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 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!
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!