By Pete Laird and Matthew Davies
BAFCA and its precursor the NFCA has been in existence since 1992. Established originally with the remit of ‘Sharing the Knowledge’ one of its initial benefits was the delivery of its annual coaching conference. It grew out of the original annual general meeting which met to elect new board members and eventually established itself to the 3 day event we know today, with a dedicated fixture free weekend granted by the governing body.
But what does the convention involve and what can first time coaches expect? We asked our resident Scotsmen and coaching savants Laird and Davies for a veteran’s viewpoint.
PL: The first thing I’d say about the convention is it is a must for any aspiring coach. It’s open to all BAFCA members regardless of experience or level. There is a huge range of speakers with a breadth of knowledge on all manner of subjects. When the schedule is released you will find a variety of local and international speakers with talks held at the same time you can choose your preferred speaker. Plot your convention in advance using the schedule.
One of the best tips I can give is don’t just stick to the ‘stars’ and your favoured position. Stretch yourself by learning about other position groups and you can learn just as much from a local speaker with similar problems as yourself.
MD: This year there are some talks on things outside of the usual scheme and technique – particularly around Building your Programme (Rob Orr), Coaching Theory (Jon Wyse) and Coaching the Coach (Andrew Gambrill). In my experience, this sort of knowledge and understanding is criminally undervalued in the UK, where people tend to be fixated on the X’s and O’s. In truth, by spending time developing yourself as a coach and not just as a tactician, you will increase your flexibility and ensure that whatever team or system you’re part of in the future you can be a success with it. You can also build your own team up in ways you might not have imagined, which can have all sort of knock on impacts like making player attraction and retention easier, securing better funding and facilities and developing new coaches from within your team, all of which will lead to more sustainability and a lot more wins down the line than understanding a new defensive coverage.
What Else Can I expect?
PL: There is a huge amount of networking at the convention especially at the awards ceremony on the Saturday. It can be intimidating, especially when so many of the top coaches all seem to know each other, but don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, and if you want to ask advice or pose a question from someone don’t be afraid to ask. The one thing you will quickly learn about the best coaches is that they are there to learn and they are there to help educate others. Making the game better is their first priority and there are no real secrets in Football. We all learn from someone.
Don’t worry about names, everyone tends to wear labelled coaching polo’s and if in doubt just call everyone Coach.
MD: The networking element is absolutely fundamental and it’s one of the main reasons I attend coaching conventions. No matter which of the sessions you attend throughout the weeknd, you’ll pick up a handful of nuggets, but the contacts you make and the networks that you build, both in those sessions and in the social time in between sessions and in the evenings can last a lifetime and really open up further growth and development opportunities down the line. I’ve had some fantastic conversations online and over the phone in the wake of attending conventions, all of which have helped me better understand the game and overcome some challenges.
Who is speaking this year?
MD: The two ‘big name’ speakers are Al Saunders and Geoff Collins. Saunders may be familiar to those of a certain age as the British born Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers. He has gone on to work as an Offensive Coordinator and consultant with a swathe of teams since then, including the Rams (twice), the Chiefs (also twice), the Redskins, the Ravens and latterly the Raiders. On top of those guys, there is plenty of local talent on the agenda and given the wealth of experience that these guys have coaching teams with the same challenges that your team faces, it’s well worth checking them out.
PL: Collins visited the convention in 2011 as an assistant at Mississippi State where he coached Linebackers. He quickly rose to coordinator and has been rewarded for Mississippi’srun at the National championship last season by being appointed to the same post with the Florida Gators.
Anything else I should know?
PL: There are usually stalls at the convention from UK kit suppliers with merchandise and books also available for purchase. There is also the Media library where you can borrow dvd’s to watch in a booth. Bring pens and lots of paper! The bar in the evening is a good social area where untold war stories are retold and exaggerated out of all recognition.
MD: Filming the sessions can be really handy to share them with coaches back at your own team, if you have the facility to do so. Ask tonnes of questions, especially if you’re watching the big name presenters, because it’s much harder to get hold of them a month down the line when you look back over your notes and something doesn’t make sense. Also, bring your darts because there’s every possibility that I’ll be sharking people in the bar area in the evenings, until I inevitably get to that stage of the night where my blood alcohol level moves from being a help to my game to making the whole endeavour wildly dangerous.
Any Does and don’ts?
Don’t: PL: During Q&A sessions don’t be drilled obsessed. There are a ton of drills out there and none of them will turn your player into an All Pro.
MD: Go to the same talks as your mates. Take a video camera each if you have one and try to cover as many of the different talks as possible, so you can cross reference and build a library of knowledge
Forget to take time after the convention to review your notes and consolidate your learning. You’ll be scribbling down notes and diagrams like a maniac and a few weeks later, most of them will be meaningless unless you take an evening to review, fill in any gaps and come up with some actions to implement your learning
Stick to sessions based on your own position or side of the ball. Understanding what the other guy is trying to do to beat you will help make you and your players more effective.
Do: PL: Talk to as many people as possible. Including, and especially, your rival coaches from your own league. Communication breaks down barriers and you will find that the evil coach from down the road is actually a decent guy who is just as committed to the sport as you are.
MD: Talk to strangers. You’d be very surprised who attends these conventions and very often the coaches that you’ve herad of are not the ones with the best insight or knowledge. Some coaches are great self promoters, others are just great coaches and you can learn a lot from these chats.
Take some time for preparation in advance. What would success look like from a weekend at the convention? What challenges am I struggling to overcome? What questions could I use an answer to? Who do I need to build contacts with? A little planning and prep goes a long way.
Ask the coaches you meet where they have got their knowledge from and what their reference materials are. This can give you further reading and more contacts to leverage down the line as your own knowledge builds.