Coaching is one of the most popular routes for players once their playing days are over. Its attractions include staying in the same environment, remaining close to the action and offering the emotional highs and lows of competition.
Whilst an elite playing career provides some of the football knowledge needed to be a successful coach, it is only a very small part of what the role demands. A player and a coach have very different requirements as Player 4 Player Co-Founder Emile Heskey told FIFA.com, “After 20-plus years of looking purely from an individual’s point of view as a player, now I have to look at it from a coach’s perspective, getting into players’ heads, delivering my message in the right way so that what I'm telling them ends up getting translated out on the pitch.”
Some of the unique aspects a head coach needs to proficient in include how to manage a group of players and staff, implement a style of play, make in-game adjustments, liaise with senior management and deal with the media, agents and fans.
This fact a professional playing career isn’t enough is shown by the trend towards more and more coaches making it to the top without this experience. Notable examples include Julian Nagelsmann, Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho.
Coaching qualifications help begin the process of acquiring those essential skills and are mandatory for working in a top tier league in Europe and UEFA’s competitions. Player 4 Player Co-Founder Stiliyan Petrov, who holds the highest available coaching award of the UEFA Pro Diploma, talked about what he learnt, “They helped me understand and clarify my coaching philosophy and methodology, identify a team’s strength and weaknesses, recognise and accommodate different individuals and know how to develop the different aspects of a player.”
Former professional players can begin with the UEFA B Diploma which teaches age- and ability-specific coaching techniques for players at youth through to senior amateur level. This is followed by the UEFA A Diploma which will help develop a clear understanding of player and team development and coaching at the top amateur level. Finally, the UEFA Pro Diploma does the same for the professional level.
Many players are now gaining these qualifications alongside their playing careers as they take several years to obtain and it gives them a head start when they retire. The Belgium FA set up a scheme for the men’s and women’s national teams to obtain their UEFA Diplomas during training camps with 19 men’s players including Kevin De Bruyne signing up.
Acquiring them whilst playing has an added bonus of helping you improve your performance on the pitch. Another of our co-founders, Gazika Mendieta, regrets not doing them when he had the chance during his football career.
“It definitely benefits to do it when you’re a player as you see a manager’s perspective. You understand yourself better as a player and how to read the game. I had the opportunity when I was at Middlesbrough but decided not to do it as I didn’t think I would coach and I regretted it a few years later.”
He is now studying for his Pro Diploma over 10 years after he retired. The former Spanish international continued, “I would have been a better player and it cuts down the time to becoming a coach after you finish if you decide that’s what you want to do. The knowledge you gain is useful in any role if you stay in football and it has helped me as a TV pundit explain what I am seeing when analysing games.”
It is never too early to start and when you are younger you have more free time to do them with fewer commitments such as children. Emile, who is currently doing his UEFA B Diploma whilst working with Leicester Women, is another that wishes he’d gained his badges earlier and agrees with the point that they will make you a better player. “I think by the age of 25 I should’ve had my A Licence. I had so much time on my hands but didn’t use it well plus I think it would’ve help me be more tactically aware.”
Former Manchester City defender Eric Garcia started studying for his qualifications at 19 years of age, whilst still transition from the youth to first team. He also took the opportunity to gain experience by working with club’s under-11 academy side.
Whilst coaching qualifications are just the first step to becoming a coach, with experience being the most critical for development, having them before the end of your football career can help immensely during your transition and benefit you as a player. Many player unions offer funding for coaching courses or have subsidised ones specifically designed for professional players that you can take advantage of.
With mentors who have first-hand experience of gaining their coaching qualifications, we are happy to speak to any player who is interested in exploring this opportunity.
Emile Heskey was speaking to Doug Reed.