I’ve played football all my life. I grew up in Germany and was given a football almost before I could walk.
t was an all-consuming passion and the best childhood I could imagine. From my local club, VFR Voxtrup, I made it into the Youth Bundesliga just before I turned 18. I played through their reserve grade and then signed a professional deal to play for 2 years with VFL Osnabruck.
After a year, I broke my leg, so I decided to go to Australia with my mate Bjoern Richter for 4 months, see some of the world, before returning to Germany to play. It laid the foundation for me to return in 2000, intending to stay for a year. 16 years later, I’m now an Australian!
My first year of coaching was with my original local club, coaching the Under 7s, while I was signed with the professional club in Germany. I started coaching because I could see the same love for the game that I had in everyone I coached. That got me into coaching, shortly after I completed my UEFA B licence in Germany, and then in Australia I was able to do further coaching qualifications and opened up a football school.
The school did very well and I was offered the state coach role with Football NSW. We ended up winning the National Championships, and afterwards I was offered a job with Knox Grammar School coaching football full-time, where I still am today. I received my Australian citizenship in 2014 and took on the Head Coach job for the Australia Paralympic team for football – the Pararoos – in 2015 after being the Assistant Coach for the previous 8 years.
THE PARAROOS: AN ELITE TEAM IN EVERY WAY
I love what I’m doing. I really enjoy my coaching, even after 16 years. With the Paralympic national team, there’s no difference in how they train or how I coach in comparison to the NSW state team. They have to be just as professional – and they are.
When I was first asked to be the Assistant Coach, I didn’t really know what to expect. But when I stepped into the room, all I saw was a group of committed footballers who wanted to learn to play the game well. I’ve never seen their disability, which is something they taught me. They are the best players in Australia. Like any state or professional team, we use video analysis, have professional staff, make use of sport science, and stick to the FFA’s philosophy of play. The boys have a great belief in what we do and grow in confidence from tournament to tournament.
Because the Paralympic teams play 7-a-side, not 11, you have to pay attention to a lot of details on the tactical side. In classification, a C5 or C6 classification is the most severe in disability with both sides of the person affected, legs and arms. A C7 might be a one-sided disability, and an C8 might be mild cerebral palsy or another mild disability, for example. You are only allowed to have one C8 on the pitch at any one, and you must have one C6 on the pitch. If you don’t have one, then you must play a man down. For some, like the USA, their C6 is also their best player, which is very unusual. Players are mostly affected by cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or symptoms resulting from a stroke – any brain-related injuries. Even Alzheimer’s would potentially be eligible to play.
Before and after the tournament, classifiers check over the players and can move a player up or down a classification grade. It is even possible for players to be classified out, i.e. not eligible to play. While it can be heartbreaking for the player, it can also be good, because if you were a C6 or C7 who has done so much work that you’re now an E (ineligible), it means you’ve improved your mobility to the extent where you are close to being able-bodied.
I brought in some new, younger players to the squad more recently and the Pararoos have now qualified for the World Championships next year (2017) in Argentina, although we just missed out on qualifying for the Paralympics in Rio. The World Championships are held every 4 years, as is the Paralympics, the Asian Cup and the World Cup. We are currently ranked No.2 in Asia, No.14 in the world, and we finished 12th at the last World Cup. We will still be looking to recruit another few young players, but the core group are getting stronger and I expect that 70-80% will be part of the World Championship team for Argentina.
FIGHTING ON FOR THE FUTURE
Compared to other nations, we are at a bit of a disadvantage being so far away from others. For instance, Ukraine and Russia have a professional league and are able to play essentially full-time football. Even the other European nations play regular tournaments, and a training camp for them costs perhaps $1,000 but would cost $20,000 for us. Football Federation Australia has been great in their support of the team, and hopefully together we can find sponsors that would like to commit long term to a full-time program.
We also lose players to other sports. Recently, we’ve lost one to Paralympic athletics. In other countries, this doesn’t tend to happen as they have a very strong football culture. Finding players can also be difficult as in Australia disabilities are well-integrated into schools and systems, whereas in a country like Russia they have one school to go to in each area from which they can easily identify potential players. It’s something to be applauded in Australia, but it does make my job harder!
Our players are from every walk of life, all with jobs or are studying. While they all have some type of brain-related disability, they are not intellectually disabled nor do they require carers. For example, one is an Assistant Principal at a school. Their self-discipline is fantastic and many train before and after work. They are elite athletes, and want to be treated as such.
In future, I would like to see an Australian women’s football version of the Pararoos as well. I’m very passionate about pushing this, which would make Australia the first in the world.
5 TOP TIPS
- Never stop learning. Get out of your comfort zone, because that’s where learning happens.
- Fun and discipline (make sure you and your team enjoy the game, but at the same time instil respect and discipline as your core non-negotiable team values).
- Have a clear philosophy and style of play.
- Attention to detail is key for coaching in a high performance environment.
- Instil self-belief, confidence and trust in to the group and you’re halfway there!
ONES TO WATCH
Because Russia is disqualified, Brazil on home soil could get the better of Ukraine this year.
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!