On Saturday the 25th and Sunday 26th of May 2019, North Sydney United Head Coach Joe Liddle and I attended the Inaugural International Football Coaching Conference Australia held at the Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.

Unofficially, the “Dads on tour” weekend (Joe and I are both fathers to young children – thanks must go to our lovely wives for supporting our trip) Joe and I spent each day from 8:00am to 5:30pm immersing ourselves in football knowledge with 250 other coaching delegates from all around Australia and from all levels of the game (Grass Roots to A-League)

Key note speakers from all around the world attended to give some insightful presentations. These speakers included Grant Downie (City Football Group), English Football women’s legend Hope Powell (Head Coach Brighton & Hove Albion), Graham Arnold (Socceroos), Nacho Ferrer (Current Technical Director at Brisbane Strikers and former coach at Real Madrid), Vitor Matos (FC Porto), Marco Monti (Technical Director Inter Milan Academy)  Rob Sherman (Technical Director FFA),  Kelly Cross (Technical Director Sydney FC), Jonatan Cabanelas (Technical Co-ordinator Aspire Academy Doha) plus many many more.

The presentations were also coupled with practical sessions held on the grounds of the Royal Pines Resort and involving various Queensland based NPL and representative teams.

It would be impossible for me to adequately cover the information covered during the conference in this article as such was the quality and quantity of the information presented to us, however, I will touch upon some of the more interesting points raised by some of the speakers.

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold spoke about the significance of the psychological side of coaching and the importance he places on ensuring he takes an interest and looks after players regarding what’s happening in their lives on and off the football pitch. Grant Downie (City Football Group) echoed Arnold’s player focused sentiments with some interesting stories about conversations he’d had with the Manchester City youth players and how he managed Paul Gascoigne when at Rangers. Interestingly, none of these conversations Downie had with the players were about football!

John Didulica (Chief Executive – Professional Footballers Australia) gave a very interesting presentation on a decade long survey conducted by the PFA with current and former Socceroo’s. The survey found that the Golden Generation (2006 era) of the Socceroo’s reached 10,000 hours of football practice by age 13 and that most of these hours occurred in unstructured environments (backyard/ park with friends / school yard). Furthermore, the survey found that these Socceroos clocked up so many hours due to the strong football culture of their family and cultural/community ties to football. In addition to this, the vast majority of these Socceroo’s were exposed to 1st team football (the old NSL) by age 16-18 and that regular exposure to high level football between 16-21 years old was the biggest indicator of whether a player would go on to become a professional footballer.

The presentations and practical sessions conducted by Marco Monti, Nacho Ferrer, Vitor Matos and Jonatan Cabanelas were all very different with the coaches coming from different cultural backgrounds (Spain, Italy, Portugal). However, the common link between all the sessions was that all the coaches placed great focus on developing intelligent footballers who could read the game and problem solve. For this reason, many of the coaches intervened with questions to the players in the practicals (they did not give direct answers often) and most of the practicals were game based realistic exercises involving 2 teams trying to achieve an objective.

Nacho Ferrer (current Technical Director at Brisbane Strikers) gave an interesting presentation where he analysed the style of Youth NPL teams and argued that  the Australian NPL system was quite direct in style, with many transitions and heavily reliant on vertical/straight passes up the pitch. Ferrer was of the view that the style needed to be more possession based where teams move the ball around the pitch and probe for the correct moment in time to play forward. Ferrer showed some great video footage of how he was implementing this style of play at Brisbane Strikers and gave video examples of the team before (playing direct) and after (when playing possession based).

Kelly Cross from Sydney FC was one of the last speakers of the conference and gave probably one of the most interesting presentations about ‘complex systems and football’. Kelly argued that football is a complex system (a game of chaos) and challenged the existing assumptions in which players are coached and developed. Kelly presented the idea that human beings have a very linear / mechanical view on learning (influenced by the industrial revolution) and as such our current approach to education/ coaching also follows this trend where we structure learning through controlled sequential stages (much like machines operating along a conveyor belt). Kelly argued that if the game of football is complex and people are complex then a different approach is required to meet the needs of the modern-day footballer.

Kelly gave the example of the Sydney FC Academy where all the coaches mentor certain players and find out things about their lives outside of football. Sydney FC Academy players were also given the opportunity to play up in older teams.  The point, that I understood Kelly to be making, was that learning is non-linear and creating a culture within a club environment that is player centred and promotes creativity, flexibility, problem solving, adaptability and exploration through play is key to developing good youth footballers (and good people) in the modern game.

The Inaugural International Football Coaching Conference Australia provided Joe and me with an abundance of football information. The main points I took away from the conference is that the development of intelligent footballers who can make their own decisions and adjust accordingly in matches of their own volition is something that many youth academies around the world are focusing heavily on. The other point I took away from the conference is that coaching appears to be moving towards a player driven/focused environment where the coaches are the facilitators/organizers and it is the player who solves the football problem through help by the coach asking clever questions and guiding the player. Lastly, the conference re-in forced the important value of free play (street play) and football culture in development of youth players which is a challenge for all young players and clubs in modern society.

The conference was highly enjoyable and the wealth of ideas and information that Joe and I returned to share with the North Sydney United players, parents and other coaches was invaluable and will assist us to keep evolving in the right direction to give the players the best football experience possible.

Written by Robert Lorenc – North Sydney United

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