Tuesday, 2 June 2015

My life & times in football & youth coaching


Article by Rod Christopher you can follow Rod on Twitter @RodChristopher9

In early 2000 i applied for a coaching job at the Manchester United / Bobby Charlton soccer schools, after responding to an advert in 4-4-2 football magazine. Being a lifelong Leeds United fan & obviously being very aware of the 2 clubs at times vile hatred towards each other, i put this small drawback to the back of my mind as i sat at home filling in the received forms. A few weeks later i was invited to their base in Middleton Manchester to attend a 2 day interview & training workshop. The idea was that i head over the pennines & stay over in digs as a potential member of their UK sky soccer roadshow tour. If successful after the 2 days there i would be contracted to travel the UK coaching youngsters aged from 7-17 at their very expensive soccer camps for 2 or 3 days at a time & staying in hotels on the road with 10 other employed coaches. A big big decision was to be made if i was to get through. But what of the oh so valuable coaching experience that i might gain from such an opportunity? That's how I saw it anyway. An experience of a lifetime working for the biggest club in the world & it wouldn't do my CV any harm either would it? I knew i wanted this big time. But would i be good enough compared to the many other confident & Manchester United supporting applicants here? Would i be accepted as a Leeds fan working for our arch red rivals? I did wonder, but really isn't it about working together as a team on the road regardless of which club your loyalties may lie with? Surely a small matter of club support shouldn't get in the way of professionalism as qualified coaches? My fate & all of the answers were about to be revealed over the next few hours! 

I arrived at Hopwood Hall camp at 5pm on a hot Friday evening after coming over by train. It was day before the Liverpool v Arsenal FA cup final in Cardiff, which 'Pool won in extra time. With an open mind, plenty of enthusiasm & confidence in abundance, i signed into my room & then made small talk with other coaches also there early. Some had come from places such as Plymouth, Newcastle & Ipswich, as well as more local Rochdale & Stockport. No other Leeds coaches, staff or fans though. I was all alone in red devil world! After being summoned from my room at 6pm, I then got to meet the main men over 3 hours. The project manager Gavin Rhodes had been with the organisation for some 6 years back then & head coach Ian Bateman was the main man at Bolton Wanderers FC youth academy. Heady times indeed for me! 

They explained that I would be put through an extensive programme. This included leading a coaching session on 'Long Passing' for 12 of the other 50 male & female candidates. There were also 2 learning seminars, telling of what would be expected of us on these tours & meeting the main bosses & owners to talk on a one to one basis. I knew inside that my 20 odd years learned knowledge of the game, coupled with my past 2 years coaching experience under ex Bradford City stalwart Ces Podd at the Leeds United community office would hold me in pretty good stead. After all - this was what had got me to this point in the first place & obviously the club must have been quite impressed with my CV to invite me here in the first place right? There were almost 50 coaches here, but only 10 would be chosen for paid contracts of work. 

I really enjoyed the training days. Especially the practical stuff on the Saturday. I seemed to come alive on the pitch like never before & i thought my own session had gone quite well. Maybe it was because i knew there were so many obstacles of challenge against me. I seemed to get on with quite a few of the other staff too which helped, as it became clear that the organisation were looking very deep into all of our characters. Coaching ability & good personality characteristics appeared to be the order of the day & i knew that i had those traits in bucket loads! 

About an hour after the coaching i was asked into a small room to talk further with the managers. I walked in nervously, but i need not have worried after all. I was in & was told that i'd passed all of the tests with flying colours. It turns out that we all had been in tests from the moment we met up the evening before. Everything about those 2 days was a test! Whats more i was then informed of the other staff who would be working with me for the foreseeable future. Some of whom were students studying sports degrees. David Beckhams cousin Michael was with us on the road. He was the minibus driver. I learned over time that a portion of the other selected staff were siblings of Premier league & lower league managers too. Former Man Utd FA cup goal scoring hero Lee Martin would turn up to make presentations at the end of soccer schools. While former Nottingham Forest captain John McGovern would be a regular fixture on the tours, speaking to the kids about what it takes to make it in the big time. He even brought his 2 European cup winners medals & league championship gongs to show everyone! Ashley Cole was involved as well on a few of the dates. 

A great opportunity then. I had got what i wanted after so long in applying & getting through that interview process. It was time to prepare for a long road trip, when we would be in each others pockets for weeks & at times months on end. This is where the fun really starts in earnest! Watch this space for Part 2 of my Manchester United work, when i will begin to go into real detail about the my many ups & downs that i endured on the road! 

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