Coaching courses come in different sizes and ingredients. There are common themes that run through a lot of them that you should be aware of to improve your chances of passing, or (where appropriate) getting a higher grade. Courses range from marathon slogs that are physically and emotionally draining to a few light hours in a classroom. Candidates go from complete beginner volunteer parents, to former professional players, to experienced coaches with long resumes at multiple levels. All of the above can affect your experience and chances of coming out of the class with new qualifications.
What to bring with you – plenty of clothes for playing. On week or longer courses expect to play all day every day. If it is hot or rainy you might want to bring enough for changes each day. Also bring clothes for the evening in case you don’t want to smell horrible going to watch games. Sunglasses for sitting on the sidelines (not for when you are coaching), sun block, insect repellent, pens, tablet/laptop for working and looking up ideas, water bottle (might be provided), and towels (might also be provided).
What to do at field sessions – Generally the first part of the course will have field sessions taught by instructors. They often split the group down the middle, with half playing and half taking notes at each session. Make a friend from the other half and agree to share notes at the end of each day. Choose someone who you think might have legible handwriting and who will actually write things down. If you can play during your time on the field, do so. Players who sit out of everything risk projecting a bad image to everyone else out there who is working hard. If you are injured but can stand in goal, do that. If you are likely to develop chronic injuries over the course of a long week, pace yourself as it is much more important that you play in all of the final practical sessions when numbers are more spread out.
What to do at classroom sessions – Take notes. There is a lot of good material to be had here from some of the lectures that could be useful for either your personal development, or for oral or field tests later. Actively engage in discussions so instructors notice you and start to develop an opinion of you. When it comes to grading you don’t want to be just a number. Don’t be the guy who needs to answer everything and share his or her own opinion on everything though.
What to do at meals – In some cases this is pure survival – trying to find any edible food in a terrible college dining room. Also a great place for discussion with other coaches, talking about ideas for lesson plans, making friends etc. As a general rule the more effort you put in on the course, the more you will get back from it. Some courses the instructors sit among the coaches, others they distance themselves. This could be another great chance to talk to them, if they are in a talking mood!
What to wear – Remember that from the start of the course to the finish you are setting an impression. The instructor is asking whether you are a coach that fits the profile of that particular qualification. As a general rule you should look professional on the field. Wearing club clothing shows that you have a job of some kind in soccer. Polo shirts, nice t-shirts that are well presented show that you care about your image and make the instructor believe that you should be coaching. Wearing replica and comedy shirts might spread a more amateur/spectator image that sticks in the instructor’s mind. For the final field session tuck your shirt in, wear soccer footwear, no sun glasses during coaching moments and make the instructor believe that you are a professional coach.
The key element to a lot of coaching courses is a practical session where you coach on the field and get graded by your performance. The first part of this process is receiving a topic and turning it into a practice plan that you can use during the session. There are several major pitfalls here that can easily cost you your any chances of getting certified so we recommend reading and following the steps below very carefully.
Read the question – Perhaps the biggest single fault on E/D and similar certifications is people failing to fully understand what they are being asked to do, and subsequently teaching the wrong thing. As a general rule, topics are written badly and could be interpreted in a number of ways. If you are not sure what yours is asking, go ask the actual instructor who will grade you, what they think it means. And answer it exactly their way. Your topic is likely to be either attacking or defending-based. It might involve a specific area or positions on a team and an action that you need to improve. Stick to this topic. Cover everything that you can within the time that will actively improve your team’s ability to perform whatever this topic is. For example, if your topic is to work with center forwards and increase the quality of their finishing, don’t spend your time coaching the defenders.
Find examples – Everyone has an idea about how they would answer your question; hundreds of people have probably done it before on other courses this year alone. You are not reinventing the wheel here so why not start by talking to people who have coached similar or the same topic and ask what they did? Some nice website even has example versions of all of them you can look at and use as a starting point…
Have a go – Write a plan. A lot of people procrastinate all night when they could write a draft plan in a few minutes. get something down because it is easier to edit than to create. Once you have something you can tear parts down and make them better. Keep in mind that the instructor wants to see that you can coach, not that you can come up with amazing new games that will blow their mind. There are no points for ingenuity on any of the grading sheets. Plus, if you try something that is way out there, not only might the coaches struggle to understand the rules (so you spend your time teaching the game rather than the topic) but it might not even fit with what you are trying to teach. Copy what the instructors did earlier in the week. Maybe edit it slightly to show that you can be a bit creative.
Get feedback – Once you have a plan, show it to people. Keep in mind that other coaches on the course will be pretty distracted with their own things so might not pay yours much attention, and might have a habit of saying everything looks great just to get rid of you. Call up experienced coaches from home and see what they think. If you have a very specific and short question, catch an instructor after a class or on the side of a field when they are not busy and see what they say.
As a general rule, people tend to overstress about oral exams. Instructors are required to do them to make the course more than just grading your on-field presence, but from our experience they are often little more than a formality. Failing the oral exam can take quite a lot of doing, and in a lot of cases they let you try again right away if you do. Listen to the question, use any preparation time to brainstorm and write down as many angles as you can think of on some scrap paper (usually when someone else is giving their answer). Be concise (cut out waffle… no one wants to be here and the instructor has heard it all before), use the board to draw diagrams if it makes sense. Try to engage the instructor in a conversation if you are struggling as you might be able to work towards an answer together. Keep in mind that almost all of the answers should be in the course textbook somewhere, so as long as you read it and listened in class, you should be able to answer to the level they need.
First of all, it is important that you believe that you should be coaching at this level. If you don’t, your body language and tone will give it away. Also important though is that you actually should be coaching at this level – which is a combination of knowing what you are going to be teaching and being able to effectively communicate. Hopefully by the end of the course you are in that position, and, although final testing can be nerve wracking, it will just serve to motivate you to bring your ‘A’ Game and pass with flying colors. Some common mistakes are listed below: –
Don’t over coach – The most common fault in a final practical is that the coach talks too much and the game doesn’t flow. We get so caught up in wanting to show how much we know, that we forget that in the real world the session is for the players, not us. Try to make any group stoppages short and to the point – 15-30 seconds max. Time yourself and see where you are. Try not to make too many stoppages: quality is way more important than quantity.
Don’t fix the wrong things – In your final part of the session you are probably coaching a scrimmage, where it can be difficult to bring out the topic you want because you can’t really engineer the game a whole lot. Coaches often panic here, freeze everything and correct something unrelated to what they are supposed to do. Stick to your topic. Be patient, it will come! Also, wait until a mistake is made before fixing it. You can’t fix it if it was about to happen, because you don’t know if they were going to do it wrong or not.
Don’t miss your topic – Related to the previous point, be sure that you cover all of the topic you have been given. Technical and tactical points and everything in between that is related to whatever your question is. Generally build through each activity, focusing on the technical points first then getting to the bigger tactical points when the activity gets that big. However it is important that you coach and fix what you see. Don’t wait until later because it was on your plan… fix it when it happens.
Don’t argue during feedback – Remember that the whole week is a big test. If you get a practice assessment and the instructor gives feedback at the end, take it positively. Question some parts and maybe justify your decisions, but don’t get into a big argument with them. Your job is to have them respect and want to pass you by the end of the week!