VISIT TO DENMARK

VISIT TO DENMARK – 17th June – 1st July

Introduction

The visit to Denmark was part of the Erasmus Project – CoachEd6, which has been ongoing since October 2021 and is a coach education program at level 6 spearheaded by MCAST in collaboration with Mugla Sitki Kocman University (Turkey), Reykjavik University (Iceland) and The University of Southern Denmark (Odense, Denmark). I had planned to do the last weekend school abroad in order to gain various insight in relation to sports coaching and management. The decision to attend Denmark was two-fold; mainly due to high level of football relating to the women’s game and secondly due to advise by the organisers.

Aim

I set out to gain as much experience from this visit as possible. Hence, I set a number of objectives that I wished to attain from this visit which includes:

  • Understand the level of coaching – methodologies, pedagogy, and issues relating to the intensity during training and volume of training.
  • Understand which physiological aspects are worked upon by women football clubs – at which age do they start strength training, how often do they train strength, and what other aspects do they dedicate most time on.
  • Understand the sporting setup within Danish sport – the involvement of government, the collaboration between clubs, and the educational system.
  • Understand whether Denmark applies a dual pathway for promising athletes.
  • Understand the athletes’ perception of education and sports participation.

Itinerary

During the visit, I planned to meet Mr. Steen Petterson head of coaching from AGF Aarhus, and Mr. Jacob Tind, head of coaching at Silkeborg IF Q. I also attended weekend school 4, which was to be held in Odense at the SDU campus.

I started off the visit by attending Silkeborg’s U16s league game vs Fortuna Hjorring in Silkeborg which ended 4-0 for the visitors. During my stay, I also visited AGF Aarhus who played Brondby at both u16s and u18s categories. In both instances, AGF lost their respective matches, yet they still won the u16s league and ended up third in the u18s league. Whilst I noted that they do celebrate their wins, the main focus is on the opportunities provided to the girls. The level of play was significantly higher than our local league.

These experiences allowed me to assess the level and compare it to our own, thus, I was now in a position to investigate what clubs in Denmark are doing to achieve such a level.

Following these games, I discussed the ways AGF work with their head of coaching. We spoke about the playing opportunities, training opportunities, and also the collaborations that exist in Denmark which allow for such development. I also met Mr Jacob Tind on three different occasions to discuss the way their club functions and his plans and work carried out since he took over last August (almost a year ago). It is interesting to understand that Mr. Tind is employed full-time within the club and hence this allows the possibility to concentrate exclusively on football and the club development.

During my stay, I also attended seven field training sessions for various age groups – u14s-18s, and two gym sessions for the same age groups. The sessions were held by different coaches and hence this gave me the opportunity to measure and understand the coaching setup much better. I was also invited to carry out an early training session (8 am) with the girls. One must keep in mind that school was still ongoing and hence such early sessions are part of the normal girls’ routine. I will delve more into this later on.

Understand the level of coaching

I must state that my primary intention was to identify the training methods adopted by the Danish coaches, their pedagogical applications, and issues relating to the intensity and volume of training.

I must be honest to state that I did not identify anything in particular that points towards such a higher level. On the contrary, I was amazed to note that girls are coached much less than our girls. They are free to try new things and the exercises adopted are very simple and straightforward. Coaches are not qualified, unlike our coaches who are much more qualified to coach. Therefore, apart from allowing freedom to think and find their own solutions, which should not be underestimated, the Danish coaches observed are quite naïve.

However, it must be noted that these girls train seven times a week and play a minimum of twenty-two games a season. This is much more than our girls currently train – three or four times a week with only ten (u16s) or fifteen (u21s) games in a season. The girls practice twice a week in the morning before going to school from 8:00 am till 9.30 am. School starts at 10:45 am or 11:00 am on these two days. They train twice at the gym – once in the early afternoon before training and one other session late in the afternoon. They also train three times a week with their club.  One of the gym sessions is held by a physical trainer who is part of the ‘Elite Silkeborg’ initiative.

During the weekend school, we spent a few hours watching badminton training and discussing training methods with their coach. The methods and pedagogical applications are much more refined in this instance – no wonder why they are a top nation in this sport. Whilst the volume and concepts applicable to football are equal in badminton, the coaching instruction is given much more attention. 

Understand the physiological components worked upon

Much different than our belief, they start gym sessions as early as thirteen years of age. Whilst initially it is about movement and technique, they start using weights at a very young age, despite using low loads. They learn to be responsible for their own strength and conditioning and to be disciplined to carry out the necessary work with minimal supervision. Jacob Tind strongly believes that strength and power are key components to developing top football players, something I also agree upon.  Their thought is that with strength and power they can reduce injuries, increase the intensity and perform better overall.

Understand the sporting setup within Danish sport

This is perhaps the part that surprised me most. The involvement of government, the collaboration between clubs, and the educational system together with a culture where the sport is supported by facts is what perhaps is very different from our local scenario.

Primarily Government supports elite clubs (based on their ranking by the associations) through the provision of specialists and a flexible academic program. The government through the entity Elite Silkeborg provides nutritionists, psychologists, physiotherapists, and physical trainers to assist all sports activities within the region. Hence football clubs, handball clubs, swimming clubs, and other disciplines are provided with the manpower to cover these roles. Therefore, instead of each club appointing and paying their own specialists, the government appoints them to provide the necessary assistance to all the elite academies within the region. This is a cost-effective, yet also an efficient way of providing support to academies that would not be able to afford such service.

The government also has arraignments in place at public schools to start schooling at 10:45 am or 11:00 am, twice a week, for elite athletes. Other students will either conduct other activities such as drama, music, or general physical activity. This allows for an additional two or three sessions per week under the mentorship of qualified and sport-specific coaches. I.e. football coaches to carry our football sessions, handball coaches to conduct handball sessions, etc. Clubs will then be able to train the players, through their coaches in the afternoon.

Understand whether Denmark applies a dual pathway for promising athletes

Apart from the allowance to attend sessions in the morning, schools also provide support to student-athletes by allowing a longer academic program and the possibility to watch recorded lessons missed when participating in international events, etc. I had the opportunity to discuss this with Mr. Dadi Rafnsson from the Icelandic FA during another meeting earlier in January. His view is that education is a right of any student, but so is participating in high-level sporting events. The two should co-exist and the student should never be put in a situation where he/she must choose one over the other. The possibility of dual pathways is a social responsibility and schools together with sports entities and the government should provide programs of study which are flexible enough to allow for sports participation at the highest level.

During the weekend school, they tend to use sharing of ideas and discussions as a way of learning and their less formal and more student-centered approach allows for numerous learning opportunities. Most of the time we learned from each other’s experiences and this led to more motivation and a vibrant atmosphere.

However, when we visited the premised, it was easily noted how much attention has been put into providing the university athletes and students with opportunities to enhance their training and practical application.

 

Understand the athletes’ perception towards education and sports participation.

Athletes are the most important stakeholders in sports. Their well-being and the provision of support should never be compromised. Student-athletes should not be put under the stress of competition and exams at the same time and they should be genuinely assisted to reach their highest potential in both fields. When I conducted the 8:00 am session I thought athletes would come to training still half asleep with lower levels of motivation. On the contrary, their approach and commitment were excellent and they were very receptive to learning and participating. They arrived early, prepared the needed equipment, and pushed themselves during training. The fact that they are made responsible for their own development, goals, and achievements from an early age requires coaches to allow more freedom because they are self-disciplined and motivated to improve without the need for coaches to continuously drive them. However, I must note that this is a culture within Denmark. People observe traffic laws and are courteous and are very friendly whist also living a much less hectic life than we do here in Malta. People are calmer, radiant, and very positive.

Could it be that we push our children to over-achieve in so many different areas? Is this coming from home alone or is our educational system reinforcing a culture of more is better. More assignments, more knowledge, more activities yet less time to savour their education or participation. Is this killing their drive, their enthusiasm, or self-worth?