Dean Broaders on the sideline
The sporting world may have ground to a halt, but for one Kilkennyman there’s no go-slow – just the chance to come up with more ideas to develop the beautiful game.
For Dean Broaders, the shutdown owing to the coronavirus has meant building on the theoretical side of the game, rather than practical.
The Graig native, who has played in the League of Ireland and the international stage, has a clear goal – and that’s bringing the best out of the next generation of footballers, through his role as Development Officer with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
For Broaders, who has been in the coaching role since May 2019, the last year has been incredibly positive.
“It’s been really good,” he said of his new position. “It has been full-on, with planning for events like Summer Camps and the Spar Five-A-Side tournaments, but I love it. I get up every morning, put on the FAI tracksuit and go to work or plan events around developing football. It’s great from that perspective.”
Football has always been in Broaders’ blood, but the idea of going down the coaching route has been a relatively new experience.
“It all started when I went to college,” explained Broaders, still playing the game with his local club Highview Athletic after several seasons with Freebooters and Wexford Youths.
“I had never given a coaching session, never even thought of it until I started at IT Carlow when I was 23. Part of the course (Sports Coaching and Business Management) involved going through your coaching badges – KickStart 1, KickStart 2, Youth and UEFA B Licence – so it all started there.
“At the beginning it was part of the course for me,” he added. “I still hadn’t thought about coaching.”
That all changed when Broaders was getting ready to represent Ireland at international level.
As part of the Irish football team who qualified for the World University Games in Korea, the players had to raise money to fund their trip. A donation from his hometown club, Highview Athletic, put Broaders on the coaching path.
“While I was raising funds Highview donated money for the trip,” he said. “At that stage I had coached in schools through the college, but at the time I was working on my UEFA B licence and got in touch with the club and said I would do a few coaching sessions as a thank you for their support. Highview had been looking for a coach for the junior A team at the time, and I knew all the players.
“It all went from there,” he said. “Before long I was hooked.”
The move proved beneficial on both sides. As well as giving Broaders the experience of coaching, it had a positive effect on Highview’s results.
“The team had been in Division Three at the time, so we started from the ground up,” he said. “My idea at the time was do a session a week, get the players fit while playing a bit of football, but before long it turned from that to almost a 24/7 job.”
The hours might have been long, but the results spoke for themselves. Highview, a Premier Division team who fell through the ranks, slowly began climbing back up.
“The lads bought into it straight away,” he said. “It was a credit to the players that they came to training – the majority of that squad are still there – and did what was asked of them. In a lot of places, a new coach might not have been as well received but the lads were great. The credit must go to the players for taking everything on board and doing what was asked of them. It was their receptiveness which helped to push things forward.”
Slowly but surely the coaching bug was taking over. Now all that was required was the opportunity to work at the top level.
“It was always a goal to work within the FAI,” he said. “When I was in college everyone was hopeful of getting a job in the Association – the role of Development Officer was most sought after – but their availability was difficult. A lot of the time the only way they become available is if someone retires or moves on.”
Plans went on the backburner after Broaders left college, but the desire was always there.
“I needed to get a job in sport in some capacity, but there was nothing available,” he said. “While working in a steel yard I took some work with the KRSP (Kilkenny Recreational Sports Partnership) at a time when the FAI’s Festival of Football came to Kilkenny.
“As a follow-on from the Festival, the FAI worked with local councils to set up another coaching role for a Community Officer,” he continued. “This role came up while I was working with the KRSP, but I didn’t get it, but then heard that Darren Murray was leaving his role as RDO for Kilkenny.
“I applied and got it,” he said. “That’s how the whole process started.”
It’s a busy and varied year for Broaders, who is relishing being involved in the game from the ground up.
“As Development Officer my job is to develop football across every capacity in Kilkenny, but especially at grassroots level,” he said. “The role is about getting courses and workshops going at clubs, from volunteer and parent-coach workshops to coaching workshops.
“There’s also a lot of working with schools, from futsal to five-a-side programmes.
“A normal week could involve visiting three schools and two sessions with the county under-14 squads, as well as meetings with clubs about achieving the Club Mark standard and coach education workshops at the weekend which help promote the FAI’s Player Development Plan.
“It’s a wide range of activities,” he added, “but it’s all based around the grassroots structure of the game.”
With so much going on, the job can be relentless.
“It’s fairly intense at times, same as any job,” he said. “There are quiet times, but right through Summer it’s flat out while it’s just as busy when the schools are back in September. There’s a lot of travel and as well as time related to projects.
“To give an example, if I was to do a coaching session in the Loreto you’d give yourself 90 minutes before the coaching starts to get there, talk to teachers to find out what they want the coaching to focus on and then leave time to set things up,” he said. “You could do a 90-minute session, but the whole process could take about five hours from beginning to end.”
That makes for a huge challenge, but it’s one that Broaders relishes.
“Totally – 100%,” he said. “I love getting up in the morning, working with clubs and then going watching how they implement those programmes and seeing how their teams play.
“What all Development Officers love is getting coaches in there and taking them through courses to see the benefits of what we do and how that transfers to their teams’ playing styles – that’s the most rewarding part.
“I also love working with the county squads,” he added. “You have the best players in the county with everyone working on the same structure. We’re looking at developing a programme that will be used by all inter-county managers from under-11 up to youth.
“Everyone has the same values and principles, so when those kids go from under-11 right through the age grades, they’re playing a uniform way.
“That’s the whole idea of the FAI’s Player Development Plan,” he continued. “It’s a gradual progression that takes players from the five on five game at under-6s and 7s to 7v7 at under-10s to nine on nine at under-11s – you’re only adding players to the game while maintaining the same structure and ideas.
“When I started with Highview we had the same idea that whatever the A team were doing, the under-9s and 10s would follow the same path,” he added. “To be able to take that setting and bring it into the FAI atmosphere, albeit at an amplified level, was a great foundation.”
For now, the onfield games are a dream for players and coaches alike – and how long the lockdown continues for, no one knows. However, there is a hunger for the game that Broaders hopes will be present when everyone can kick a ball again.
“Hopefully that will be the case,” he said. “Before the coronavirus pandemic part of my job was the get in touch with clubs to see about running coaching courses or to come down and speak at their clubs.
“Our job is to be there to help them – the onus is on clubs to come to us with ideas, then we can help them. Hopefully we will have plenty of requests once everything gets up and running again.”
While pitches are quiet, the players have found a solution and are looking to their screens for knowledge. People are looking for more and more ways to get their football fix, whether it’s through reliving classic matches or copying coaching clips or tricks posted online.
“Young players might be on their phones a lot, but we need to adapt to it,” stressed Broaders. “People might argue that we don’t want kids with phones or iPads all the time, but when I was a kid I learned a lot from watching Champions League matches on a Wednesday or videos at the weekend, rewound the bits where with skills and then practised them outside.
“Now kids are watching these clips on their phones and then going out to try them – it’s a 21st Century way of looking at things.”
And whether the end goal is to develop ball control like Messi or to learn how to strike like Ronaldo, Broaders recommends starting slowly and patiently.
“Keep it simple,” he said. “Whether it’s trying a new trick in the back yard or dribbling skill in the kitchen these are things anyone can do in these times.”
And using video clips is something Broaders is hoping to bring into his coaching manual.
“At present we’re building resources for players to work on in the coming weeks.
This is how you spark their creative thinking,” he said. “You don’t know who’ll watch that video and how they’ll react – they’ll add their own little bit to the drill and that’s how the skills will get better.
“It’s a way of developing players while maintaining social distancing and not putting them at risk.”
Dribble your way to better ball control
The coronavirus pandemic may have called full time on activities for football clubs and pitches all over Kilkenny, but when it comes to learning skills and staying sharp there’s plenty of time before the final whistle is blown. Here are some simple drills Dean Broaders has provided for players to try during the lockdown in their own back garden.
“The focus is on dribbling, with minimal equipment required,” he said. “All that’s essential is the ball. You don’t have to use cones for the markers. It’s a drill anyone can try to sharpen their skills.”