I’m writing this blog sitting aboard a flight to South Africa where I’ll be leading sessions at a full-time academy. Across the past few days I’ve been asked about my coaching journey so I thought while I had some time free, I’d reflect and chart my journey. It may take the full 15 hour flight to compile!

I’ll start at 15 when I was on trial at a professional English club who were in league two at the time. I was due to fly back over that summer but I broke my ankle a number of weeks before my final GCSE exams. This may seem irrelevant but it caused a massive shift in my life. The league two club never contacted me again, I couldn’t train which meant I had all day to study for my exams, and I got 5% added on to each score as I missed a number of days at school. I’m a big believer everything happens for a reason and this occurrence sent me down the academic route rather than pursuing my original dream of becoming a professional footballer. I would never have made it anyway! I also needed the extra 5% and time to study as I was in a low class in a secondary school, so it worked out for the best!

I got the grades to stay on at school and that’s when I began coaching properly, at the age of 16. Initially I began coaching younger kids in the school while helping out at the first club I joined as a five year old. I took my level one coaching qualification right away before taking my level two the year after. I was playing for a semi-professional side at the time and helped out with the U14 team at their academy. I also began getting some paid coaching in the after schools and holiday programmes with the Irish Football Association (IFA), which I got through networking during my school work placement with the I.F.A, when I was 15.

The year after I dropped down a level to play for an U19 side in order to take my coaching more seriously. This is when my real development began as I worked as an U14 assistant to one of my previous coaches, who taught me a lot. I also helped out with the younger kids usually coaching five or so times a week and started reflecting on all of my previous sessions, recording ideas and coaching points. I also began my sport science degree at this time which was very exciting and nerve racking as it was big step up academically. At the end of my first year at University I went to the US to spend the summer coaching across New England and in Montreal, Canada. This is when I began to realise coaching abroad was a real career option for me as there weren’t many opportunities in Northern Ireland at the time.

I had some great coaches previously but none of them were capable of catering for my physical or psychological development which led me down the sport science route, to help young players. I spent my University placement year working as a strength and conditioning coach with elite athletes at the University, conducting gym based sessions, lab and field based fitness testing. I also did my level 2 and level 3 personal training certifications during the holidays to give myself a deeper understanding of the 4 corners. I was able to put this into practice by training boxers, hockey players and footballers in a gym I created in my garage.

At the end of my degree I had achieved my goals of becoming a qualified personal trainer, UEFA B licence coach and a degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences. The big question was- what to do next?!

Advice to young coaches:

Mentor: find a mentor to assist when first starting out who you can learn from, bounce ideas of and who may be able to provide useful contacts.

Set goals: decide where you ultimately want to be and devise a plan that will lead you to that role. Reading job descriptions and contacting people currently in the role are great ways to find out what’s required to get there.

Club selection: like a golfer, if you select the wrong club it can be troublesome. Find a club that is in line with your footballing beliefs and is well respected within the area. Clubs/teams that are well respected for their philosophy and playing style generally have better coaches, which means you’ll learn more throughout the process.

Experience: get as much hands on experience leading sessions at various levels which you can reflect on and learn from.

Document: write down your coaching vision and philosophy alongside the methods you’d like to implement. You can have all the knowledge in the world but it’s easier to apply if you structure it. It’s also good to record and categorise all of your session ideas to build up a library you can work from.

Qualifications: I’d highly recommend getting a sport related degree as it’ll massively increase your knowledge base and help to get visas when working abroad. It’s also very important to begin getting yourself up the coaching ladder. I’d recommend getting minimum level 2 before beginning to apply for decent jobs abroad.

Network: connecting with as many people on social media as possible, attending events, emailing football people higher up the chain can all be invaluable ways to get yourself noticed. See my previous blog on how to grow your network.

I hope you found some of this useful. I will put part two up very soon which is much more exciting, I promise!

If you have any questions fire them my way.

Thanks for reading.


Originally posted: 20th June 2017.