the advice I would give ‘Me’ – the u21 coach
The next step in my journey is the position of U21 Coach, which I would hold for the next 3 years. I would have the opportunity work alongside the current Assistant Manager of England, and former 1st Team Manager of Fulham and current Assistant Manager of Wales.
As I continue this reflection process the six pieces of advice I would like to give ‘Me’ the U21 Coach would be:
Embrace the Challenge
The U21’s is a difficult squad to manage due to the inconsistency of the playing staff and the uncertainty of which players you will have in the training group from one day to the next (I will elude to this in another piece of advice). It can often be a challenge when preparing for the games, especially with the last minute additions and withdrawals. Therefore, how you manage the individuals, and the team will have an impact on how they perform within both training and within games. Consider your message, keeping it simple and engaging in order to get effective get your ideas across to your players.
Prepare for the Unexpected – Be Adaptable
You will arrive for your session with the intention to work on a specific topic, with a specific number of players. You will come across those managers that prepare in advance and let you know what players they will be giving you and what they will need from you, which will give you time to prepare. On the other hand there will be those other managers that leave it until 10-15mins before training starts, after you have set up and are ready to begin. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about that that is the order of the food chain. Therefore, always be prepared to adapt for changes at the last minute and expect the unexpected. Prepare for the unexpected and always have a contingency plan. This will test not only your creative ability but also your ability as a coach to not allow your emotions to take the lead.
Awareness of the groups within the group
Empathy and awareness for individual players are going to be two keys skill sets required whilst working with this group. Take the time to observe, notice and ask questions. Within this one group you will have many other groups who are at different phases of their career displaying different types of behaviours and emotions. For example, you might have players who have just moved into the U21 squad, players who are not quite good enough for the 1st team squad, players that are not wanted by the 1st team management, players who are looking to get out on loan, players that are returning from injury and players that are coming up from the academy looking to prove themselves. This will challenge your skills of coaching and management of players.
Winning and Development
This is a challenge within any competitive environment, but especially when going into this phase. There has been a change in the structure within the development program of professional football going from reserve team football to U21football. The U21 program is still used in a similar fashion, providing game time for those senior players not in the 1st team squad or those players returning from injury. This can have an affect on managing the desired outcome of the game. Be prepared for that so manage and prepare for a variety of expectations from both a development and a winning standpoint.
Encourage the Players to Take Control
There is a danger that players, especially within the current environments are becoming very dependent on the club and staff. Make sure you encourage players to take responsibility, to take control of their own destiny. Have those conversations with them, guide them, coaching them and support them so they take the lead. After all it is their career, their future and they need to decide what they want to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. They need to be the driving force using their passion, perseverance and desire supported by you as coach to provide them with a program to that will help them work toward their goals. After all, look at how you got to where you did.
Take advantage to learn from the experienced Managers you work alongside
This is going to be a great opportunity for you, working alongside two very good people (who have become friends of yours) with great experience from playing through to coaching and management. They will embrace, encourage you to take a lead, support and guide you along the way. Make sure you take every little bit you can from this. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Notice, observe, ask questions and appreciate such a great opportunity.