I managed the U7s to U11s and at a category 3 academy, you often have to do most things yourself. This included the analysis, sport science, coaching and recruitment.
Name, age, where you are based?
Ben King, 29, Birmingham, UK.
Lead Youth Development Phase Coach at Walsall Football Club. The main focus of this role is to develop and recruit players in the U13 to U16 age groups, with the aim that they will progress to gain scholarships and professional contracts.
- UEFA A licence
- FA Advanced Youth Award
- MSc in Performance Coaching
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
My farther, Paul King, is a football coach that works for Watford FC. So, from a young age, I’ve always been in and around football. It’s been great to see him coach and I’ve experienced so much helping out in the academy there and working on the community projects. (Photo of my farther coaching Watford U9s – the player on the far right is England and Dortmund player Jaydon Sancho)
I did a couple of stints in the U.S, with 1 x 4 month contracts with TSF in New Jersey, as well 2 x 9 months contracts with UK Elite (now Steel Sports). This was a huge step in my career for a number of reasons:
1) Working and living in a different country – Can be strange at first but worth it for some unbelievable experiences.
2) Gaining coaching hours – The work at UK Elite gave me so much opportunity to try things out, fail, succeed and develop. All this done in a supportive environment where there was formal CPD and 1 to 1 support.
3) Working and living with coaches from around the world – Various coaches of different backgrounds allowed me to learn from them and the various clubs they had been at.
Overall, I would highly recommend going to another country to coach, even people who are new to coaching or are looking for something different. My friend Aden Campbell was working as an estate agent. He wanted something new and was brave enough to go out and get it, gained his FA Level 1 and 2 and went for a role at UK Elite. It changed his life. He is now happily married there, living in Texas and coaching for Titans FC.
After coming back from the US, I was offered a senior community coach position for Coventry City Football Club. I was promoted in the role after a year into being the Disability Development Officer and began to start coaching in the academy as the U11s coach.
My first full time role in academy football came at Shrewsbury Town Football Club as Lead Foundation Phase Coach. This role was a good one to start developing my way of coaching and how I see a department running. I managed the U7s to U11s and at a category 3 academy, you often have to do most things yourself. This included the analysis, sport science, coaching and recruitment.
Although it is eye opening to see the work of cat 1 academy football and the facilities some of the top clubs have, I feel that doing all these extras and learning all these other skills helped me develop more than if I had been just coaching.
This takes me to my current role at Walsall Football Club. As mentioned earlier, this role has given me some exceptional moments, both in success and in development. One of the highlights is having players you have previously coached and some that you are currently working with progress to play U18s, U23s or first team football.
I see it two-fold, that you have played a part in their development and success, but they have also played a part in yours as the coach. Another is some of the experiences gained, like taking our U16s to train along side and do set pieces against England’s U16s. Seeing some top coaches work and top players perform within the England set up is a great experience to learn from.
What is your training focus with your current teams/players?
As I currently coach the U16s, the main focus this season has been the individual points that will push them into the U18s, U23s or first team.
This is based around two major areas:
1) The Academy Syllabus – The topic for players in that block of work, although the main topic of the session may be attacking in the final third for example, the by product of the sessions in that block will include defending in a low block, pressing in the final third and playing out from the back, depending on if the team is in or out of possession. This is where session design and individual coaching have to be planned thoroughly to maximize the impact of that 90 minutes of coaching.
2) Individual Learning Programme – Pushing the strengths of the player and developing the areas of weakness are important in the individual approach to coaching. This may be done in an individual manner, where the player will do an individual session or a small group session with players that have similar targets. It could be done within the main session as mentioned above. This could also be worked on away from the club.
Another area that can make the difference between players progressing and not progressing is the psychological side of the game. I try to be honest and open with the demands of football psychologically and try to create an environment that is highly challenging and highly supportive. We have to do our best to give them the psychological skills to progress through the tough landscape of football. Unfortunately, although the psychological skills are important and its tough to progress without them, it still may not be enough. Ultimately in elite sport of any kind, the finer details can make all the difference.
Would you recommend coaches to head abroad? any advice?
I would always recommend coaches to go abroad, even for a short period of time. Taking the leap not only helps with coach development but also personal development. I went to the US when I was 19 and although I struggled at first with the coaching and dealing with failure, the experience itself made who I am today. I grew up quickly from this experience and went back to the states 2 years later and excelled in that environment.
My only other advice would be to take your own advice. Coaches will say to players that they need to have an open mindset, take on feedback and be brought out their comfort zones by playing a different position or playing a year up. That should apply to the coach as well, now that might not mean going abroad to coach, but it might be going on a course, learning from a different environment, etc.
What’s been the best thing for your personal development thus far?
I’ve tried to learn from different aspects of performance football. Doing a Msc in Performance Coaching at the University of Stirling has been one of the best and the most challenging experiences. I learnt a lot from this course, varying from coaching concepts and psychology to physiology. Having a number of experts (students and lecturers) from a range of sports was a big pull of the course also.
The next step for me here is the data analysis side of football and recruitment. Seeing the work of StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) and football clubs such as Brentford, you can see how useful it can be in football. Take expected goals (objective measurement of change quality), you now have a better measurement of performance rather than the outcome of a match. Just as a starting point, this can be used for things like looking at what is and isn’t working in your team, recruiting undervalued players etc.
Is there anything which could help your development more?
Something I have not done much in the past and trying to do more of is study trips. I think sometimes you can end up thinking of study trips having to be a week stay abroad somewhere but in reality, there are some excellent football and various sports clubs that will offer to host you for a day.
For example, I went to one at Southampton recently, where Steve King (not a relative this time!) had set up a day that showcased the work their academy was doing, including the famous Black Box there and interviews/presentations with multiple staff.
I have also been down to watch England’s U16s and U19s at St Georges in training and gone for the games, again, a fantastic learning environment that they allowed me to watch and be involved with. Either way, these experiences can open your eyes to different ideas and different ways of thinking.