred around being age-appropriate, which forced us to justify everything we did in our coaching, an example of good practice we should try to do as often as possible. 

Another area of focus was in our planning and evaluating. This is an area, where I think now we make some key mistakes, as highlighted on this module. We love to plan, to the smallest details but this creates a rigidity, and means we do not adapt the session to our players needs. In comparison, we do not put as much time in to our reflections. Our evaluation is usually the journey home, or in the de-brief with players after a training session or match. If anything, I think we are doing it the wrong way round. We need to have a flexible plan for the players which can be adapted and moulded, whereas we need to be more stringent in our evaluation. However, it has to be said that for volunteers, which we mostly are in grassroots football, time constraints can make this process difficult.

Youth Module 3 - Developing the Player

The third and final course, this was a really good four days to tie everything together. I attended a CPD event which was an introduction for what to expect and also gave lots of information about the assessment that you can chose to do at the end of it. What it was really good for was bringing together the elements from the level 1 (top tips), level 2 (STEP principles) and the content covered in the youth modules one and two. What it would allow us to do, was select the right tool at the right time. 

I wrote a blog about the first two days of the module three course which you can read HERE. What I will say is, looking back, that this gave us the chance to think about how we develop players specifically. In my planning for my portfolio, I have become more player specific with my planning, and my challenges. The trial and error method through challenges is a really good way of developing players individually I find. But when you begin to make loads of challenges, it will dilute it somewhat. Be meticulous in what you do!  In your planning, if you focus on individuals it will also allow you to manage difference in your group. How often do we extend, and challenge players further who are forging ahead? Can we help those who are striving to keep up?
A challenge card I created for players! 

After the third module I also began to focus on the principles of play in greater detail. I am lucky in that the group I have been working with towards the youth award assessment has some eager learners, and they enjoyed learning about the principles of play, defending and attacking wise. This is where you can see that as you go onto module three, it makes the link from level two to level three/ UEFA B.  It also introduces the whole-part-whole methodology, which you are expected to use in your portfolio (and if not justify why!). I enjoyed trying this in my sessions, as it was something new and that I have been able to add to my repertoire. This design of practice aims at giving the session as much context to the game as possible. It encourages the coach to give players practices that look like the game. This is important as it can be easy for coaches to get drawn into creating fancy sessions that have lots going on but look nothing like a game of football. 

The assessment

The assessment is optional. At the end of the module three you can, if you wish, not take the assessment and get a certificate for attending. The assessment however, is not straight away, or during the course. The first part, the portfolio gets you onto the second part (practical session) and that gets you onto the final part, the question and answering. 

For my portfolio, I had tried to keep a good flow with the session topics, whilst catering it towards my players needs. We started with four in possession sessions, followed by four out of possession session, with as logical an order as possible. I then had a transition session, with another attacking session to complete it. I think this is a pretty good mode of assessment, however in future I would suggest a visit at some point during the sessions, like with the new level two. I think this would give a good opportunity to ensure the candidate is on the right path. That being said, I was able to send my sessions in to an FA tutor to do just that, minus the visit! 

The practical is fairly straight forward in what is expected of you. I was asked to deliver an arrival activity, part practice and whole practice from my portfolio. As it was on a different topic for each I had to stop and explain at the beginning of each to my group but in general this was fine. And it should be, as they should have already done it in your previous sessions! In between the 'part' and 'whole' I had a quick chat with the assessor, to see what I needed to do more to pass and this was massively helpful I felt. Assessment sessions can die a death because the coach has no idea towards the end what box they need to tick and it turns into a bit of a mess. This way, the coach has a clear focus and they don't have to get anxious. This helped me massively.

Finally, the questions as the final part of the assessment. I spent many a night revising from my different learner packs and pre-course reading. What I will say is that if you have got to this point, you probably will know the answers to these questions. So do not worry! 

Overall thoughts

Here are some overall thoughts that I like about the course, or what I gained from it. 

Pre-course reading - This is a useful idea, as coaches will often turn up at a course not truly knowing what to expect. The pre-course reading in each of the youth award modules gives a good indication of what to expect. However, they only usually covered the physical corner of development in these booklets. I understand why, as it may not be the most interesting to discuss in a workshop during the course, and saves time, BUT I do think the pre-course reading could give more information of what candidates will be doing on the actual course in a bit more detail. I think that is a minor detail and overall this is a very positive idea. 

Quality of tutors - My experience of the FA tutors through this process has been overwhelmingly positive. I have been fortunate to have Matthew Joseph, Jamie Godbold, Keith Webb, Mark Leigh, Ray Lee on the courses and also Mike Antrobus who came out to assess me. In addition, other tutors and coach educators would stop by to observe and help. I learnt a lot from each and every single on of them in different ways. 

Learning from other candidates - This was equally as important. On the module one, I produced a session as part of a group of three with Anthony, an A License coach who is a county coach developer and Gillian, who at the time was working with a similar age group to myself. While putting on a session as part of a three can be quite difficult, the planning and evaluating was a valuable experience and as a young coach I learnt a lot from both. I have been fortunate to keep in touch with several people from the different modules, one example of the benefit of this was me being able to observe a UEFA B assessment day as a result. Put the effort into talking to other coaches as much as you do with the coach educators! 

The cost - I have been fortunate in my experience that I was able to do two of the modules through my charter standard club (and McDonalds, oddly) in order to attend the course for a minimal fee, possibly even free in fact. However, this is not the same for everyone and I think the FA need to become more creative in their pricing. With the content of these courses going into new Level 2 and 3 courses we may see a welcome change as it is asking a lot of coaches who put a lot of time and money into grassroots football as it is. While I do think you get value for money, the cost can be quite prohibitive I feel. 

Realism - This is not so much a limitation of this course but a problem for all coaching courses. When candidates are asked to produce sessions on a course, they do so in an environment that does not match the one they work in with their squads. This is why the new FA coach education course assessments are being done with visits to coaches' clubs, which is a positive. On the second day of my module three, one of the coaches invited his players as it was a half term, which was a great idea. It meant that we practice sessions closer to what we usually do, with children! 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience the FA Youth Award has given me. It has helped me stand in good stead for future courses and further coaching experiences!

I think it is interesting from my perspective as these courses are now being implemented into the level two and three. For anyone who is going through these courses currently, I would be very interested to hear your views and thoughts on these courses in the comments section below. Equally, if you have any questions, or would like to see my portfolio, feel free to ask!