I haven’t written a blog post for a long time, but have decided to make it more of a regular thing, to discuss some of the questions I get asked regularly.
I thought a good way to start these blogs would be to give, what I feel, is the 7 best bits of advice I have ever been given. I have been really fortunate to have the support of some excellent individuals from within the Sports Science / S&C profession in football, and that alone has helped me forge not only my own philosophy but some pointers that have stayed with me throughout my career. Here are some of those tips (in no particular order!).
1) Believe in your own ability to succeed
Football can be a high pressured environment, especially in S&C/Sports Science. Performance is everything, and lots of individuals will have opinions on how things should be done, and probably how you do things. If you don’t have the belief in your own ability, then it will be hard for anyone to believe in you. This goes for sending an email in hope of getting an internship or work experience to practically coaching a group of senior players. Have belief in yourself, and keep things real, you need to create opportunity for yourself in this game, learn all you can about coaching – do a level 1 coaching badge if need be – it will help you to become confident with groups!
2) Not all that glitters is gold.
If your sole aim is to work for a big 4 club and be the guy warming up the players during a Champion League game at the Nou Camp, then so be it (nothing like being ambitious!!). However, don’t expect to walk into a club with a bit of paper in your hand and find yourself working with players in the San Siro. Be prepared to put in everything you have to earn the right in the game. You will need to work long hours, and do many thankless tasks to earn the right for these golden moments and they are definitely to be savoured! In the beginning you will probably find yourself doing an awful lot of work for free, but what you reap what you sow. Professional football is a very small community, do the best job you can, and be willing to give your all, from making shakes to sweeping gym, whatever it takes – and who knows maybe one day you will make your BT Sport Champions League debut!
3) Knowledge is power, the use of knowledge is powerful.
There is tonnes of emerging research into virtually everything in football, from the nutritional side to small sided games and sleep patterns. Applying most of this theory can be challenging and can often have a reverse effect if the application isn’t suitable for your players. Trying to put novice players through advanced techniques is suicide. Learn the basics, and apply them. By all means use the research to guide your decisions, but by trying to re-invent the wheel you may end up doing more harm than good, or simply just be wasting your time and the players time! Contact time can be low in the game, so bang for buck is the key!
4) Be a sponge.
Get to conferences, get to know the people who are applying in the game, listen to podcasts, get yourself known and be a sponge. Absorb what you can from who you can. The internet and social media has opened up access to those within the game who are applying knowledge everyday. Read the books, push yourself to learn your trade everyday. Make it your craft, and be relentless in your own personal development.
5) Enjoy the process, be realistic, and learn from your mistakes.
Working with top level players can be extremely rewarding, but it can involve long hours, and lots of situations can arise, in which people will require your expertise. Don’t be fooled by thinking that a few hours a day is all it takes and then you are home with your feet up watching The Chase with a cuppa. You might get the odd day like that, but those days can be rare. Manage your time well though as your health and well being is just as important as the players and staff you work with. Be realistic. Walking into a top level job, with little or no experience is highly unlikely, but if you put the hours in and get as much experience as possible, whether it be with your local club or as an intern, the process needs to be enjoyable. You will make mistakes, but thats the best way to learn. Keep pushing yourself to attain high standards and eventually you will get to where you want to be in the game!!
6) We coach humans, not spreadsheets.
Our data drives the decisions we make, in some respects, and we collect the data to help us make informed decisions to assist the head coaches & management. However, we still need to be able to coach people, and that where I have seen others fall down or lose the players. This can be fatal. I personally love the research and academic side of sports science and its a pleasure to be involved in research projects, looking for areas where we can improve players through our own data collection and that of others in the research field – but we still have to be able to coach & communicate with our subjects. The best coaches understand this, they know the value of getting their messages across clearly & concisely and by avoiding jargon – players don’t want to be confused, they just want to perform.
7) Players are human too, take time to understand human nature.
Football is a highly pressured environment which so much going on at once it can be very intense to say the least. Players are human beings though, and they have the same wants, needs, desires, flaws, goals, ambitions, hopes, dreams as any other person you will meet. Not everyone in life will want to be open with you about their life or even like you, thats just life itself, but players are human too, do your best to understand what makes them tick (all individuals are different!), what their interests are away from football and so on. Their maybe a time in your career that you may have to have an awkward conversation with a player (maybe from your data collection!), but this can be made a lot easier when you have taken the time to understand the player – thats what the best coaches do, work with the people not against them.