World Football Academy gives grassroots coaches chance to learn from world's best
Raymond Verheijen knows a thing or two about football at the top end of the game.
He has coached at seven consecutive major championships - from Euro 2000 with Holland to Euro 2012 with Russia - and has worked with some of the world’s biggest clubs, including Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City.
The 41-year old is one of the world’s leading authorities on injury prevention and conditioning and, as assistant manager to the late Gary Speed, helped Wales climb the FIFA rankings from 113th to 48th place in 2011 - the highest leap of any team that year.
Welsh international Craig Bellamy has credited the Dutchman will reviving his career, having taken on board Verheijen’s ‘periodisation’ approach to training that aims to keep players fresh and prevent overtraining.
Bellamy will be appearing at the Emirates Stadium next week (19 December) at a conference run by the World Football Academy, set up by Verheijen and former colleague Guus Hiddink in 2009 to share best-practice at all levels of football.
“I worked with Guus at Euro 2008 and he was thinking about his legacy after his coaching career," Verheijen told Club Website.
“Guus mentioned that in football you already have to work at the highest level to meet the best people, so we decided to develop the World Football Academy.
“We wanted to give something back to football, mainly to give something back to the next generation and also coaches who are not working at the highest level.
“The mission is that we bring the best coaches and experts in international football to the doorsteps of not only the elite in football, but also the next generation of coaches and grassroots football.”
Through the World Football Academy (WFA), Verheijen wants to make best-practice knowledge and experience available via a series of courses, mentorships and conferences, with expert speakers from across the world of football.
Whilst there are inevitable differences between the training demands of elite football and those at grassroots level, Verheijen believes that the principles remain the same, with the WFA ensuring that the pitch is right for the audience involved.
So how can the WFA's approach benefit a grassroots coach who might only train his or her side once or twice a week? Verheijen summarises the approach in three parts:
1. Exercise content
“First of all, we focus on exercises. That is something for everyone,” he says. “Which exercises will give you most benefit in terms of football development and fitness development in particular?”
The WFA’s search for “the best trainers in the world right now” has led them to recruit Marcel Lucassen, a man who has worked with German national youth teams for eight years and so knows the current first team - with whom he now works - very well.
Now Lucassen is bringing his expertise to the WFA table and sharing his best-practice of football technique training - a philosophy that Verhiejen says allows you to “develop your football technique, but also with decision making - the most important element - in real football situations”.
The technique a player requires can depend largely on their position on a pitch - for example, a striker might play much of the game with his back to goal, but a centre back faces the play most of the time.
This approach to training allows coaches to use “isolated technique exercises” that focus on the positioning, timing, direction and speed required for specific actions for each position.
“The good thing for grassroots football is that when you do now football technique training - when you train for, let’s say 30 minutes, twice a week - then in each of these 30 minutes you get more output,” Verheijen adds.
“That’s because you don’t only train and improve your technique but, within that 30 minutes, you also improve your decision making.”
ii. Planning within a session
The second component of the WFA’s approach that can benefit grassroots coaches is how to plan exercises within a training session. By considering the order in which individual exercises take place within a session, Verheijen explains, you can maximise the benefit to players and reduce the chance of injuries.
“For example, if in one training session you do sprinting, shooting and small sided games, then it’s crucial that you do them in the right sequence,” says Verheijen.
“The sprinting and the shooting should be first. Small-sided games should be last.
“But in practice you often see coaches do small-sided games first, then do sprinting or shooting to finish off a session. Worldwide you observe this too often.
“If you do the small-sided games first - which creates a lot of fatigue in the legs in particular - and then after that, with those tired legs, you do maximum explosive actions like sprinting or shooting, then it’s asking for trouble.
“With those maximum explosive actions, you need maximum co-ordination, maximum control over your body, to avoid injuries.
“This is just a simple example. Most coaches who read this will recognise it, but there are multiple examples like this that we teach in those courses to help coaches avoid injuries.”
iii. Planning between sessions
“The next step – the third element – is the sequence between sessions,” adds Verheijen.
“This is crucial when you train every day because fatigue might carry over until the next day, although it is less of a problem in grassroots football or youth football, people don’t always train every day.
“We still talk about the planning between sessions in grassroots football and the last session before a game, but only to a certain extent compared to professional football.
"It’s our responsibility to sometimes simplify specific information and specific knowledge for grassroots coaches.”
Verheijen believes that the WFA’s programme can help fill a hole left in the coaching infrastructure in the UK and can prove of real benefit to thousands of coaches that he feels are let down by “a problem in coach education”.
The English FA, he believes, “is lacking a clear coach education philosophy” and struggles because they “don’t have a big database of coach educators.”
The FA opened St George’s Park this year with a view to improving the standards of coaching and coaching education in England, but Verheijen believes that the FA’s thinking needs to modernise to match the impressive facility they have built.
“I think that St George’s Park is beautiful, but if you put dinosaurs in a state-of-the-art environment then it’s a waste of money.”
“The first thing that you need is a philosophy and then you need the people to transfer that philosophy onto the coaches. St George’s Park might be the tool to do that, but if you use St George’s Park to communicate the old message - in other words, the same message that brought UK coaching into the situation that it is in right now - then it doesn’t solve the problem.”
“I see a lot of coaches in the UK who are hungry for information, who want to learn, who want to know how things are done in Spain or Germany for example.
“Clearly there is something is going really well in these countries at the moment - so these people want to learn from them, but I think the English FA doesn’t give them the right service.”
Verheijen believes the WFA's global reach and approach to sharing best-practice from around the world will help to fill the gaps.
“I said to myself, for every area of expertise, ‘who is the number one person that we’d like to work with?’ and no matter what country - worldwide.”
“I’m proud of all these people being part of my informal best-practice team. They all said ‘yes’ which is really great, so now we have experts from Europe, from the US, from Australia.
“They are all top of their area, and we use them as experts for the World Football Academy.”
The World Football Academy’s UK symposium takes place at the Emirates Stadium on 19 December. Raymond Verheijen will be joined by Gareth Southgate, Craig Bellamy and the team behind British Cycling's recent Olympic success, amongst others
Club Website have an exclusive offer for members, with 150 places for grassroots coaches available with 50% off entry (£99). Places are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.