You did the same degree that I did - formerly the Coach Education BA at the University of Bath. Did you take a lot from the degree and have you found it to be beneficial?
It's hard to think of specifics actually. Clearly the majority of jobs nowadays require applicants to have a degree of some sort, however it has surprised me a bit so far that within the Elite environment my degree hasn't proven to be quite as important to potential employers as I might have expected. They place a much bigger emphasis on experience so hopefully I can build that up to go alongside the strengths of having completed that degree at Bath.
Looking back, I feel I could/should have made more of my experience at Bath - being in that high performance environment, having access to the lecturers and coaches that are everywhere on campus...
I agree, I think I could have made more of it too. The general environment was a good place to learn and build important contacts. I think if I had started the degree a couple of years later, knowing exactly what I wanted to do, then I would have been more eager to pick the brains of so many of the excellent staff at the university.
So, you have the degree from Bath but of course the 'industry' coaching awards are important too. What has been your experience of the coach development courses within football?
Don't get me started. I did my Level 2 a few years ago, but it is tough for young coaches to progress beyond that in terms of being accepted on to the Level 3 etc. They often provide feedback to people that you haven't got the experience (in both time and at a certain level) to do the course, which may be valid but I want the course to be a learning experience, to improve me as a coach - that is why I am applying. So I need experience of coaching a certain level yet I can't get that experience without having completed the course! The other side of it is financial. My Level 2 was £400 when I did it which can be a lot of money to some people. The UEFA B is even more expensive, but also has very few places available: only a small number per year can pass which is such a small pool.
I'm not convinced by the coach development courses within rugby either. I can see why Level 1 is useful for parent coaches but the courses in general have an element of box-ticking to them...
I agree. The content can be hard to translate to actual coaching and the box ticking element means most people need to do the course, rather than actually want to for their own development. The FA has introduced Youth Modules which are better as they aren't based on passing and failing, rather the generation of ideas to aid your development.
From some of the courses I have attended it can sometimes be tough to highlight a real, golden point that I learnt and affected my coaching in a real way. I increasingly feel I learn more through actual real experience of coaching and interaction with other coaches...
Talking, working, watching. I've learnt loads from simple car conversations with other coaches on our way to sessions. The courses also focus on the session and the content, but not necessarily how to communicate it - how to motivate and work with people and players to effect their behaviour and aid their development. The big thing for young coaches is access - access to elite level coaches for conversations or to watch the sessions and try to learn, but it can be very tough to attain.
Something prevalent within all sports is the quick elevation of former professionals into high profile coaching roles. No doubt many make the transition well, but it can be frustrating. Do you feel your lack of an elite playing level background may hinder you?
I think not having played to a really high level may harm me in the future. But there is certainly a big difference between a good player and a good coach. I've worked with many former professionals who have the knowledge of the professional environment and have an idea of the sort of things to do during a session, however lack an understanding of the purpose behind that session and struggle to create their own ideas. It is certainly frustrating in terms of coach development - the pro player UEFA license course is considerably shorter compared to nine months for others. This implies they don't have much to learn, which is something I'd disagree with.
I have some issues with the term 'coaching philosophy', however what are the key tenants that you feel are important within your coaching?
I think I'm very enthusiastic and able to establish good relationships with players. I try to be creative in establishing a fun environment for players to learn and the important thing for me is context - training should prepare players for the demands of competition. I strongly believe in players learning within chaos, learning from the imperfections. Whether it is changing the boundaries of the game (physically and metaphorically), not using bibs or having 'silent' small sided games, my sessions can probably look a little messy from the outside, but I feel I can justify it.
It sounds like plenty of gameplay plays an important part?
Absolutely. Within many elite centres that I encounter we often just let them play. By virtue of the fact they are with different players, all of whom are of a good ability, they learn a lot from playing alongside each other.
There is plenty of discussion and research about early specialisation in terms of young players learning different sports etc. Football seems the obvious one that wants children to specialise as early as possible, they take kids into the Academies as young as 6...
Yeah it is an interesting and tough topic. There is an argument for a situation where kids might have more time to play locally, however in the current system they are allowed to still play for school/clubs whilst attending elite sessions. Clubs are just so competitive for young talent, it would need to be a whole structural change to ruling in terms of age for anything to change. They start to play fixtures against other elite centres at a young age, but the rules and environment are different to encourage development and with a view to lifting the pressure to win...
But kids almost always want to win naturally, so is it right to put them in an environment so competitive so young?
I know what you mean, but we really try to remove that pressure. Having said that, right or wrong the context is that they are wanting to progress within an elite environment in a professional sport which can be unforgiving at times. Winning remains part of their development too.
I contacted you through Twitter. I've found it an interesting source for good articles and ideas that can help with my learning as a coach...
With something like twitter you have to take the good with the bad. It has some great aspects and many coaches share their session ideas which can give coaches a huge portfolio of ideas to utilise. One thing I have found useful is looking beyond football and I have taken a lot from people like Ross Williams who is a South African rugby coach.
That's funny, Ross recently said to me that he learnt a huge amount from football when he was in the UK last year...
Yeah it's good to interact with people from different sports. The technical details may be different, but concepts can translate across.