Premier Skills helping local coaches

by Mark Orlovac - premierleague.com

More coaching activity taking place in South Africa.

Last weekend's Barclays Premier League Live extravaganza in South Africa not only showcased the best of the action on the pitch, but also shone a light on the work that is carried out by the Premier League and its clubs in communities around the world.

In the build up to the two-day event, Premier Skills, the Premier League's lead international good-causes project, was launched in South Africa with a week-long programme at the Nike Football Training Centre in Soweto.

The Premier Skills initiative, which began in 2007, is run by the Premier League and the British Council and uses the knowledge and expertise of both organisations to train grassroots coaches and referees who gain the skills and confidence to run community football and coaching projects of their own.

In Soweto, the Premier Skills course was run in partnership with the South African Football Association (SAFA) and South African broadcaster SuperSport and was delivered by Sunderland AFC and Hull City coaches to more than 60 trainee coaches from across the country.

The participants were put through a variety of classroom and practical tasks which covered areas such as coaching planning, warm-ups, health and safety, preparation and the use of constructive criticism. The coaches could then put what they had learnt into practice as the week culminated in a community football festival which ended up involving more than 130 youngsters.

"The week went very well," Sunderland's head of international football development Graham Robinson told premierleague.com. "When we started some of the coaches were very nervous and shy but as the week went on, and they realised that we were there to support them, they opened up a lot more and we started to find out about their backgrounds.

"The classroom sessions really built up their confidence and their knowledge so they could lead the festival at the end of the week. For some of them, this is the first qualification they have achieved. It's amazing how word spread. Once people found out we were delivering a course, every day we had to turn people away."

The course was attended by representatives of SAFA, who were keen to see Premier Skills in action as the organisation are looking to align the Premier Skills curriculum with their D-licence qualification.

SAFA has highlighted grassroots as one of its key priorities as they aim to increase the number of coaches as part of its "Vision 2022" development project. In fact, Robin Petersen, chief executive of the SAFA Development Agency, last month said an agreement had been reached that coaches who have Premier Skills training will also get a D-licence.

"Having the involvement of SAFA and having their official stamp is key because it is important the qualification is tied in with the national FA, otherwise it is worthless," Robinson said. "These coaches will be in the system now and that is how we are affecting their target of training thousands of coaches by 2022. We are playing a key role in that."

There was also another part to the launch of Premier Skills in South Africa, with a selection of the trainees from the course given the honour of taking part in the inaugural BPL Live, which took place in Zoo Lake Sports Club in Johannesburg and was experienced by more than 30,000 fans over the two days. The trainee coaches could put what they had learnt into practice in coaching sessions for youngsters from Soweto.

"It was massive for them," Robinson, a native of South Africa, said. "A couple were quite shocked when we asked them if they wanted to take part in BPL Live. They thought they were standard coaches and they weren't ever going to have an opportunity to coach outside their community team. We gave them a bit of limelight, which is a good showcase for Premier Skills."

South Africa is the 23rd country to get involved in the Premier Skills initiative and the sustainable nature of the programme, where trainees become coach educators to train others to become coaches, is having a significant impact across Asia, Africa and the Americas. Over the last seven years the programme has trained 2,300 coaches and referees who have reached a further 500,000 young people.

"It's a major achievement," Robinson said. "We can only reach so many people but this gives people the opportunity to pass on knowledge to other people. Even coaches who don't go on to coach education can go back to their communities and develop their clubs and teams.

"It's humbling when people who have been on the course come up and hug you and say, 'This is my first ever qualification, this is the first time anybody has given me the chance to develop myself.'

"You walk away and you think, ‘We have made a change, we have made a difference, we have given someone an opportunity that maybe they have now got a focal point in their life that they have never had before.' "