As has become an annual event at the end of the calendar year, the FA Licenced Coaches Conference took place over the weekend just gone for coaches with Level 1 or 2 qualification, and on Monday and Tuesday for Levels 3 to 5. The conference, titled Shaping The Future, had previously been held at Wembley Stadium, however with a brand spanking new facility at Burton upon Trent specifically for development of coaches, the event this year was the first opportunity for many to experience what St George’s Park has to offer.

Having recently stepped up to Level 3, I had the opportunity to experience the more senior event for the first time. It was quite surreal, as of course many of the attendees were recognisable faces from the professional game, from players taking their first steps for potential future coaching careers, to established coaches and managers.

The event was hosted by BBC’s Mark Clemmit (viewers of The Football League Show will be familiar with him), and featured a broad range of interesting interviews, workshops and case studies. Monday began with an introduction with Sir Trevor Brooking, this was followed by a very interesting presentation from Dr Steve Peters, whose name you may recognise from the success of the British Olympic Cycling team. Dr Peters was the Consultant Psychiatrist for the team, and has also worked with Liverpool FC and the snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan. Peters is also the author of the mind management model, covered in his book; The Chimp Paradox. The model, based on research, is that the human brain is effectively three different brains; a logical human brain, a survivalist “Chimp” brain, and a rule driven computer brain, which can nevertheless experience a few gremlins. The idea of the book is to help individuals take control of their own minds by learning when one brain is dominating the other and making the inappropriate behavioural decision. Funnily enough, the book had been on my Amazon list for while, but the inspiring presentation convinced me to make the purchase, and a review of the book will be posted in due course.

The Chimp Paradox

¬†Next up was a presentation, hosted by the FA’s Head of Coaching John Peacock, featuring Gines Melendez Sotos. If that’s a name you’re not familiar with, he is the Spanish FA’s Technical Director, and has an impressive CV spanning more than 10 years, of bringing success to various age groups of Spain’s national teams. There was some astonishing statistics that backed up the high performance levels that Spain have achieved, and also some examples of some of the theories that go into the way the team play. This was followed by a practical demonstration on the full sized indoor “Sir Alf Ramsey” pitch. As an aspiring coach, there was much to take in, but the general theme was much use of the ball, repetition, and each drill is a development of the previous one, and involving players in their particular positions, from a simple game of “Rondo”, up to Patterns of Play drills on half a pitch. Spain have 35 patterns of play, based on three starting moves. The comparisons with a game of chess are not lost! The Spanish director was assisted by a translator (who himself was a knowledgeable coach), and the academy players from Championship side Derby County.

Gines Melendez Sotos

Gines Melendez Sotos works with Derby County Academy Players

Next up on a packed first day was a choice of practical demonstrations. As someone who has previously coached in the Women’s game, I observed a session on possession by Julie Chipchase, Regional Coach Development Manager, using the players from Stoke City’s ladies academy. It wasn’t one of the more popular sessions, I think there was as many of the girls’ parents as coach observers, but it was interesting to see the way the session was built and developed, as well as the difference in the way the coach dealt with players and coached them – it was a softer approach with great emphasis on encouragement. The enthusiasm levels were high on what was a very cold evening on the outdoor Wembley replica pitch!

After a closing presentation on the Advanced Youth Award, there was the opportunity to tour St George’s Park, which a large number of attendees took advantage of. It certainly is a high tech set up, from an extremely comfortable hotel, to a cutting edge Sports Science and medical set up.

St Georges Park Changing Rooms

The Elite Changing Rooms at St George’s Park, complete with England Euro 2012 Squad shirts

The first evening also featured an optional Gala Dinner, with speakers including PFA Chairman Gordon Taylor, and former Birmingham and Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish. McLeish also kicked off the following morning with some question and answers, joined by former Hull City manager Phil Brown. Next up was a review of the Olympics, with guest speakers Hope Powell, Stuart Pearce, and also Toni Minichiello who coached Jessica Ennis to heptathlon gold, and Jeff Davis who is the National Development Manager (Disability). Minichiello is an entertaining speaker and has spoken at this event previously. Davis was also an engaging speaker, showing passion for the work he does and the efforts of the athletes at the paralympics certainly demonstrated that disability is no barrier to sporting success.

Next up was a real treat, a coaching session from the England manager Roy Hodgson. The lucky participants in the session were the Wolverhampton Wanderers u18 team, and the session was watched not only by the conference attendees, but also the Sky Sports cameras. Hodgson’s session was on attacking play in the final third, and worked on patterns of play. The one disappointment was that the England boss was not mic’d up, so we couldn’t always hear his coaching points, however it was interesting to see one of the country’s most experienced and prominent coaches at work. It was also interesting to see some similarly experienced coaches taking plenty of notes.

Roy Hodgson with Mark Clemmit

A grainy photo, but unmistakably Roy Hodgson, speaking to the BBC’s Mark Clemmit

After lunch came another choice of workshops to observe. These ranged from a Foundation phase session (u12s), to a Goalkeeping session. I chose to watch the Professional Phase session, run by the FA’s Elite Coaching Manager Dick Bate, and again the Wolves u18s were the players used. Bate mentioned he would be conducting the session as an A-Licence session (so the next one up for me), and it was fascinating the way the session was constructed. The subject was transitions. Although it was probably sped through in comparison to reality, with the session taking just under an hour, the level of detail – from organising the defensive set up to ensuring a fast counter attacking game, the structure of the session, and the way the players noticeably improved was exceptional, and listening to comments from other coaches, I wasn’t alone in being inspired by the workshop. I have several pages of notes to write up, and it helped me forget the winter chill!

Umbro Pitch, St George's Park

The Umbro Pitch at St George’s Park, a desso surface that is an exact replica of the pitch at Wembley

Finally, we had updates on the Elite Coaches Award (effectively the Pro Licence for coaches), and the forthcoming updates to the Licenced Coaches Club, rounding off a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days. I have plenty of notes to write up and lots to take into my next coaching sessions. As well as earning hours of CPD to maintain my coaching qualifications, it is fascinating to watch the best coaches in the country (and in Europe) at work. As a coach, you cannot help being inspired to go and work hard to try and get to the same level. English coaching can hopefully continue to move in the right direction and help improve the game in this country.