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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 present ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ #8 with Gary Cole interviewing Joe Montemurro

Joe Montemurro is currently the manager of Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League, where he has decided to step down at the end of the season.

Joe Montemurro is currently the manager of Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League, where he has decided to step down at the end of the season to have a well-deserved break, recharge, refresh and review.

Joe has transformed Arsenal since his arrival in 2017 and has won the Championship, the League Cup, been runners up in the FA Cup and the League Cup and made the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

This conversation reveals Joe’s very humble personality and looks at his journey from coaching juniors at his beloved Brunswick Juventus in the Victorian Premier League, through to Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City in the W League before taking up the incredible challenge with Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League.

He discusses coach education in both Australia and Italy and his experiences in the differences from ‘how to coach’ to ‘what to coach’. He also discusses how his coaching has changed and matured over the journey and the importance of resilience when being under the spotlight for coaches.

Joe was humble, open and honest and clear about wanting to build a legacy by leaving each club and team he has worked at in a better place than when he arrived.

Please join FCA in sharing Joe Montemurro’s Football Coaching Life.

https://thefootballcoachinglifepodcast.podbean.com/e/joe-montemurro/

Rangers Coaches Convention to give unique access

Rangers Football Club have announced a week-long online Coaches Convention with unique access, set to begin on May 24, 2021.

Rangers Football Club have announced a week-long online Coaches Convention, set to begin on May 24, 2021.

The recently crowned Scottish Premiership title winners for 2020-21 will hold the convention that’s led by the renowned Rangers Soccer Academies team, as well as keynote speakers – Rangers manager and assistant manager Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister respectively, first-team coach Michael Beale, and Sporting Director Ross Wilson.

This unique offering provides greater access to Rangers, bringing together the expertise of coaches and senior members of staff from across the club.

Taking place every evening from Monday to Friday, from 17:00 to 21:00 (BST/UTC+1), attendees are recognised with a 12-month premium subscription to the Rangers Online Academy. The first 500 registered will receive an exclusive welcome pack in the post.

The convention will contribute towards the Scottish FA and Irish FA CPD hours, with early bird offers on sale for £120 ($215) per individual.

An outline on speakers and subjects are below:

  • Ross Wilson – Football Department Strategy
  • Craig Mulholland – Academy Overview
  • Graeme Murty – Game Model and Curriculum
  • David McCallum – Professional Development Phase
  • Mark Spalding – Youth Development Phase
  • Alan Boyd – Foundation Phase
  • Graeme Smith – Academy Goalkeeping
  • Creag Robertson and Arlene Sinclair – Player Care Provision
  • Jamie Ramsden – The Academy Performance Strategy
  • Chris Milne & Olivier Materne – Academy Medical Provision
  • David Stevenson & Andy Scoulding – Scouting and Recruitment
  • Amy McDonald – Women’s and Girl’s Department Overview
  • Malcolm Thomson and Kevin Murphy – Women’s First Team and Girls’ Academy
  • Dr Victoria Campbell, Olivier Materne & Emma Traynor – ‘The Female Athlete’
  • Michael Beale
  • George Brown – Performance Analysis
  • Guest Session with former Rangers player(s)
  • Live panel discussion with members of Academy Management Team
  • Steven Gerrard & Gary McAllister – Three Year Journey and 55 Title Win.

“We are thrilled to announce the inaugural Rangers Coaches Convention on the back of the club winning our 55th title and as we enter into our 150th anniversary year,” Head of Soccer Academies and International Relations, Gary Gibson said.

“As we continue to expand our partnerships across the globe, the Coaches Convention will become part of our international strategy to give coaches and fans an opportunity to access the inner workings and showcase the work within the football department.

“For the first time ever, you will be able to interact with senior staff from the men’s first team, women’s team, academy and club legends and we will cover specific areas such as goalkeeping, sports science, medicine, match analysis, scouting and recruitment, and educational programmes through the player care team. It is a truly unique opportunity!

“We are very much looking forward to welcoming coaches from all over the world which will include our official partner clubs Bengaluru FC (India), Orange County Soccer Club (United States) and Hamburg SV (Germany).

“I would like to thank all the staff across the commercial and football departments which has allowed us to create the Coaches Convention, further highlighting the one-club ethos that has now been implemented.”

Details on how to register can be found here.

Q&A with Heidelberg United Technical Director Daniel Girardi

Daniel Girardi is the current technical director at Heidelberg United FC. He has previously worked at various clubs across Australian football, including Adelaide United, where he was a scout and an assistant to then head coach of the youth team Michael Valkanis.

Girardi has transferred the wealth of knowledge he has picked up over the course of his coaching career to spearhead the current youth development program at Heidelberg.

Girardi, alongside other coaches and staff, have implemented a philosophy at the club that focuses on critical areas to develop young footballers.

For example, it’s not enough to just develop a footballer, but rather a ‘total footballer’ that is a good person, friend and member of the community. Alongside having the technical, tactical and physical skills, Girardi believes it is necessary to exhibit good behaviours on a consistent basis.

Training programs are based around emphasising individual development within a team context, whilst coaches working with their different squads are encouraged to collaborate together as a unit to focus on the long-term development of players.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, Girardi further explains why the youth development setup at Heidelberg has been successful, his career progression, the importance of a national second division, his own views on coaching standards in Australia and more.

First of all, tell me a little bit about your personal career in football and how you ended up in coaching?

I started playing in Adelaide. Like any junior you go through the ranks of a club, I went through Adelaide Blue Eagles. I went on to play with the senior team, from there I had coaching opportunities but I was very naïve and I didn’t want to take them. My senior coach at the time, Zoran Karadzic, said to me ‘Daniel, to be an even better player you need to understand the little intricate things, things that you don’t see that we need to see as coaches’. So at an early age of 17, he asked me to coach a junior team (under 8’s) so I did that while I was still playing. Then from there I went into further coaching, I became a junior technical director and coached all the way through from juniors to eventually senior head coach.

From there I moved to Adelaide United, Michael Valkanis asked me to come and join the team there. I joined United as a scout, as well as an assistant to the youth team, and that’s where my football mindset and career met as one. I honestly thought to myself ‘you can do this as a full-time job’. In Australia it’s very difficult, but at the same time you can put a program together to make it work. I tried to make it work now in my daily life, but again it’s very difficult. You have to coach early mornings and late at night, but it’s a passion that’s why you do it.

At Adelaide, I got to work with Josep Gombau, Michael Valkanis, Angelo Costanzo, Guillermo Amor and Pau Martí. Between all of them, my acceleration as a coach grew exponentially. Just the understanding, the little things that they can teach you about what to look for in a player, how to run, when they should pass the ball, timing, things like that, where in Australia we are not there yet. It was good for me to understand that the game is very simple but it’s the hardest thing to do. People talk about playing simple, but what does that mean?

There are 6 basic style rules that govern football throughout the world. If I see you, you see me, there’s a line of pass, we pass that ball. If there’s no line of pass, I need to run with the ball in order to find the next line. After that, the third rule being if you can’t find a line of pass and you can’t run with the ball, you need to protect the ball. We never player square – that allows counter attacks. Receiving always with your furthest foot so that you can face forward and no two players should be in the same line.

Would you say that standards and methods in local coaching have improved over the period of time since you began coaching?

That’s a hard question. I think the general understanding has improved. People are watching a lot more football, they understand they need to keep the ball and not give it away. But actually understanding the way you keep the ball is very different. In Europe, from a very young age, positionally, kids know where they are on the pitch. Kids know where they shouldn’t be, they know who they should pass to and when they shouldn’t pass to those players.

In Australia, people just see a pass and they just pass the ball. They are not understanding that if I pass the ball the wrong way to my teammate, not to his furthest foot, I’ve put them under pressure straightaway. If I don’t pass that ball with the right ball speed, I’ve put them under pressure straightway. When a player runs with the ball, does he or she use the furthest foot so their body is between the opposition player and the ball? What is the player’s orientation to the player with the ball and without? What’s their orientation to the defender? So, there’s the little things, I don’t think the level of detail is there in Australia yet.

Tell me a little bit about your current role at Heidelberg and your overall involvement in the current youth set up at the club. How did it come about?

I was speaking with George Katsakis a couple of years ago and he asked me if I was interested to join the club as technical director. At the time, I said yes I’d definitely be interested. Heidelberg is a big club. Heidelberg in the last five-six years is one of the best clubs in the country, because of the guidance from the board, Steve (president) and George as senior coach. So, I joined knowing that we are trying to develop players for that senior team. That’s what the goal always is.

However, we focus on how we can accelerate their growth in order to get them to the first team quicker, but at the same time make sure they are our juniors. We don’t want to go and continuously buy players, we don’t want to continuously bring players in from other clubs, we want to bring through our own. We want to have a long-term culture of developing Heidelberg boys and girls. Boys and girls that live in the area, that live and breathe wanting to be a part of Heidelberg, of Alexandros, it means something. To have players who start with our MiniRoos and give them every opportunity to progress into the junior setup and then to the seniors. That’s the main goal.

Heidelberg have strong teams at a junior and senior level across men’s and women’s competitions, what do you think is the formula behind this success in developing young talent at the club?

For me, 100%, having the facility continuously upgraded is so important. You need to have pitches, equipment and the club has always been willing to buy all these things. They’ve bought us new goals, new mini-goals, the smart goal system now, trackers, VEO and we’ve established a new collaboration with Oxidate – we are always cutting edge. So, we are trying to build that DNA and at the same time use technology effectively.

Importantly, we have really good coaches. Brian Vanega (U21s) who unfortunately had to leave due to family commitments, Jeff Olver who has come back to help the club, Renato Liberto (U19s), Adrian Mazzarella (U17s), Sinisha Ristevski (U16s), Jim Daglaras (U15s), Kai Maxfield (U14s); these are all coaches who have either got A licenses or B licenses. They all understand that we are trying not just to look at one team, the U17’s or U19’s or whatever. It’s a culture of looking more at the overall picture, the 200 boys and the 200 girls at the club and saying ‘how can we develop them as a group rather than individually?’ Anyone can go and kick a ball but you can’t play football by yourself, there’s 10 other people on the pitch. So, we focus on how we can get all of them up to the level we want them to be at.

What type of programs, initiatives have you introduced in regards to learning opportunities for other coaches at Heidelberg United? What do you provide coaches at the club with?

We provide them with an innovative online session planning and player management system called SoccerPLAY. It’s got hundreds of different sessions and drills that they can use for ideas to create and implement our methodology. Additionally, at any time, we are able to provide feedback to help improve the sessions and the coaches. At the same time, we also do coach to coach sessions and are always looking to improve the program.

We have a new athlete development and high-performance collaboration with Oxidate, headed by Jacob Falla, which is specifically designed to educate the players about football development, physical performance (strength, conditioning, recovery, nutrition) and overall wellbeing. We have a club philosophy which connects all players via the ‘three wheels’, the Skills Phase for our MiniRoos, Growth Phase for our junior NPL teams and Elite Phase involving our seniors. You are trying to build across these wheels to get them into to the top teams at the club. We continually reassess what we are doing across all the different pathways to make the necessary improvements daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.

A snippet of Heidelberg United’s philosophy.

How crucial do you think a national second division is for the progression of youth development in Australian football?

It’s imperative. I’ve actually spoken with James Johnson and his team about it a few times. I think you need more than just a second division; you need a third division. I think that the NPL should be that you go from that league to a third division and so on. The more levels there are, you give more opportunities to the kids in order to develop at the level that they’re at. At the end of the day, we’re not just trying to develop a footballer. We’re trying to develop good boys, good girls, good sons, good daughters, it’s the overall person we are trying to develop…a total footballer.

The women’s side of the game is seeing huge increases in participation numbers and a home Women’s World Cup is on the way in 2023 which will lead to even more playing the game. How important is it capitalise on this and build female youth development standards and produce the next generation of Matildas?

Again, it’s imperative. The girls’ game has gone from A to Z in the last couple of years and it’s only going to continue to grow. The standard of the girls is phenomenal and improving all the time. It’s so important that the football community and country get behind the Women’s World Cup. I’ve coached girls’ teams and their enthusiasm for the game and desire to improve is brilliant. We need to capture that and harness it for both the girls’ and boys’ games to make a better competition for Australian footballers going forward.

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