‘There’s an avalanche of coach education’

Keith Boanas is a vastly experienced coach and highly regarded coach educator, who has had a varied career in both men’s and women’s soccer.

Among his many roles, he has been head coach of Estonia Women as well as English women’s sides Charlton Athletic, Millwall Lionesses and Watford. In the men’s game, he has worked at Tooting & Mitcham United and Carshalton Athletic.

The Uefa Pro Licence holder, 62, now works largely as a mentor, developing coaches as part of Crystal Palace’s foundation, and is president of Surrey Football Coaches Association.

Keith spoke to former SCW editor Dave Clarke about session planning, what to do when practices get derailed and how to find the right coach education for you…

Keith Boanas was head coach of the Estonia women’s national team between 2009 and 2016

SCW: You have a fantastic coaching history, Keith. You have taken on a different role now at Crystal Palace, with the Palace for Life Foundation…

KB: “Gary Mulcahey, head of projects at the Palace for Life Foundation put together this idea for a coach development manager, which is everything I’ve always done anyway.

“I have continued, in a voluntary way, to mentor and tutor and be involved with students that want to stay in touch. This kind of gave me a job where I was actually being salaried to do that.

“It has been funded by the Premier League and the PFA as a trial, on a similar level to an academy head of coaching. But, for me, the remit was more involvement with everybody across the board – grassroots coaches through to semi-professional coaches and even some still working in the pro game.

“My remit is to help develop and support coaches within the Palace catchment area, and even some outside it, as much as I can.”


SCW: When you design a session, do game models impact it? Or do you sit down and think ‘here’s a problem we’ve got, here’s a session that can deal with it’?

KB: “Coaches will message me and say ‘have you got any ideas on this?’. One coach on her Uefa A license said, ‘I’ve got to do a session on attacking through a mid-block, getting in behind and scoring goals. Have you got any ideas?’.

“Then I looked through my files, which are quite comprehensive, seeing if I have got any. I found probably two or three of that ilk and shared those with her.


“I don’t stick rigidly to one type of software. I still use pen and paper, too…”


“If I don’t find one, then I will start with a blank canvas. I use different types of software, I don’t stick rigidly to one. A lot of stuff I’ve learned how to use myself on PowerPoint.

“I use Soccer Tutor, I’ve used Academy Soccer. I tend to use which one I think fits and some are quicker than others to design on. If it’s something I have to do quickly, I’ll do it on PowerPoint, I’ve already got my templates ready to go.

“There are obviously simpler ways of doing it. I still use pen and paper – that’s the quickest way and I would never knock anybody for doing that. It is about time, who’s going to look at it and how deep it has to be.

“Obviously, if you’re on courses – whether it’s the Uefa A or Pro licence – you have to go in depth. I can still do that and I can still help people do that.

“On a personal level, if it’s my decision making that’s going to affect the practice, it will be based on the match analysis. If it’s for somebody else, they give me the idea and I do it.

“Then it’s up to them. I always say to them, ‘this is how I see it, but it’s now your template, you adjust it however you want’. I try to encourage that because I don’t just want them to copy me.

“Most of the sessions that we try and design, you want them to be adaptable for all age groups, you want people to work out a way that they can be adapted to a younger age group or a senior age group or a different ability level.

“I like to think that’s one of my strengths, that most of my sessions are easily adaptable. But if someone’s not sure, again, I can give them the ideas to do that as well.”

SCW: When coaching at grassroots, it’s often difficult to focus on the individual player. Do you think it’s important to actually focus on what the individual does?

KB: “Yes, but you design the practice around what you need that individual to do. You can, if you’re clever enough, design it so other players don’t realise you’re doing that.

“Children are perceptive. If they think you’re focusing on an individual, they get jealous and upset. Favouritism kicks in, they’re asking ‘why not me?’. It’s about the way that you communicate their role in the practice so they feel as important.

“It goes back to when you are doing attack versus defence and you’re coaching the attack, and not once do you coach the defenders. That’s lethal because then they just think they are a bunch of dummies.

“You’ve got to tell them you need them to do things the right way and play realistically, because they get the rewards as well. If they come up against this type of player, they are going to know how to deal with that.”


SCW: Sometimes at grassroots level, players might find a session really difficult to pick up. How can younger or less-experienced coaches deal with that?

KB: “It boils down to your own honesty, in a sense. A lot of the old courses said if you feel a session is going wrong, don’t be scared to stop it and adapt it.

“I think you’ve got to be brave enough to change the session, even if it means regressing a little bit. Make it slightly easier, use a different overload, maybe change a couple of players around.

“It’s about recognising that and being brave enough. That’s a strength, not a weakness. Those are the kind of messages I give out when I’m going around and doing sessions with grassroots clubs and with coaches.

“Through the Surrey Football Coaches Association, we’re trying to encourage grassroots clubs to come and ask for that kind of help. I don’t think there’s enough out there that realise they can, or they are intimidated by asking for help or think it’s a weakness. It’s not.


“If a session is going wrong, don’t be scared to stop it and adapt it…”


“I have to ask for help. You can’t do it on your own. There is no shame in asking a second opinion or for support. Otherwise you’re letting the kids down as such, if you persevere and persevere.”


SCW: There is a lot of coaching education out there now. How do coaches go about finding the right kind of information?

KB: “There’s so much out there, it’s been like an avalanche of webinars and so many are repetitive; a different version of the same thing with a different voice.

“I think experienced coaches will pick and choose which one to go to, but for younger ones it can be an overload of information, and an overlap of different types of information. It’s confusing, to a point.

“For me, it’s about learning to target what you need at this point and what you feel you’re going to need in the near future. Are you a level one looking to do a level two? Are you a level two looking to do a level three? Are you a coach that is going to continue to coach grassroots voluntarily and you are happy with where you are at? What information do you need?

“When I’m asked to do a webinar on a topic of my choice, I’d rather someone tells me what they need. If I don’t know it already, I’ll go and research it and put something together. What I don’t want to do is sit and waffle on about something you’ve heard ten times already.

“I would look at the areas the speaker has done and ask ‘does it fit in my journey?’. I think that’s what people have to do, not just get on one because it’s there.

“The League Managers Association runs webinars every single week, and they are all interesting, but I don’t watch every single one because I’m thinking ‘what do I need?’.

“I think you have to look at what you need as an individual.”


“It’s amazing how many people are not aware, still, of some of the resources, even though there’s so much out there…”


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