I’ve just returned from the fourth and final block of my Union of European Football Associations' A Coaching Course in Cork, Ireland. The entire experience was brilliant from start to finish, but it was also nerve-wracking, detail-oriented, intense, fulfilling, tiresome and challenging. I was one of 24 participants chosen out of hundreds of candidates from all over the world and it took a huge investment, both personally and financially. There is an entire pathway in place dependent on what level you aspire to coach at, with each level consisting of more and more detail, responsibility and expectations. Completing this pathway is absolutely necessary if you want to coach at the highest levels of the game — there’s no way around it.
In 1997, the UEFA established the Convention on the Mutual Recognition of Coaching Qualifications as a way to protect the coaching profession, improve coaching standards and prepare the way for the free movement of qualified coaches within Europe in accordance with European law. The courses are audited to ensure compliance and standards while also being reviewed and reformed every few years to ensure best practices are being utilized to develop coaching education. In subsequent years, each of the other five continental confederations, AFC, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, OFC, and CAF, have established their own coaching conventions within their respective organizations to ensure the same coaching standards are met amongst their regional football associations.
All that said, the UEFA courses are the standard-bearer for all coaching courses and attending and completing their courses gives you the best education available. Attaining the UEFA licenses also gives you the most opportunities, work-wise, as the UEFA licenses are the only ones accepted worldwide, with each region, usually, only accepting their licenses and UEFA licenses when coaching candidates are sought out. The goal at this point of my journey is to go for the very top, but that wasn’t always the case.
I began my coaching career back in 2003 while still attending Santa Clara University. A number of players from the team would work the school football camps over the summer and I worked for both the boys and the girls camps. At that time I didn’t really look at coaching as a potential career path, but I did enjoy sharing my knowledge with the kids and doing my part in helping them have fun while working to achieve their goals within the game.
When I moved back home after graduating from college the plan was always to go back to Belgium as I had lined up an agent and a club there that I would join professionally. I had finally accepted a call to play for the Guam men’s national team, after turning down a few opportunities while still living in the states. The team was set to participate in the now-defunct AFC Challenge Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh under then-head coach Norio Tsukitake.
Coach Tsuki, as he was affectionately known as, didn’t speak much English so we had to have a translator with us during the tournament. The communication between us was poor, which never helps any relationship. As I wasn’t really familiar with him, nor he with me, I didn’t start the first match against Palestine and the boys struggled early, going down 8-0 in the first half.
I was a bit perplexed watching from the sidelines as Coach Tsuki wrote down notes in his book but didn’t offer any information in real time to help the players improve their performance. In the second half, without much thought, I stood most of the time, coaching my teammates on their defensive positioning and helping them to a much-improved performance as they only gave up three goals in the second half. As the game dwindled down, Coach Tsuki told me to go watch the rest of the match from the locker room, as he wasn’t happy with my coaching. Being the young, passionate player that I was, I let him know that I wasn’t too fond of his coaching either before taking my marching orders. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my coaching from the sidelines clearly insulted Coach Tsuki and was seen as a sign of disrespect. I only wanted to help my teammates and I felt that was the best way for me to do such since I couldn’t be out there with them on the pitch. Although unofficial, this was my very first foray into coaching at the highest levels and it’s one I’ve learned a number of important lessons.
Jason Cunliffe is team captain of the Matao, Guam's men's national soccer team and a sports reporter and columnist for The Guam Daily Post.