Football coaches of younger categories should be considered an important link in the upbringing and education of children and youth, and not only people who deal with their physical performance and guide them towards top results – this is one of the central conclusions reached, after intensive discussions and dynamic workshops at the regional networking event being part of the “Creating Life Champions” project.

Aim of the training was for the coaches of younger categories involved, as the central figures of all further project activities, to get to know each other, connect among themselves, and be strengthened with new knowledge and skills, acting as the best possible ambassadors of the Life Champions concept, pedagogues and educators for numerous generations whose first and central role models they are.

30 representatives of RFK Grafičar from Belgrade, HNK Gorica from Velika Gorica, FC Željezničar from Sarajevo, FC Sloga from Doboj, Academy Pandev from Strumica, ŽFK Borec from Veles and DEKI5 camp from Belgrade had the opportunity to exchange knowledge, experiences, but also examples of good practice in working with children and young people, first of all focusing on the educational and pedagogical role of sports in creating top people, and only then top athletes.

One of the most interesting segments of the training for coaches themselves had been a “world cafe”. During the same, participants had a chance for networking and the first-hand exchange of experience.

Within this segment, participants were divided into five groups, each group was led by one coach. Each coach presented an innovative approach to work in his club. Different topics were presented in each group, for example: In group 1, the coach presented a specific way of organizing training, showing how his method leads to improved player performance. Focus of the second group was on socially responsible work of the club. The coach presented examples of how the club actively participated in the local community, through various initiatives and projects. The coach of the third group focused on working with the women’s selections. He presented strategies and methods to address challenges and opportunities specific to women’s soccer teams, etc.

During the “World cafe” segment, coaches exchanged experiences, sharing their successes, challenges and lessons learned while working in their clubs. This interactive session allowed participants to get acquainted with different approaches and ideas, which contributed to their professional development and creation of a support network among colleagues.

Gathered coaches also had been acquainted with the findings from the research on the role and position of coaches today, which was carried out in the previous period by the research team, and then they discussed various elements of the module for more intense introduction of non-formal and informal education into regular sports activities.

The analysis of coaching methods, approaches in working with players, as well as parents’ opinions, gave an insight into current practices, challenges and opportunities within football clubs. Based on these findings, the expert team formulated recommendations for further work and improvement of practice, mainly in relation to educational and pedagogic work of coaches.

It was emphasized that the recommendations were focused on different aspects of coaching, including pedagogical methods, approaches to player motivation, working with parents and strengthening socially responsible practices within clubs.

When discussing the newly developed model of work, during the session led by sports psychologist Emira Mešanović, present coaches also had a chance to practice gained knowledge and information on number of occasions, including the interactive workshop “Children in Football – Rights, Ethics and Well-being, UNICEF and UEFA standards within the Life Champions concept”. Aim of the workshop was to raise awareness of children’s rights, the ethics of working with children in sports and the importance of their well-being, in accordance with UNICEF and UEFA standards. Workshop included practical advice, discussion and activities aimed at better preparing coaches for working with children in a sports environment, contributing to achievement of the project’s goals.

The differences between ethics, integrity and fair play were discussed, with the aim of deepening the understanding of these concepts among coaches. Coaches were also given materials with the basic principles of UEFA, which were also highlighted in all materials produced by the expert group.

Additionally, coaches engaged in consideration and discussion of different scenarios, which enabled active resolution of ethical dilemmas in the context of a sports environment. Through this interactive format, coaches had the opportunity to exchange opinions, gain new insights and develop practical skills for managing ethical challenges.

At the end of the workshop, coaches filled out a questionnaire about practices related to the well-being of children. This data will be used to further improve the “Life Champions” project and workshops in the future.

Statistics, workshops, discussion scenarios and educational games elaborated during the training – they are all part of the integral document/module prepared by the expert group for further usage of the football coaches when improving their own acting as educators and pedagogues of young athletes.