As a young football player growing up in Somerset, I can’t recall really being coached. My Dad and elder brothers were great influences on me from an advice point of view, as was my P.E. Teacher at school, Chris Dalton. But, looking back, I learnt to play football by just playing, watching and through my own self learning process.
As a kid I played football all the time, in the school yard, in the park at the bottom of our back garden, in the house, on my own, kicking balls against the wall of our house. From an early age I also watched my elder brother John playing local football…not that I learnt a lot of the finer points of football from John, who was a very uncompromising centre half with a fearsome local reputation. But John, bless him, did teach me to look after myself on the pitch. But in John’s team there was one player, Barry Bisgrove, who had unbelievable talent. He was like a local George Best and I tried very hard to copy and emulate Barry.
I also watched a lot of football on the T.V, with the famous 1960’s team of Manchester United, being my favourite team. Of that team, there was on stand out player. George Best. Now there was an unrequited love! I would watch him intently and try and copy his dribbling moves, the outrageous tricks, the way the ball was glued to his foot, his change of pace and direction.
The point of this is that I was a typical example of a young player who learnt, not from being coached, but by watching and playing and developing my own self learning process. I would watch a player shoot and sub consciously copy what they did and through endless practice and playing, self evaluate and learn to develop and improve as a player. Now, as a coach, I firmly believe that this is one really important way for young players to learn and coaches should ensure there are lots of opportunities for players to self learn this way.
It was only when I went to Plymouth Argyle as a young school boy player that I was influenced and improved as a player. I was like a sponge, I soaked up anything and everything that the coaches threw at us. I was very fortunate that the coaches at Argyle were all very different, but all very good. They all had different coaching styles and personalities, but they all had a number of common denominators, they were all very organised,enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the game, they kept things very simple, enjoyable and focussed. They worked on our individual techniques and skills and everything they did involved a football. They also let us play lots of small sided games, 1 v 1 up to 9 v 9, which gave us lots of opportunities to practice what we had learnt in realistic game like scenarios and relate that to other players in the team.
Looking back, there is no doubt the influences of the coaches at Plymouth Argyle, stimulated my interest and passion for coaching football.
As a player I was always a talker and an organiser. Not only constantly trying to encourage and stimulate team mates, but to pull players into positions defensively and to encourage team mates to create and find space when we had the ball. I also recognised that talented players should be given the ball in key areas of the pitch and encouraged to express their talent for the benefit of the team and the detriment of the opposition.
Photo by Yatmandu
Whilst my main position, throughout my career was a central midfield player, I also played lots of games as an old fashioned target type of centreforward and as a centre half. I think that in the days of small squads and only one substitute, being this type of utility player, who could play in a variety of positions, not only ensured I would play somewhere for the team on a regular basis, but it also gave me a greater understanding of the skills and techniques required to play in a variety of positions, which has undoubtedly helped me in my understanding of the game as a coach.
As a young 19 year old player, I took and passed my Football Association preliminary coaching award and I started coaching the young school boy players at Plymouth.
Obviously, my playing career was my priority and whilst I occasionally coached, it wasn’t until I was 24 that I decided to take the Football Association Full Coaching License at Lillishall, which because of a situation involving the now Arsenal Assistant Manager Pat Rice in my final coaching session, I failed. But more of that story another time!
At the end of my career I became firstly the Youth Team and then First Team Coach at Bournemouth Football Club. The now Stoke City Manager Tony Pulis was and still is a good friend of mine and he was the Manager at Bournemouth. Tony has his own unique, but very effective style of coaching and both him and Dave Williams, who went onto be First Team Coach at Everton, were great influences and help to me. Both had very different, but effective styles of coaching and views on the game.
During my time at Bournemouth, I retook the FA Full Coaching License and passed. I then progressed to take and pass my UEFA “A” license. Subsequently I have coached players from aged 8 – 18, professional First and Reserve teams and non – league teams. All require a different approach and requirements, but all sessions, whatever the age group or playing level, require planning, organising and need to be fun and enjoyable.
I am now a coach educator, working for various County Football Associations in England, Tutoring and assessing Football Association Level 1, 2 and UEFA “B” coaching courses. I am also the Football Director of www.grassrootscoaching.com and have written the football content for the site.
I would love it if you could join me on my coaching blogs, where I can use my 34 years as a professional player and coach to explore and examine coaching issues that cross the broad spectrum of coaching football, from professional football, coach education to the grassroots level of coaching.