How football coaches are using the web to support coach and player development

Robin Russell, CEO and Founder of Sports Path

Robin Russell, CEO and Founder of Sports Path

Over the past three years I have received over 2,000 responses to online surveys from practising football coaches throughout the world. From this original research and a review of current good practice I am able to highlight the areas where e-learning is helping to train and re-train coaches and web-based performance support is improving the development of both coaches and players.


A guest article by Robin Russell, CEO and Founder of Sports Path


The shortage of coaches


My previous research estimated a minimum of  20 million English speaking football (soccer) players and one million  English speaking coaches throughout the world (with  broadband internet access).


Within European Football Federations affiliated to the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), there are over 24 million registered players playing in 800,000 registered teams supervised by over 800,000 registered coaches. The greatest growth witnessed in recent years in Europe and North America has been the number of boys and girls playing at increasingly younger ages.


Informal sport, like ‘street football’, has  become almost  extinct in Europe as parents increasingly want safe, organised, enjoyable sporting experiences for their children where they are physically and socially active and can learn new skills.


Football has responded to this need by providing grassroots clubs, football holiday courses and children’s football franchises involving millions of boys and girls throughout Europe.


These trends have resulted in a demand for more child-centred coaches with appropriate experience and training. There is a considerable turnover of youth football coaches throughout Europe – an example being in the Netherlands where the Dutch FA (Football Association) estimates that children’s coaches quit on average after four years. Furthermore, the quality of the coaching and the coach is cited by research conducted by the German FA as being the prime reason players quit playing football. Young footballers and their parents expect trained coaches and technological support – just as they do in their normal schooling.


As can be seen from the following examples the web is being used to address these problems and meet these needs.


Introductory training for coaches and volunteers


Eleven years ago at the English FA we started launching online courses for grassroots coaches that have now grown to a significant menu of courses in a number of subject areas including: respect, laws of the game, child protection, psychology, organisation, evaluation and fitness.


In the last three years there has been further development in the launch of specific coach education programmes for novice coaches by a number of football federations including  US Soccer, The  National Soccer Coaches Association of America, The Finnish FA  and The Irish FA. The FA of Wales will also launch their entry level course at the end of 2015.


These courses allow the learner to interact with the content and include follow up with multiple choice quizzes and certification. Over 20,000 coaches enrolled in the US Soccer online course in the first nine months and I would estimate that in 2016 over 50,000 coaches will enrol in English language soccer/football courses globally.


The growth in this sector will be to provide more learner/tutor interaction and to facilitate learner to learner interaction.


In addition, at the higher level, the past three years have seen the introduction of an Online Master Degree in Soccer Coaching at Ohio University, USA, and a B.Sc undergraduate online degree course  in Football Coaching by Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. We would speculate that given the popularity of football and graduate sports science courses many other universities will launch similar cost effective courses in the foreseeable future.


Continued professional development to retain existing coaching qualifications

To retain valid coaching qualifications, UEFA and other football associations globally require coaches to undertake mandatory Continued Professional Development (CPD) – normally at least 15 hours over a three- year period. Increasingly football associations are providing this CPD via e-learning (e.g. English FA) or approving the e-learning courses of other bodies. Our courses developed in conjunction with the English League Managers Association are such courses approved by UEFA and recognised by many FA’s for CPD.


Over 3,000 high level coaches have enrolled in these courses on leadership and evaluating  performance, which include video clips of famous managers (e.g. Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson), interactive content, tutor support and peer-to-peer discussion combined with imaginative scenario tasks involving a virtual coach dealing with real problems. Interestingly the coaches involved in these courses have created over 15,000 pages of content generated in the course discussion forums and blogs. This is a clear example of the value of peer-to-peer learning providing significant benefits for busy, practising coaches.


Web-based performance support


  1. Ongoing support for working coaches
  2. The most popular websites used by coaches are UEFA Training Ground and the German FA, but our research shows that increasingly directors of coaching and technical directors of coaching in clubs are developing their own simple virtual learning environments using free tools (e.g. Google + Circles) and maximising the use of YouTube and TED-Ed.


An increasing number of coaches also tweet and blog content to help coaches in their club and those who follow them.


  1. Ongoing support for players
  2. I outline in my book Soccer Coaching and the Web the range of apps now available for coaches and players to plan sessions and obtain content.


Our research shows that the three main reasons given by coaches as to why they use the web to support the development of their players are:


  • The players are encouraged to take more ownership of their development
  • It’s an extension of the coaching session for the players
  • It maximises the contact time the coach has with the players
  • We expect these trends to continue and soon involve web enabled wearable devices, and the use of technology such as drones to support coaching. You can hear more about these developments and more at my OEB 2015 session ‘Strategies for the L&D Ecosystem’, taking place on Thursday, December 3, at OEB 2015.


My background is in football education. I qualified as a teacher and then worked for the English Football Association for 26 years to become Technical Coordinator, responsible for all FA Education progammes. In 2005 I left full-time employment at the FA to take up an appointment as Grassroots Football Development Consultant for UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) and to start my own football education business. My interest and passion in e-learning has been fuelled by the assistance of Plan B Learning’s Donald Clark whilst at the FA and, more recently, from the brilliant guidance I have received from Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT). 

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