Living a Coach's Dream: Interview with Antonio Barea
As most of you may know, my journey to where I am now all began when I met a group of Spanish coaches from Granada. My father had met them travelling through Spain visiting different clubs in several cities. After weeks of discussing the differences between Spanish football and American football, they decided to start a company called AddSoccer, which essentially was an exchange of players and coaches via summer camps and team visits. From that point forward, I would spend summers working with these Spanish coaches, getting to know them, and learning from them. Since then I have moved to Spain, and now I am lucky enough to call them my friends.
Antonio Barea is one of the three coaches who started AddSoccer with my father. Apart from AddSoccer, he is the Sporting Director at Soccer Skills Pro in Poland, a professor of technique and tactics for the Andalucian Football Federation in Granada (CEDIFA), and a collaborator with the Spanish Football Federation. He’s a coach and analyst with years of professional experience, and as an aspiring coach myself, I took the time to ask him his thoughts on modern football, our role as coaches, and much more. Read the full interview below.
David Garcia: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started training?
Antonio Barea: Well like all beautiful things in life, it was a coincidence, not something you set out to do. One afternoon, I went to visit my old coach. I had just finished my playing career the previous year, so I wanted to say hello to everyone. Of course, a lot of the players on the team knew me because we had been teammates. And one of them said to the manager, “Why don’t you bring Barea to help out as an assistant?” I heard this and I laughed it off as a joke. And the next day, the coach told me that he had been thinking all night about what that player had said, and he thought, “of course. It’s a great idea. He’s got a good relationship with all of the players because they were his teammates, and I’ve got a good relationship with him. ” And the next day he called, he offered me a job, and I said yes.
DG: And where was that?
AB: In Maracena, in third division. And we were playing to go into Second B. And the following year I began to get my coaching licenses.
DG: So you could say that you had had some luck knowing a coach that was able to open doors for you?
AB: Exactly, all the luck in the world. He was a key person in my career as a player and later as a coach as well. Miguel Novo.
DG: What were the next steps you took to reach where you are today as a coach?
AB: Well, after that I spent two years as an assistant in third division. Then Maracena offered me their u17 (Juvenil) team. Of course, I took the job, and I had a good year. We came in second but we were penalized for an administrative error and didn’t move up. I still remember my players’ tears. And the following year I completed my National Course License (UEFA Pro), and one of my classmates (Fernando Estevez) from the course, he was also a player in the region, and he asked me if I wanted to coach in his club. They offered him the job but he wanted to keep playing so he asked me if I wanted it. I took it, we went up, we had a good year, the next year we had another good year, and from there I kept getting other teams until I reached third division. And eventually, Granada contacted me to work with Oscar Cano as an analyst. That is to say, I started to work with Granada to watch players to create a roster for the following year. So I travelled throughout the country looking for the ideal players to fill the roster. And I worked with them for about a year and a half. After that, Oscar Cano was fired, the results weren’t so good, so I sent my resignation. I understood that if he was leaving, so was I. A few months later, another club contacted me to work in the offices in charge of the scouting. The following season I was hired by Granada CF as a Sporting Director until an Italian investor came in and brought in all their own people. So I went to Huetor Tajar (Third division) and that’s when I met your father. That’s when we started to work camps in the U.S. Two years later, I started working with a club in Poland as a Spanish coach at their camps. And a few months later, the owner offered me the job of coaching director of the club. I like this position because I have to work on the methodology of the club through different aspects of the game and create a style of play. I’m really attracted to these aspects of football, especially in youth football. A couple of years ago I ran into Antolín Gonzalo, who was working with Vicente del Bosque as an analyst at a conference. We had worked together a few years earlier and we became friends. We started talking and realized we had some of the same ideas and philosophies. He asked me to look at some things from the Spanish National Team and since then I have started to work more regularly with them and I have signed a contract with them. I now scout future opponents and I give Antolín Gonzalo and Lopetegui (Spanish National Coach) my analysis.
DG: Was there ever a moment in your career when you reached a point when you thought you had made it as a coach?
AB: There was a moment in my career when I thought that if I didn’t leave some things I knew I wouldn’t achieve my dream as a coach. I still don’t know what I have or haven’t achieved, and for me I am always on my way and I want to enjoy the journey. So really, I’m not conscious of ever having that thought or that I ever will. When I retire, I will most likely think about the things I accomplished or didn’t but there is a moment in which I thought “If you don’t dedicate yourself to this 100%, you won’t achieve the dream of working in what you want.” And in that moment my family was very important for me. It implicated my wife. I had to leave my job and it could have gone well and or not. But either way, we have to fill the fridge every day. But luckily I had my wife’s full support and I went for it. That moment, it isn’t the moment that one would say, “I’ve done it.” The moment was when I realized if I didn’t dedicate myself 100%, I would just be half doing it.
DG: Was it a difficult sacrifice to make?
AB: No, it was a mental liberation, because in the end you think, “Yeah, selling this (my business) gives me some time." But later you know that there isn’t another way out besides progressing via a path that you like. So that isn’t a sacrifice but a blessing. You realize the only way is to enjoy it.
DG: If you had to give some advice to a coach who would like to live off football, what would you say to them?
AB: Actually, this question has been posed to me several times, and I always give different answers. Not too long ago, I was with Oscar Cano and he was talking about something that really made me think. Above all, what do you think you need or what do you want to do? It’s more about a feeling than anything else. Yes, use your brain. Think about how you are as a coach. What do you need? As a coach, are you good at tactics, or are you good at communicating? Perform a self-analysis and tell yourself what the areas are that you should develop more. And from there, find courses, and meet people, and work with a club for two months, whatever it may be. I’m talking about self-development, obviously through official coaching courses and licenses, but also in meeting people that you think will help you improve. Also, being open and communicating with other coaches. That’s so important. People think coaches should keep their knowledge to themselves, no. My knowledge is the key which opens doors to other information I don’t have. As coaches, we have to share our knowledge. Not with everyone, of course. But today’s knowledge, the day after tomorrow might not work; because knowledge is evolving. We can’t hold fast to information because it changes. Holding on to it is holding on to the past, and obviously that means getting stuck in the past.
DG: How would you define the role of a youth football coach? I would assume it’s changed throughout your career.
AB: I don’t think it’s changed much, unfortunately. And unfortunately it hasn’t changed much because we have confused things. Better yet, we have replaced things. We have replaced direct football, the ‘I say, you do’, the dictating coach, for the ‘we always have to play out of the back’ and ‘I am a really cool guy who is good friends with my players’, the modern coach. So we’ve replaced things, but we still don’t help players, at least, the majority. It’s true that there are more and more coaches who realize that it doesn’t work like this. But the majority of coaches, or at least the ones I see, have replaced these things. Why? Because the trend nowadays is playing it out from the back, to be a cool guy, and to be friends with your players. Before the trend was play direct, play simple, and to be authoritative with your players. So we’ve replaced some values with others, but that doesn’t mean we’ve evolved. To be a good coach is other things. In my opinion, the most important thing is we should implement an educational system in youth systems. That is to say, what ‘subjects’ are they studying in their first year, their second year, their third? First they learn addition, then multiplication, and then square roots. So each trainer should be worried about teaching them the corresponding material not about winning the league so they can coach the older teams or better divisions. Why? Because ultimately, we’re not talking about a youth program for players but in reality a program for coaches, because in this system the coaches want to improve, and they do so by using the players, and the results, and they give no importance to development of players. Nowadays, I see many coaches who use their teams to promote themselves. In the end, the person who makes the decisions doesn’t know about football. Many times, the president of a club or the board sits down to decide who the coach of the U13s will be the following year, and they’ll choose the person with the best results in the U12s. This false indicator of a coach; they could have had an amazing team with incredible players. You understand? I think we have evolved a lot but not as much as we think.
DG: It’s all about trends, isn’t it?
AB: But we don’t know why. A coach might play out of the back, but he won’t know why. We don’t understand football. We confuse the objective with the means. My means is playing it out of the back to accomplish an objective but the means is often transformed to an objective. “My objective is to play out of the back” - No, you’ve got it backwards. We can’t confuse one thing with another.
DG: Within youth football, what should a coach strive for in their team? What objectives should he or she try to achieve?
AB: In reality, the role of a coach is a little bit like a companion of the player and a little bit like an organizer of abilities. You can’t ask a player to do things they can’t. Like Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As coaches, we have to identify our player’s qualities, and from there decide on an objective. Our task is to bring out their good qualities and fit them within the team. And that’s it. But people might say that’s easy, but think about what I’m saying. You have to think about what things a player can develop and what things they can’t; what things we can ask of them and what things we can’t. And then fit them in with other players. It’s a very difficult task. However, we identify our players and their capacities, and knowing if I substitute a player the team is different, and now we have many variables. This makes it much more difficult. That should be our role.
DG: I’ve noticed that sometimes coaches forget that football is a social sport, and as you have said if you change players the team will behave differently. Keeping this in mind, do you think a coach can work the social aspect of the game?
AB: It’s impossible not to work the social aspect, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously, we’re always working it. Therefore, we should take it into account and be conscious of the fact that we’re working with a mini societies. And be aware that what happens with an individual player affects the society of the team and changes the behavior of the team. So it’s impossible not to work on social aspects as we are working in a group. We should be conscious of it and observe it.
DG: Do you see any one deficiency in coaches more than any other? That is to say, is there something that the majority of coaches are doing wrong?
AB: Empathy. Empathy with players forms part of the role that a coach should have. People expect coaches to have things very clear, to be knowledgeable, to have all the answers, and we don’t realize that we have it backwards. Yes, the coach should be knowledgeable but what really matters is what the player in the end knows and feels. If the player doesn’t assimilate the information then it doesn’t matter how much the coach knows. The coach has to put themselves in the player’s shoes in order to communicate the necessary information. On top of that, coaches feel that it’s a weakness to, for a lack of a better term, go down to the level of the player. Do you understand? Coaches feel they have to be on their pedestal and never come off it. In my opinion, understanding the player at their level isn’t a weakness but a strength. It shows confidence in oneself, and one’s capacities. In this way, they don’t need the pedestal to show leadership. Authority, distance, and any signs of power only hides insecurities and lack of knowledge. As coaches, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” We don’t have to know everything, it’s okay.
DG: Well thank you for very much for taking the time to talk with me.
AB: It’s my pleasure.