How the FAW is coaching the coaches of tomorrow in the age of coronavirus

By Chris WathanBBC Sport Wales
Joe Allen is one of a crop of Wales' Euro 2016 heroes taking their experience into coaching
Joe Allen is one of a crop of Wales' Euro 2016 heroes taking their experience into coaching

Whether it is the house clear-outs or archive matches being shown in the absence of live action, there's been a fair bit of sporting nostalgia during lockdown.

But while some have been looking back, a select band of Welsh footballers have used the downtime to think ahead.

Several times a week, eight members of the Wales squad that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 have gathered online to prepare for the future.

Indeed, a screenshot of them gathered during one video conference looks like a profile of potential Wales managers in waiting, from current captain Ashley Williams to record cap-holder Chris Gunter and cult hero Joe Ledley.

"It's not a bad line-up, is it? We're trying to work out between us who'll be manager, who's assistant, who's on analysis," says Neil Taylor.

The 31-year-old Aston Villa full-back is one of the group who have not allowed the current social restrictions to get in the way of progress in gaining a coaching A-licence.

Behind it all is the Football Association of Wales Trust, whose coach education scheme is highly regarded and respected.

Managers Tony Pulis, Roberto Martinez, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Chris Wilder are among those to have gained their coaching badges in Wales.

Wales players Joe Allen, James Chester, Andy King and Sam Vokes could be the next batch if what they've done in lockdown is anything to go by.

This particular course is different, though, and not just because of the online aspect of things. Participants, for instance, must have a certain amount of international caps and have played in a top division for at least five years.

"Uefa came up with the idea of trying to support international players while they were still playing and wanting to engage in coach education courses during their career," explains FAW Trust technical director Dave Adams.

"The Belgian FA ran it successfully and we were the second association to run the programme. The criteria is quite strict, but it means all the candidates are very experienced international players.

"But as well as that fantastic experience, there's also a good camaraderie and dressing room-type feeling on this course because they've all been through the experience of Euro 2016 together.

"As a group they've engaged well and shared those experiences together, so it's a really interesting learning environment."

The course had already begun long before the current pandemic, with Williams - while with Stoke City - and Gunter at Reading the bases for two sub-groups to learn together. The course included them running some sessions with the clubs' academy groups as they put their theoretical learning into action on the grass.

The lockdown stopped all that, but has not stopped the learning, with the regular online courses delivered to prepare for various aspects of coaching and management, from tactics, to conditioning, to dealing with the media.

Once football resumes, the practical side of the course can resume and the next steps towards developing the next Ryan Giggs can be taken.

And while all this is nothing new, the idea behind it all is to make sure valuable experience does not go to waste - especially at a time where the trend suggests ever younger coaches and managers.

Added value

From a group that did something no other Wales team had done before in reaching the last four of a major tournament, Adams admits that utilising that experience was vital.

"They're passionate about football and have experienced some fantastic things, and it's great to put them in a room and see them share that because it adds value to us all," adds Adams.

"That's a big part of our coaching philosophy: we don't want to create robots and sharing new ideas helps that. We want to help them get on and hopefully in future they'll be supporting our player development in Wales."

Adams hopes that the group can go on to qualify for the next Pro-Licence cycle in two years' time, the latest course having begun this week with a video delivery from Premier League success story Wilder, whose newly promoted and unfancied Sheffield United sat seventh in the table before coronavirus intervened.

Adams is thankful a lot of work had already been done in terms of setting up online platforms which allowed the Trust to offer their basic awards to those who ensure football happens in parks every weekend across the country.

"The level one award was really important [to offer online] because of the volume of people that go through that course every year are those needed to run grassroots teams," says Adams.

Similarly, Adams hopes social media initiatives - such as the Welsh Way challenge where children try to copy a skill set by men's and women's internationals - means momentum is not lost during lockdown.

"We've tried lots of initiatives to keep the profile and keep people motivated in this age of consoles and tablets, where it is so important to have that sporting engagement," Adams adds.

"We don't want to see a drop off in numbers when the game returns, we want to keep growing the game in Wales."

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