Head of Coach Education: Niall O’Regan

In his role as Head of Coach Education at the FAI, Niall O’Regan is responsible for all aspects of the education and development of football coaches in Ireland.

The Cork man was hired in 2016 after spending years working at various levels of the domestic game in Ireland.  Niall is a UEFA Pro Licence Coach, and academically he has first class honours degree in Sports Studies & Physical Education from UCC and completed a Masters in Education in UCC through research titled “Identifying the features of a Learner-Centred Coach Education Programme for Football”

Niall: “Education for coaches so important,” O’Regan told ProScout 3.

Niall: “To be a successful coach you need a lifelong learning attitude. You need to look at every opportunity as a learning opportunity. This is something that you have to have.”

Whenever a coach is preparing to work at grass roots level or in the professional game, O’Regan has the same philosophy for their education and personal development: Reality Based Learning.

Niall: “One of the key coaching principles under the UEFA Coaching Convention is the theory of reality-based learning. This is about making sure that what is being taught can be easily implemented in the environments of our coaches. This theory underpins all of our courses. We do this by visiting our coaches in their own working environment.

Niall: “For example, when someone is on a pro-license course we could spend up to five days in their club to see them in their own environment. We will watch them on match day, at coaching sessions, how they handle the press, and how they manage with the players.

Niall: “At grass roots level we talk about how training sessions can be adapted down. We talk about situations like how you have a session with one astro pitch for twenty players or if you have twenty players and two footballers. This is all about the reality of what is out there.”

Under O’Regan’s leadership there has been a huge increase in the number of coaching courses done by the FAI.

Niall: “In 2015 there were about ten courses running and now we have about forty courses running. This was all in line with the player development plan. Right now we have about thirteen to fourteen thousand coaches actively involved in both free and paid education programs. The courses range  from three hour workshops to the eighteen month pro-license course.”

Even with the current shutdown on all football activities, O’Regan is busy planning and prepping for future coach education courses. These plans include increasing the numbers of coaches with specialist qualifications for the underage national leagues and growing the number of female coaches in Ireland.

Niall: “By 2024 every coach in the underage leagues is to have a specialist qualification. For this, UEFA introduced the UEFA Elite A License two years ago. We have delivered five of these course groups and that is just under one hundred coaches. Many of the coaches in the underage national leagues would have this qualification now.  UEFA have also introduced a more specialist version, a UEFA Elite B License, which will be launched in the next stage of the pathway in September for 2021-2025. The UEFA EYB specializes in elite groups for 13 and 15s. That then allows for the EYA License to specialize in the 17s and 19s and the role of head of youth academy.

Niall: “One of the key ambitions for UEFA has been to grow the numbers of women coaches. Over the last twelve to eighteen months there has been substantial investment for female coaches. That has allowed us to launch our first UEFA B License for women last year. We had twenty six on the course and it was great. This year we had thirty one coaches and we broke them into a course groups of twenty six and and five current players like Katie McCabe and Meghan Campbell in a micro-camp. This will see us have have about fifty to sixty female UEFA B license holders by the end of 2021. If you go back ten years ago we only had five our six female coaches so there has been a notable increase. But, it is an area which still needs substantial investment and time.

Niall: “One of the key things for us is to make sure that there are opportunities after the courses. There is no point in these people getting the qualifications and then not to be working. One of the success stories with the first group of coaches we had, nineteen of them went into new positions or enhanced positions in clubs. Six went into international positions within the FAI.

Niall: “At the moment we have seventy eight pro-license holders and we have a course group that will bring us up to ninety six. Of that ninety six we will only have two females. It is really important for us going forward that we continue to grow the department.”