In the latest in our series of exclusive interviews with key Scottish FA departments on how they are adapting to the unprecedented situation caused by COVID-19, we catch-up with Head of Coach Education and Development, Greig Paterson, to discover how technology is keeping the next generation of coaches and managers motivated during lockdown.

The shutdown is presenting challenges for everyone involved in football but as Head of Coach Education and Development, what have been the main obstacles and how have you overcome them?

Having three young kids running around me while I work from home on endless video calls is the biggest challenge. It’s precious time with the family that people are not often afforded in the hectic world of football so from that perspective, it’s perhaps the one positive to come out of this virus: players, managers and coaches sacrifice so much family time in their pursuit of their ambitions.

Traditionally, coach education takes place on the football field or in a group environment so we have had to drastically alter that model and look at how we incorporate technology and adapt our presentation style to home-based learning.

Online courses have grown in popularity in recent years but they are vital to Coach Education during this period. As a nation I think we have all become more adept at presenting and communicating via video conference – whether delivering a coaching course or hosting a Friday night quiz.

It’s not just how we’re delivering coach education that’s changed, it’s the structure of the courses themselves: for example, the Level 1.1 course - Introduction to Coaching - is a six hour course when delivered in person. What we’ve done for Level 1.1 now is break it down in to three 90 minute online sessions without compromising content.

How many coaches will benefit from the changes you’ve made to the way the courses are delivered? How will you manage to ensure nobody loses out?

We have restructured to make sure we can still deliver coach education to 1100 people. To break that down, 693 people have booked on courses between 15 March and 31 August at Level 1 alone. We have another 400 candidates on the UEFA A, B and Pro Licence courses.

We have created an FAQ document for all candidates and we have been writing to explain that, although face-to-face coach education is off the table, we will continue to provide coach education to the high standards we set: only the format has changed to suit the times but this is something all industries have wrestled with and adapted to.

Obviously it will be great when we can get back on the pitch but we’ve actually had an increase in number of people who are keen to booking online coach education courses and our objective is to satisfy that demands even after shutdown.

What about the elements that cannot be delivered online? Do you have no option but to postpone?

Some things will have to be put on hold but I don’t want anyone to lose out or see their time go to waste, even though football is in shutdown.

For example, everyone on the Pro Licence at the moment will have been preparing for a trip to Nyon, Switzerland from 4-7 May. Obviously this cannot happen now but these dates have been set aside for a while now, so we’ll look to deliver something else to those guys on or around those dates. People like Pat Bonner and Dan Ashworth were already lined up for guest lectures down the line on the Pro Licence, so it could now be a case of having those sessions put in place online when we should have been in Nyon.

Through what is a hard time for many, there have been some inspiring stories across the world. Have there been any examples of this in the coaching community? Do you see any benefit coming to coaches, or the game as a whole, despite the difficulties we are all experiencing?

There have been so many people looking to help and so many people looking to learn. As I mentioned before, we’re focusing on those who are currently booked before welcoming anyone new, but there is a real interest at the moment.

One great example is Russell Martin. As manager of MK Dons, but also as someone currently on the UEFA Pro Licence with us, he is learning in theory through the course as well as being a manager in adverse times like this. He explained to us on a recent podcast that the mind-set of his players is more important than anything right now and he’s putting a lot of energy in to that side of it for his players and staff, whilst also giving his time to provide advice to those on our courses. That commitment is admirable and reminds us that the person comes before the footballer.

I also spoke to the Head of Academy Coaching at Aberdeen FC Gavin Levey last week, and he was incredibly optimistic about the technical development of their players at this time, which may sound a bit surprising. He’s seeing a lot of progression from young players merely from practicing in their back garden. He told me that they are now trying to improve daily by setting themselves targets. For example, for his younger players juggling the ball 20 times and then aiming for 25 the next day is a small but productive example of development. Before you know it, they’re hitting higher and higher numbers. This is stimulating mentally during the challenges of a lockdown but is clearly improving the technical development of young players, and that is very encouraging to hear.

We’ve also been able to continue to deliver some of the other integral theory parts of the courses. People like Head of Referee Operations Crawford Allan doing a session on the Laws of the Game for our B Licence candidates, Willie McNab at Celtic doing a session on the role of the Academy Coach and Falkirk’s Graeme Henderson doing some physical preparation sessions have all been hugely supportive for us.
It’s hard to say but there could also potentially be an increased demand in coach education. We may well return to normality once this pandemic is behind us, but I know for a fact we will learn a lot from this experience. What we learn could potentially mean we have a blend between how we delivered before and how we’re delivering now, which means we could potentially deliver to more people.

With financial challenges facing everyone, has there been any approach to support those who are on the courses already?

That’s been one of the most important things I’ve tried to do. The easiest thing was to make sure the next payments our coaches are due to make are reduced in cost up until 31 August. We’re well aware that in these tough times people will not have the same disposable income. On top of that, a lot of clubs pay for their coaches to take the courses and we know that clubs will be struggling too at the moment, with no matches taking place and no supporters coming through the turnstiles.

That wasn’t enough though, I wanted to produce something additional to the candidates on our courses, and people further afield too, and that has taken shape in the form of our podcasts. This is an important learning tool to engage with those on the courses, and a wider audience, free of charge.

Have there been any examples of the way other sports are handling this situation that has inspired you? Or perhaps given you ideas to adopt during this period?

Our good friends at United Soccer Coaches are putting together a programme called ‘Coaching through COVID-19’ that provides people with a series of workshops to dip in and out of whenever they can. I like the way they’re supporting their coaches whilst also being sure to put their families and lives in general first.
The big thing at the moment though is productivity. I don’t believe there should be things happening just to fill time. What can the coaches learn and take from what we’re providing? There has to be a goal from it, a product at the end of it and I think that’s been one of the impressive things about United Soccer Coaches and something I’m putting at the forefront of what we’re doing.