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Former NSL star Vaughan Coveny on the success of online football education and training

South Melbourne and New Zealand legend Vaughan Coveny explains how the Essendon Royals are embracing technology to deliver training and education during the state-wide lockdown.

It seems like yesterday that many Victorians were optimistic about some form of state-level football returning in 2020. By July, the optimism quickly faded as a resurgence of COVID-19 forced the state back into lockdown and dashed the hopes of the football industry.

But despite the wave of negativity surrounding the current state of affairs, crisis can breed opportunity.  Many clubs are turning to technology to stay connected and few are embodying a proactive mentality as well as the Essendon Royals Soccer Club.

The Royals’ brains trust, led by Head of Football Vaughan Coveny, have implemented an online training portal designed to deliver quality coaching sessions live and electronically to its youth players.

Supplementary to continuing each player’s personal development, the training is designed for players to maintain their sense of community and social interaction during what is an isolating and challenging time.

“As a club, we were thinking about ways to reach out to our members and give back during this difficult period. They are important to us and in tough times we want to look after them and give them every tool to help them through the process,” Coveny says.

“The club has a fantastic committee made up of more than 20 volunteers and an enthusiastic president, Richard Di Sauro, who are all working endlessly at the moment to keep things moving.”

The current structure of the training is setup to include three sessions per week. Each session is designed to cater for different age groups, under-7 to under-9, under-10 to under 12, and U13s to U18s.

The training sessions are inclusive of both genders and are being delivered by a combination of Essendon’s community and National Premier League coaches.

Coveny played more than 50 A-League games after a storied NSL career.

The response has been largely positive from both players and their families, who have lauded the physical and mental benefits a collective training program can bring during a time of social isolation.

“There has been an overwhelming response to be honest. A lot of the kids are really excited by it and once the session starts, they are engaging each other and approaching the training enthusiastically,” Coveny says.

“After our first session we had a lot of people saying they wanted to do it again and asking when the next training was going to be. So overall feedback has been really positive.”

Senior women’s player Bella Santilli, who also acts as a junior’s coach delivered the first session in late July. The training was aimed at the under-10 to under-12 age bracket and focused on ball mastery. More than 30 players took part.

This attendance rose to almost 40 players for the second session, which was run by senior women’s coach Mick Gallo, and by the third session, more than 60 participants tuned in to join Claude Gomes’ advanced ball mastery program.

A key to the successful implementation of transitioning online is accessibility. The Royals have utilised social media to promote their activities which helps the club to remain connected with the community and staff carefully plan out sessions to ensure complex equipment is not required.

“In terms of setup, it has actually been fairly easy. The coaches were keen to get involved and they can do it from their laptop at home. They will demonstrate an exercise, or have their son or daughter demonstrate an exercise and walk and talk the participants through the session,” Coveny says.

“We’ve done strength and conditioning which the kids really enjoyed, and we’ve ensured the fitness-based sessions can be done indoors. It’s a really good initiative and we’ll continue to do it until we can get back to normal training.”

With the online coaching strategy proving a success so far, the Royals are branching their online education to other important facets of the game, including the promotion of nutrition and mental health.

“A professional nutritionist will be delivering a nutrition presentation to all our players about eating the right foods during this time, as well as what we should all be doing before and after training,” Coveny says.

“We have also introduced a football app for the mental health side of things called Arete. We are currently delivering it to our NPL teams and Women’s teams on a trial basis. We are planning to get feedback from them and parents to see what they think of the app.”

“We think it is important to reach out on that side of the game. Mental health is becoming more important and more understood these days,” Coveny adds.

With the online training proving a success and an ongoing focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of the Royals football community, Coveny is hoping the club will act as a positive example for the football industry and inspire others to look for opportunity in times of crisis.

“Because we all have more time now, we are able to think about things like mental health, nutrition, and technology and deliver on things that we usually wouldn’t be able to,” he says.

“It’s been a difficult time. We all have to stay strong and get through it together. The situation is going to impact clubs financially, but we think we can get through it by supporting each other as well as we can.”

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S2 Ep 8 with Gary Cole interviewing Jeff Hopkins

Jeff Hopkins

Jeff Hopkins is currently the W-League Championship winning Head Coach of Melbourne Victory.

Jeff was born in Wales and played over 400 games for both club and country. He started in Fulham’s Academy before playing over 200 games in the first team before heading to Crystal Palace and Reading. Jeff also played for Wales at U21 and Senior level.

His coaching career began by working with young players in the UK, where he started his coaching licences before heading to Gippsland Falcons as a player and then for a year as Head Coach.

As a former professional player Jeff, like so many of us, thought he had a good grasp of football until he began his coaching journey and learned he didn’t know, what he didn’t know!

With over 20 years’ experience as coach at youth, assistant and head coach level Jeff is very aware of the changes he has made to his coaching over the journey. He has a number of premierships and championships to his name with Queensland and Brisbane Roar Women and both a Premiership and Championship with Melbourne Victory, which he is very proud of, but he also finds a great deal of satisfaction in seeing his players and teams grow and develop.

Jeff was honest and open discussing his journey and believes that finding a mentor in the beginning would have helped him make fewer mistakes on his journey. In fact, in answering the ‘one piece of wisdom’ question he had two pieces for developing coaches! Firstly, find a mentor early on in your coaching career and secondly keep growing and learning as a coach and create a learning environment for your players.

Please join Gary Cole in sharing Jeff Hopkins’ Football Coaching Life.

Carlos Salvachúa: “Playing without promotion and relegation is a big problem”

Carlos Salvachúa was Victory assistant coach under Kevin Muscat, before taking over as caretaker manager. He has coached professionally in Spain and Belgium, including six years at the Real Madrid academy, overseeing the development of the club’s rising stars.

He spoke to Soccerscene from Spain about his impressions of the A-League, where it could be improved, and how Australian youth need to play more football to reach their potential.

What were your first impressions of the A-League?

Salvachúa: Sometimes the big issue is knowing if it’s a professional league or not – and definitely the A-League was professional. I’m talking about games, organisation, talking about flights or hotels, and training. I was lucky to arrive to Melbourne Victory – one of the biggest clubs there is – and everything in the club was like in Europe and in Spain. Good facilities, good organisation, and a lots of staff in the office. For me the first impression was really professional.

What was the level of professionalism like compared to other leagues you have coached in?

Salvachúa: Belgium is a hard competition. I’m talking about the games, not about organisation – it’s similar to the A-League or in Spain in the La Liga. The competition is tough in Belgium if we compare the level of the players, the games and the competition.

After leaving Melbourne Victory, Salvachúa was Muscat’s assistant coach at Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while coaching in Australia?

Salvachúa: One of the biggest for me was the distance to play a game. It was funny because here with Atlético versus Real Madrid they travel 15 minutes to go to sleep at home, and for Victory we spend three days away to play a game, for me this was really hard. In the Champions League we spent five days away to play a game in China or in Japan. For me and and European players as well this was hard, because it was not easy. I remember the long pre-season because the schedule of FFA Cup was really hard for us. We trained two to three months before the first game in the A-League, just to play one round in the FFA Cup.

How do you think the league could be improved?

Salvachúa: For me, playing without promotion and relegation, is a problem, a big one in my opinion for the league. You need to improve the league from the basement – you cannot start the building of the house from the roof, you must start building the house from the ground up. I’m talking about the NPL. They are tough competitions, and you need to give promotion to the A-League, and I think that the competition will be better with this system like in Europe. I think a competition without promotion and relegation is only working with the MLS in USA. In Australia I think that it would be great to create another kind of competition to improve the league.

Another thing for me that is one of the biggest issues was that sometimes the players were receptive – they are professionals about training and have a good attitude to learn, but for me as a coach sometimes the players don’t know how important it is to win – compared to a draw or a loss. Without promotion and relegation, in some games as a coach, in the second half the players don’t understand how important it is to get a win over one point. I think that is probably one of the solutions to change the model of the competition.

How would you rate the level of young talent being developed in Australia?

Salvachúa: Like in other countries, you have good players with talent at 14, 15, and 16 years of age, but in my opinion they need more games. Some players arrive to A-League at 19 years old – playing 18 to 25 games – and it’s not easiest time for the coaches to start these young players in the first 11. If they are not playing every Sunday, they need another tough competition. You need competitive games with a second team like here in Spain or with the under 18s or under 19s – it depends. I think that they need more games here. A 14 or 15 year old kid normally finishes the competition in Spain with 45 official games. 45 games is more than the professionals in the A-League. I think one of the big issues is they do not have enough games and training sessions to develop the players. But the talent is there like in other countries.

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