Dan is a prime example of an individual who has progressed through the coaching pathway, starting with Sunday League football and gaining qualifications while evolving his practical experience. He was appointed coach in the Youth Development Phase (12-16 years) at Brentford FC Academy in July 2014, and shares his story here.
How did you get into coaching? - “I first started coaching whilst at university, although I studied Business and Marketing, my passion has always been football. A friend and I set up a Sunday side and started to do our badges together. That was the start of this journey!”
What were your first experiences of coaching? - “I think I probably started with some of the toughest sessions, as I was coaching my friends who were obviously a similar age but many of whom had played at a much better level than I ever could. Alongside this, once I had got my Level 2, I started working in schools in Southampton. My first day was at a school with 23 different nationalities. I ended up working four days a week in there and loved every minute. I didn’t know at the time but these two experiences really shaped me and my coaching style.”
How easy was it to find your first course (Level 1)? What do you remember of it? - “I booked the Level 1 online through Dorset FA, which was really straight forward to be fair. I remember it really well actually, met some really good people and it was like opening a door to another world. For two reasons really, firstly I felt like I’d found my passion; something I knew I could do and never hate a day’s work, and secondly, that there were people getting paid to coach football! At that stage I had spent many hours with my team and all I was getting was banter and grief. I had never considered getting paid to coach.”
When did you make the decision to progress on the coaching pathway? - “The decision happened quite quickly, I did my Level 1 and 2 in the same year and then started the UEFA B the year after that. I had made some contacts and been offered to work the odd night and weekend session here and there... but not enough to replace my full time job. At this time I graduated and was working in the marketing department of a plastic manufacturer. I had just bought my first house and I couldn’t find enough work to leave the security of that job to follow my passion. I then applied to work at Team Elite, who provide sports coaching to schools across the south. I met the owner and after a few meetings and sessions got offered a full time job working in schools, after school clubs and grassroots football. The decision was to take a pay cut to follow the dream or work in an office. It was quite a quick decision! In terms of a ‘plan’ I’ve always just pushed and pushed to see what I could make happen, I have a few short term plans and then some larger ones. Step by step you get there.”
At what point did you consider that this could be a career? - “I suppose it didn’t really click as a ‘career’ for me until I saw other people working full time in football and thought, “that’s the dream!” I was coaching six days a week, but the vast majority were PE lessons, which were great, but not my true passion. I contacted my local non-league club Eastleigh FC, and they invited me to work three hours a week with their under 8s. This progressed to a full time job and then eventually I became academy manager overseeing the reserves and all aspects of youth football. I learnt a lot there and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
What have been the biggest obstacles to this point? - “Difficult to say, I think there are lots. The time you have to put in can make it difficult. A lot of my friends work 9-5 so working evenings and weekends is tough, but it’s a sacrifice you have to make to get ahead. Alongside that it’s not a fantastically well paid line of work, especially at the bottom, but again, if it’s what you want to do you’ll find a way to make it work. I’ve also travelled a lot to get qualifications and experience, again this can be expensive and time consuming but it’s got to be done to get ahead.”
Highlights so far? - “There are loads of highlights. Coaching is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. The difference you can make to young people’s lives can be huge. Highlights for me would be seeing some of the young players I’ve worked with progress. Some on the pitch and some off the pitch in terms of helping them get full time jobs. I often don’t realise a high point until I have some quiet time and think, ‘that was good, wasn’t it?’”
What’s your opinion on the provision of coaching in the UK? Are the right opportunities available? - “The provision for English coaches is out there, there are courses and events that make a real difference. I don’t know if they are affordable for all and maybe at the top level there are application processes which halt some young coaches progress. I’ve never understood why the FA would stop some coaches trying to take their UEFA ‘A’ or ‘B’; if they fail, they will still learn a great deal. I would say that qualifications and badges are not the be all and end all. They make up about 10% of what makes you a good coach. I believe there are a whole range of things that are as important, if not more important, than the next badge. Understanding people, communication, motivation and psychology, 15 all the soft skills, are neglected by some coaches. There is no point having all the information in your head if you can’t pass it on or affect the players you are working with.”
What’s your current coaching role, and what does it involve? - “I’ve very recently joined Brentford FC in a full time role. In the day I’m head coach for their college programme and in the evenings and weekends I work in the academy, with the under 13s and 14s. There isn’t a really a typical day, that’s what great about coaching - there’s so much variety! In the day I coach the college squad three times a week and then they play on Wednesday afternoons in the Football Conference Youth Alliance. The academy role involves working at the indoor facility at Uxbridge or at Jersey, coaching sessions four nights a week, Saturday mornings then games on Sundays. Brentford are unique in as much as the coaches work throughout the age groups, so although I work mostly with 13/14s I will see four to five different groups a week. This is great for the coaches and kids, I don’t know of other clubs working like this.
How far do you hope to take your coaching career? - “I’m really not sure! The goal was originally to turn my passion into a job, something that I could leave my office based role for. The next goal was to work in football and then eventually in a professional football club. I tend to re-adjust the target and evaluate it quite regularly. When I started out I enjoyed working with younger players, aged 7-11 but as I’ve developed and built up my experiences I really enjoy coaching 16-19 year olds. Many coaches specialise in one age group, but I find by working with a variety of different groups it tests your planning, coaching manner and understanding. Quite often a practice that you use for 16 year olds can be adapted for a nine year old; younger players are more intelligent than we think. As long as the practice is explained in child friendly language they grasp most concepts, in fact they tend to be braver than older player so you see different outcomes. I just want to go as far as possible, I think at some point I will feel like I can’t add value to these players, but at the movement I want to keep learning and keep progressing.”
What’s next in terms of learning? - “I would like to do the UEFA ‘A’, I’m hoping to start in 2015. It’s a two part process, each of which lasts one year. The main barrier to getting this done is the price, the cost through the English FA is approximately £5,000 and that’s before you look at travel, accommodation and time off work.”
What advice do you have for potential coaches, either considering that first step on the ladder, or wondering whether they can seriously make football coaching a career? - “My advice would be quite simple. Firstly get as qualified as you can, as this helps open the door to jobs and people that can make a difference. Have a thirst for knowledge. Coaching is a profession where you never reach perfection, something could always be better. Where you get that inspiration from can vary; mentors, colleagues, players, professionals, books, internet - you don’t know so always be open to hear other people’s opinions and act where you see fit. Stay hungry. You have to work hard to get ahead. People who want more do more, it’s that simple.”