Bridging the Gap from Grassroots to Pro - Rhys Barker

'I do believe there is a lot in place for youth footballers now, but the question I ask, is if they know what it takes and if they are doing enough themselves to go on to be a pro...'

Name, age, where are you based?

Rhys Barker, 31, Kent UK.

Current and past Roles:

Welling United U16s (2020/21) – Head Coach

Welling United (2019/20)

Previous roles – coach at Cray Wanderers, Phoenix Sports FC

Academy coach at Southend United 2015/16




BA HONS IN FOOTBALL STUDIES (Southampton Solent University)

How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?

I got into coaching in 2010 when I left university where I went in to do some coaching in schools as a part time job – mainly multi sports. This was with a coaching provider based in Essex, where I was living at the time.

From there I worked in various small coaching roles, trying to build my experience as a coach. I decided to start an U10s team at Baldon Sports based in Eltham. A great club run by great people! Marc, the chairman there gave me my first role of running a side, so I am forever grateful for that.

After my first season and whilst doing my FA Level 2 coaching badge, I was given an opportunity by my tutor Ian Hart to be part of Southend United as an academy coach. But I moved to Kent and the travel had an effect – So I decided to go back to Baldon Sports and continue with the side at U12s.

From there, I have coached at U13s, U14s and U15s with clubs such as Cray Wanderers and Welling United. In those times, completing my FA Youth Award and UEFA B coaching badge.

Within that I spent some time with a good friend Jordan Clark, at Dorking Wanderers 16-19 scholarship programme, which was an excellent set up and something Jordan should be very proud of.

Any highlights you would like to mention?

Major achievements, I would always look at the development of players I have coached or been around. I am proud to see a lot of players I have coached at a really young age within the Kent area, now playing at the highest level in Kent – with some also going on for trials at professional clubs. I always look back at some of the players I coach now, to where they were 4 or 5 years ago and to see the players they have developed into is the reason we coaches do it.

Our Welling United U15s won the Kent FA County Cup this season, which was a great day out and an added bonus to how the players have developed this season, ready to prepare for an important season of football at U16s next season.

In 2016, I spent a weekend with FC Twente academy O14s, organised by a coach called Abdi Hassan, who I was in touch with at the time. I went there and spent time with the team, and the coaching staff through the RKSV Vogido tournament, which the team ended up winning. 

I got to spend time with some highly experienced and qualified coaches, plus watch young sides from all over Europe including - Alkmaar, PSV, Slavia Praha, Basel, Malmo, FC Nordsjaelland, Helsinki... 

You’ve held a variety of roles in grass roots and player development. What has been you’re favourite role and how have your experiences helped you in a coaching capacity?

I suppose if there was no such thing as grass roots football, thousands of aspiring coaches would never be able to gain experience or try out their ideas with players. Grass roots football is extremely important, and I feel at times it can be taken for granted.

My favourite roles have always been where I can coach and really get into players – I would say my two favourite coaching roles so far to date have been:

Baldon Sports U12s 2016/17 – We just had an enjoyable season and a great team of young players. I had just come back from Southend United, and I felt I had a lot of new ideas to share and a lot of areas to work on. The players were great to work with, training was enjoyable, and the games were great