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Developing Players Around the World - Darren Wiltshire

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Darren Wiltshire has given much of his time and energy to coaching youths in India, Morocco, Rwanda, Peru, South Africa and Lesotho. Here's his story...

Name, age, where are you based?

Darren Wiltshire, 37 years old, London, UK

Current and past Roles:

Sports Development Officer, London

Running the North London Youth Futsal League

Performance Analyst - Rwanda National Team

Technical Director - Boca Juniors Academy India

Lead Coach - Tottenham Hotspur Foundation

Academy Coach - Arsenal Soccer Schools Morocco

Qualifications (if you don’t mind sharing):

Uefa B

Futsal Level 2.

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

I spent 10 years as a football analyst for Opta in London and then in Munich. Towards the end of that time, I started coaching, initially volunteering in Peru, India and South Africa. I then left Opta to focus full time on coaching, and worked at soccer schools in Morocco and India for a few years.

After that I spent an amazing year with Kick4Life in Lesotho and then moved back to London to work for Tottenham Hotspur Foundation. I now work in Sports for development at Haringey 6th Form, a college in Tottenham.

Biggest achievement?

Getting my Uefa B was a big achievement for me personally. I’d returned from India thinking I was a good coach, and it was fair to say my tutor Dennis Mortimer didn’t agree! Ripping my sessions to pieces! I had to accept it, given his great stature in football, but it was an ego battering course, as until then nearly all my coaching experience had been in Soccer schools. The other tutors were more compassionate, and the other coaches were a nice group.

Any funny stories? Whilst in India, Winston Bogarde applied to work for us. He obviously didn’t realise we were a football school of Boca Juniors rather than actually Boca Juniors! His CV was beyond what was needed for our mixed ability sessions!

The highlight?

The best part for me has been meeting amazing people around the world, making good friends, seeing and learning from other cultures. I am very thankful to football for giving me that opportunity.

Having worked in India, Morocco and Rwanda, what different coaching experiences did each give you and how useful where them experiences in terms of your own personal and professional development?

In India and Morocco I worked for soccer schools. My energy on the pitch and enthusiasm to help players of all abilities had a positive impact, and I really enjoyed it, meeting some great people. Especially in India, we grew quickly, so we could recruit more coaches, and so it was nice to be able to help local coaches into employment and try to help them in their development

In Rwanda, their national team coach at the time, Johnny Mckinstry, gave me the chance to work as a performance analyst as whilst they was competing in the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) - it was my first chance to work in senior football. Genuinely thankful to have experienced such an incredible couple of months learning about football at that level.

How did the position in Rwanda come about and what was the performance analyst role like there?

Rwanda were hosting the CHAN, and Johnny Mckinstry advertised online for a couple of analysts to work during the tournament. I applied, had a quick interview and a week later, I was in Kigali. It was an incredible experience from start to finish.

Thanks to Johnny and his assistant Alex McCarthy because they were both really helpful in helping me learn how to analyse games for a head coach, as at Opta I’d been responsible for collecting data and identifying players.

Johnny was excellent to work for. He would always look at the work we’d done and assess if he would use it, but even on the occasions he didn’t use it, he was always very respectful. He led the team to the Quarterfinals for the first time, so there was a great buzz in the country during the tournament.

How did you have to adapt when moving back to the UK with Spurs Foundation in terms of coaching methods, and were any of your experiences abroad transferable to be of use?

I am a supporter of Tottenham, so it was a privilege to have an opportunity to coach for them. It was soccer school and foundation work, so I tried to coach with a positive energy and enthusiasm, and plan and review as much as possible.

I coached at an international camp for players from all over the world, so speaking some French and Spanish was useful there. Looking back, I wish I had asked to go and watch the academy coaches to learn more from them.

After one year, I was given a chance to run their college futsal program here, which was enjoyable as I had the chance to try to develop a project.

What would you say are the main fundamentals for coaches to get right, to enable the best environments for youth development at community and grassroots level? I started coaching because I wanted to create a positive, enjoyable place for young players to play the game, so that is the aim for me. I have had very little experience at academy or in senior football, so others would know much more, but in more mixed ability youth coaching, I think it is vital to bring an energy, enthusiasm to every session and be as positive as possible with players.

There were a couple of outstanding coaches in Bangalore called Somashekara and Shiva, they were some of the best youth coaches I have ever seen. They created such a positive environment for children to play in, were very patient, and brought an energy and happiness to the pitch, even when we had been coaching for many hours.

The Uefa B course and my time at Kick4Life made me realise it is important to have an idea or vision of how you want the team to play, when coaching better players. I find it a challenge to balance getting a team to play in a certain way whilst also giving a freedom to young players to express themselves.

At times in Lesotho, we would be passing the ball well, retaining possession, but with hindsight, they were playing like robots, not taking risks, and it probably didn’t utilize their wonderful ability to beat players and be creative. Probably the best two coaches I have seen in this regard are Maz Karim and Claudio Garcia Lara. They always seemed to get the balance between freedom and structure right, whilst being positive.

What’s been best for your development so far and what are your most enjoyable parts of your current roles?

Kick4Life was an amazing year. The people of Lesotho are phenomenally kind and friendly. I really admire the way Kick4Life are using the game to improve the lives of young people so that was a great experience. I really enjoyed working for Boca Juniors Football Schools in Bangalore. I had freedom to get on with things, we grew quickly, and it was a really positive period. Coaching wise, I’d say the period with Barcelona Escola was important for me, as they set such high standards in preparation and delivery. In my current role, I enjoy having the freedom and responsibility to try to develop opportunities for young people in Tottenham. It is a great part of London, very diverse, and the young people here are so talented. If I can get regular access to a football pitch, I believe I can create a program with great impact here.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced and how was you able to overcome them?

In terms of working abroad, I found it relatively easy to adapt to different cultures. Even when there are challenges, I have felt so fortunate to be coaching for a living that I just tried to get on with things. Obviously, over the years, there have been some frustrations, with pitches, or transport, but there will be challenges whether you are at home or abroad.

The main challenge of working abroad for me was living away from my family... Other than that, coaching abroad is an incredible experience and one that I would really recommend.

How’s the future looking, what’s next? I had the chance to visit 'Right to Dream Academy' in Ghana in 2016. It is an inspiring place, and a great example of how sport and education can work together to significantly improve the lives of young people. It would be impossible to replicate that model as they have one of the best football academies in the world, but in the long term, I want to help create something based on that model here in London.

Anything else to add?

Thanks to all the people who have given me an opportunity to work in football. Also, thank you to all the people I have worked with in different countries, who have always been kind, friendly and helpful.

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