Coaching is a diverse and profound endeavor that blends a passion for the sport, an understanding of players' individual needs, and persistent developmental work. I interviewed Ari Seppälä, the Head of Coaching at OLS Football Club, to gain a better understanding of what coaching practically means and its fundamental principles.
Seppälä is responsible for developing competitive team activities for 11 to 15-year-olds. His task is to create opportunities for players to grow and evolve so that they can eventually make their mark in professional teams. "Coaching is about the encounter of two individuals. The coach's most important task is to offer time and support to players and create an environment where they can develop," Ari emphasizes. He sees the essence of coaching as meeting and understanding the player.
Ari Seppälä has been involved in coaching for over 35 years, driven primarily by his passion for helping players. He recalls the beginning of his career in 1988 when a colleague of his father asked him to coach 7-year-old children in Kirkkonummi. This experience ignited a lasting enthusiasm for coaching in him. Since 1999, Seppälä has been a full-time paid coach. His first position was as the Head of Coaching for the Uusimaa district of the Finnish Football Association.
In his daily role as the Head of Coaching, his main task is to support coaches during training sessions and matches. Ari participates in team practices and matches, observing players' and coaches' activities: "My main task is to support coaches during training sessions and matches. Most of my work time is spent in the evenings, observing team practices and assisting coaches in their preferred way. Similarly, I'm present at matches and tournaments, observing players and coaches. That's my main task."
In addition, he works at the office, facilitating operations by recruiting coaches for teams, creating training conditions and plans, and establishing a unified coaching approach with the club's coaches.
When asked what qualities 11-15-year-old soccer players should have, however, Ari emphasizes more passion for the sport and enjoyment of playing. It's important that players view training as a part of their daily life and find joy in it. Ari also notes that even though the goal might be reaching the top, training must be a natural part of players' lives. "If you aim for the top, there needs to be a lot of repetition. That's why if training feels like just training, no one will have the stamina to do it enough. But if training is a part of a player's life and brings enjoyment, then they are likely to do it sufficiently," reflects Head of Coaching Seppälä. The genuine motivation often stems from a player's own interest and passion.
When discussing top players, Ari emphasizes that becoming a professional cannot be predicted in the early stages. Ari sums it up succinctly: "This is easy to answer. We know that when the player's career is over. That's when we know whether athlete became a professional, and we can analyze their career. We can't know that earlier." The path to becoming a professional player can take various routes, and future professionals are often those who have had the opportunity to develop in the right environment.
Seppälä provides two different examples: "There are examples of those who stood out as children and, on the other hand, those who made a big leap later in life. For instance, Mika Väyrynen was already an outstanding player at the age of 6. On the other hand, there's Berat Sadik, who plays as a goal scorer in the Cypriot league. Nobody could tell what kind of football player he would become when he was still of vocational school age. After Berat Sadik's rise, I haven't spent a second thinking about whether a player will become a professional or not. My main task is to create a training routine for the player that enables them to develop."
Regarding coaching and the development of football, Ari sees that the game has changed and will continue to change even more. Players' fundamental skills need to be at a high level, and positional constraints are diminishing. Football is evolving in a more versatile direction, emphasizing game situations and their control rather than sticking to positions.
OLS Football Club utilizes the Qridi Sport coaching tool to monitor and analyze player development over the long term. "The most important thing is that in the future, we can verify what we've done today. We can analyze more precisely what has positively impacted and which practices haven't had a significant positive effect on player development. In quality sports club operations, it's essential to see the long-term perspective," Seppälä understands. Data-driven management and verifying player development are crucial factors in the club's operations. The information is intended to be used for continuous improvement.
Ari Seppälä considers his moments of success as a coach when he encounters former players who thank him. Additionally, it's meaningful when players are committed and passionate about the sport over the long term, and when players' careers continue in football through their own children.
Throughout the interview, Head of Coaching Ari Seppälä demonstrates that coaching is fundamentally about human interaction, understanding, and commitment to player development. His story reflects a deep passion and dedication to coaching and players, highlighting the importance of creating an environment where players can thrive and develop within the sport.
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