Personal development: it’s all down to you…

This post comes in direct response to two different things, both of which might be able to be answered through one ramble. The first is in response to several questions raised at our National Coaching Conference and something I hear fairly regularly – “I have a sports science degree from University of x, why can’t I get a job in a professional club Academy?” The second is the question I get asked reasonably often too – “what was my career pathway to end up in the role I have?”

Hopefully by sharing some of my story (note: it’s MY story, not anyone else’s) it might help some of the people that ask the first question a lot. There is a generation of young people now that come out of university and expect the world on a plate, that they will walk straight into a top paying job at a top establishment. There was an article in the Daily Telegraph a few years back about ‘Graduate Divas’, the young people born in the late-1980’s as part of Generation Y that think the world owes them a living and they expect everything without hard work. 
Of course, and this goes without saying, not all young people fall into that category. I know lots of tremendously hard working individuals that have gone way over and above the expected to develop themselves. They have given themselves a broad range of experiences and skills, beyond their piece of university paper, and sought these out. They rightly deserve opportunities later down the line. It’s the ones that just expect it that are the issue. 
My Journey:
As I mentioned above, this is my journey. It’s unique to me. I have worked in sports development my whole (proper) working life but different parts have played their role and shaped me as a person.
I started coaching when I was still at school, helping the PE teachers run inter-form activities for younger year groups in football and other sports. The lesson for me was clear – I need to do something that I am passionate about and working with young people in sport was certainly that.
I did a Sport and Leisure Management Degree at university, had an interesting time for three years. Whilst I wouldn’t say the degree helps me in the job, it was more the learning about myself in those years that made the biggest difference. To be honest, my course was about 9 – 12 hours of lectures a week and the rest of the time I just spent playing football with mates! However, I also did a few coaching badges during the time that started me further on this road. 
During the summer holidays between my second and third year I came home and coached all summer with a guy that has remained a good friend to this day. He is sooo old skool it is frightening! He knows it, I tell him this and we debate this often! At that time however I didn’t know any different. He was an experienced coach, had his UEFA B’ and therefore was the role model I aspired to be. Surely he was right, wasn’t he? So I tried to copy him. For acceptance? Maybe. 
After university I went and did three months coaching in the US. When I say ‘coaching’ it probably wasn’t but it was a hugely valuable experience and a very enjoyable time. Three months travelling round California, Nevada and bit of Utah was fascinating. I coached all sorts of players, from 5 and 6 year old children where I ran around singing ‘Old MacDonald’ to working with high quality girls team’s that could truly play the game. It gave me a real varied insight into working with different groups, how I had to change my coaching style, what worked and what didn’t. 
I came home from the US and needed a job. I went to an interview for a job in Milton Keynes. I had to deliver a session as part of the interview in a sport I wasn’t qualified in – I did a netball session that was basically a football game with hands. It was my relationship with the kids that made a big difference – I enjoyed working with them, they had fun and gave me a glowing report. 
So I moved 100 miles from home for my first job out of uni that paid £15,000 per year. The next two years saw me teach football to primary and secondary age children, boccia to children with disabilities, develop all sports within the school and gain a great insight into a whole host of things. If the table tennis coach didn’t turn up I would deliver. If the basketball coach was running late I would take the session. I was also doing outreach sessions in the local community, offering sessions for old people to keep them active and for those out of work. 
I did a variety of coaching qualifications along the way too, including Level 1’s in cricket, basketball, hockey, netball and badminton.
Whilst all this was going on I was shaping my coaching philosophy and influenced by lots of people around me. I started running a girls U12 team at a Centre of Excellence and had some great times there. I made lots of mistakes, got lots of feedback from the players and learnt some valuable lessons. 
County FA
After three years I changed jobs to focus solely on football development. Again, this started to have a big impact. I was fortunate to start working for some great people at this time including Les Howie and Donna McIvor; colleagues of today. Working at the CFA allowed me to really get out there and understand how grassroots sport worked. I was working with coaches and volunteers every night of the week, from running club development workshops to child protection training. 
This taught me about the importance of relationships – internally and externally. It frustrates me hugely now hearing about development staff that aren’t allowed to leave the office. Development work is about people and relationships between them and you don’t develop these through email. I knew everyone in clubs and most of the Heads of PE and the schools and colleges too – we never had coaching courses cancelled because we could always fill them through our networks. 
I moved to a national role at the FA in Jan 2004, to manage our young leadership programme and club links work. The grounding of working in education and football development made a big difference. 
Young leadership is awesome. I loved watching the young people in the programme grow right in front of you, developing into fantastic young adults with a real skill set that could change the world. The work of Harry Shier and Roger Hart was a big influence at this stage – give young people a voice and choice on matters that affect them. It’s not about me, it’s about them. 
My next role was to set up the FA Skills Programme, working with Tesco as the sponsor. Fascinating times and really powerful for my development. I was now in and around coaches that I would truly class as ‘experts’ every day – John Allpress, Pete Sturgess, Paul Holder – and if you can’t learn from them then you may as well change careers! We also did a piece of work with Brunel University, a guy called Richard Blair who really challenged thinking and professionalised what our coaches were doing. And I sat in these sessions, taking notes, listening and learning. 
Playing and Refereeing
Has being a player helped my understanding? 100% yes. Whilst I was never a top professional, I played 400+ games in the non-league and Futsal at international level. I worked with some great coaches that have also shaped my views on coaching and learning. Some good, some not so good but you learn from them all. 
I also thought it would be good to see things from a refereeing perspective so did that for a season too. I refereed adult park football in my county, proper Division 10 stuff and really enjoyed that. It’s very easy to moan at the person wearing black but I can empathise now having experienced this, and speak from a position of credibility on the matter.
Throughout this time I was doing a lot of reading. A lot! My bookcase expanded tremendously and it has made a massive difference in my career. I wouldn’t say I was widely read but I have made the effort to try and read things – whether academic articles or coaching/learning books. Less ‘football’ ones too. For example, Lynn Kidman, Raener Martens and Guy Claxton all gave a tremendous insight into what really is ‘coaching’ and player development.
Doing qualifications is important, of course, but is a tiny part of what shapes your philosophy and understanding. Estimates from elite coaches are they affect your development 10-15%. 
The FA Youth Coaches Course in 2005 was superb, gave a totally different view of the coaching world than the experience I had through the traditional pathway and was the pre-cursor to the FA Youth Awards. I’ve gone on to complete the FA Advanced Youth Award but Module 1 is still my favourite course!
More Coaching
Whilst at the FA I have ran a grassroots U8’s team to mentoring coaches in the U14 teams. Running the kids team was great, the reality of never knowing who or how many were going to turn up to training each week. We were a poor team, lost every week, but the one game we won that season will stick with me for a whole host of reasons forever. 
Since then I have done six years in an Academy, working with talented boys. This was five years at U10 and one at U11. Some coaches have aspirations to get through the age groups to older ones as quick as possible, fuelled by a variety of different motives, but I wanted to be the best U10 coach I could be. 
Additional Parts
If there was an opportunity to get involved in something that would help my learning and development I would do it! I would travel a few hours to see a coach work if he/she was an expert and someone I could learn from. 
I’m coming towards the end of a Masters degree and halfway through a Level 4 course in Talent Identification. I was asked to be on the Board at a schools Academy Trust and without knowing what it was about, threw myself into it! I am well out my depth at times when I look round the other Board members but learn something every time we meet and invariably I can translate to my coaching or job. 
In no way was this ramble set out to be a ‘look at me, aren’t I great’ piece like a few I read. I’m still learning every day, know I have so much to do in order to be a better person and a better dad. However, hopefully it can give a sense of the breadth of different activities I have been involved in along my journey so far. 
Nothing comes easy, you have to go out of your way to work hard and the world owes you nothing. You cannot sit back and wait for your break to happen, thinking you deserve it. 
When I worked at the Academy and got requests from coaches to come in and observe sessions, brilliant, they are the guys I want on my team all day long. 

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4 thoughts on “Personal development: it’s all down to you…

  • February 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Your own article is extremely informative to get the actual initiative power to make it happen. Here I want to express some words about the Personal Development Plan . We all make an effort to be a better edition of ourselves. If this is actually the case for you, then you definitely owe it to you to ultimately look at these suggestions about developing yourself.

  • February 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Fantastic and well done but what is the FA's definition of GRASSROOTS, because every time I hear money is going into a grassroots programme It's linked to an academy, when in reality, most kids in grass roots never get anywhere near an academy and so no where near the investment

  • February 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for the comment. The FA would consider grassroots football to be everything from Step 7 in the National Leagues System and below – that's effectively adult 'park' football and youth football.
    The FA doesn't fund boy's Academy programmes, that comes from the professional clubs and leagues directly, rather than the governing body. The only talent pathway work the FA funds is in the girls game and within disability football.


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