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From Prison Officer to USA Youth Director - Jamie Souza

'I soon realised that the female athletes at the club liked to have a say and I felt that to get the best out of them I wanted to harness that in a positive way...'

Name, age, where are you based?

Jamie Souza, 29, Kissimmee, Florida

Current and past Roles:

Youth Programs Director at XL Sports

Head of Girls Academy- AFC Sudbury

Assistant Boys Coach- AFC Sudbury

Elite Development Coach- Ipswich Town Football Club

Volunteer coach - Copelstonans



Assessed Youth Award

Currently studying for BsC in Coaching Performance in Football

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

I was thrown into coaching when I was 16, my brother’s manager just quit his U11 team, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. I had a great couple of seasons there completing my FA Level 1 in the meantime. I really felt out of my depth but I learned how to talk to them as a group and individuals, I obviously made loads of mistakes and if I look back now I cringe but that’s what coaching is about for me, learning all the time, sometimes it’s uncomfortable but it’s so rewarding and you’re learning whilst imparting what you have to offer to your players.

After the two seasons, I joined the Prison Service which was shift work, working every other weekend so I of course had to give the coaching up. That led me to have a long hiatus from coaching until the age of 25 where I resigned from the Prison Service after almost 7 years. I decided I wanted to do something I enjoyed for a living, so I completed my Level 2 whilst being a volunteer coach for a local grassroots side and helping AFC Sudbury out on a matchday.

I also started volunteering after writing emails to Ipswich Town FC and Colchester Utd. Sean Thacker at Colchester and Phil Beale at Ipswich gave me loads of time. Ipswich Town eventually took me on working within their PDP Program after pestering them and shadowing at their academy. I was then soon after given a new role in the ‘Elite Programme' and covering Academy sessions when they needed me, working closely with the U13s and U14s, whilst completing my UEFA B.

I was working with AFC Sudbury’s full-time boys programme, volunteering some days and going out with them on a match day in ‘real-world’ football in the Essex Senior Reserve League and more recently the Essex and Suffolk Border League- Step 9 and 8. This was a great experience for me as a coach, proper Saturday football, learning the ins and outs, honing my skills on what it takes to win on a bumpy muddy pitch with 16-17 year olds.

I learnt loads on pragmatic coaching, our goal has been promotion and we achieved that two seasons out of two. The formula was to get ahead by being relentless, forcing mistakes, make the other team tire (which they would at around 60 minutes) and punish them, if it was tight we’d stick the ball far off the pitch as possible- by some nice swings or zip-wire. This has been the best experience for me in my coaching journey and I highly recommend any coaches who want to go into senior football, to start at that level and get an education-its not all rondos and pretty patterns.

For the last 12 months I have been Head of the Girls Academy at Sudbury (U17-U19), it has yet again been a great learning experience, coaching female athletes and having to adapt to a more democratic, question and answer style. I soon realised that the female athletes at the club liked to have a say and I felt that to get the best out of them I wanted to harness that in a positive way.

I created a Leadership committee that would bring ideas or concerns, that worked well. Again, this role has been so rewarding watching them grow, some of them only playing 11v11 for the first time. I recruited a second wave of girls there, ready to go for next season with two squads, it’s a really exciting time at Sudbury for female football.

Any achievements or anything you would like to highlight

I’ve coached against Paul Lambert and the entire first team coaching staff at ITFC, my players were playing a friendly against the academy U14s, they played all the superstars and he didn’t do too much coaching that night!

Winning the Primary Cup and Tommy Thompson Cups was a huge highlight last season. We had to win 8 games to win the Primary Cup and the Tommy Thompson was a cracking final against a tough rival side.

What examples of communication was needed as a Prison Officer and how have them experiences helped you to communicate as a football coach?

Empathy and the ability to turn your hand to communicate with people from different backgrounds have been huge. I always had it in me to want to help people and when you think about it, that’s what coaching is, if you’re in it for those reasons which most of us are- that was a definitely a transferable skill.

With communication I always try to be relatable, in the service they have a practice called dynamic security, that’s where you listen in to see what you can pick up in innocent conversations between inmates - I do that with my players! What are they up to outside your session? 'pals with who? What school friends do they have? Who do they know from the opposition - how does that make them feel?

I’ve used this with males, females and youth players - it gets you knowing them without them knowing immediately but if you care, you’ll retain information and use that in conversations with them.

As an Elite Development Coach at Ipswich, what were your main responsibilities and how was the environment prepared for what you was expected to achieve?

I had a very talented group of U13s and U14s who I led, my responsibility was probably to make them an ‘academy player’ for Ipswich but for me I didn’t want to just create a carbon copy academy footballer.

I saw my job as making them a better footballer, yes. Technically improve them, absolutely. I wanted to make them better in the psychological and social corners. They were and are a talented group and I had no means written any of them off, but I wanted them to first of all have fun and actually learn lessons about humility and what it's like to be a group.

I exposed them to different tactics and different styles of play, maybe I tried to do too much but I left the role with lots of positive messages from parents, some of which I still speak to now so I like to think I did well by them lads.

What were some of the key common areas of focus for the players, and was there any area which needed development more than others?

I think as a Cat 2 pro academy program they wanted to focus on playing short from the back and through the thirds, which is great until you’re on the back pitch in the middle of nowhere, its bobbly as anything and there's no space!

On those days I wanted to test them, could we set up two targets and get it to the half way line on that day? Could we have players ready in the loose to pick it up? Who’s anchoring the target? Does the GK squeeze the defenders up to make the pitch smaller? Because they’re lessons, they will get in the future, every now and then I wanted to go off the cuff with them to give them that education.

I think every group is different, but that group were very technically good, they needed some focus on the social/psychological side and me and my assistant brought the group together. We changed the Captain to a more natural person, a lad called Pearcey who naturally brought the group together-great kid.

What are some of the main considerations when transferring between coaching male and female youth players? Is there any attributes that each could learn from each other?

My main considerations were being conscious of the physical output. Clearly there are some differences in the athletic, physiological make up when comparing male and female athletes. I would generally expect a faster paced session from the boys, with longer bouts of high intensity. With female athletes, the technique was normally particularly good, and they would ask much better questions.

These are quite sweeping statements but to answer your question, female players definitely seemed to hang on to your every word more in my experience, the intent to learn and maintain focus, some male players could definitely use that focus.

Male players were generally more astute in terms of football knowledge, they had played more and watched more. Female players could do with watching more football- watch your position, the shape, terminology used by the commentator and analysts. I believe male players should watch more too, but I just found they had a better base knowledge. Like I said this is a very blanket statement, but these are my observations and opinion.

What’s been best for your career development so far and what are you doing to keep upskilled?

The best experience as previously mentioned has been working at Step 8 and 9 with a fellow UEFA B coach in Craig Power, we have been out every weekend in the season to all sorts of different venues. The in action and post action deep reflections we have had about player development, pragmatic coaching and figuring out what we do on a weekly and daily basis that made us successful, this helped me no end.

Watching, learning and having those reflective conversations with our boss Danny Laws (UEFA A, FA tutor) was also invaluable experience. Daily interactions with high performing people and allowing deep, honest, harsh reflection about yourself has helped me improve massively.

Just get out there and watch people coach and take sessions too, get your hands dirty and figure out what works and why. Utilise your colleagues or a mentor if possible.

To keep remaining upskilled I am currently doing a distance learning degree in coaching performance in football, that is keeping me suitably busy and learning more with every week’s content.

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

My biggest challenge was knowing no one in football, not being that ‘qualified’ and being rusty. I overcame this by being brave and just throwing yourself out there. I put myself out there by getting on my Level 2 and upskilling, whilst volunteering at my local grassroots club, volunteering at Ipswich Town and Colchester- watching coaches, taking some tools from each of them and putting them in my tool box.

Just getting my hands dirty and being brave and busy helped me a lot.

How’s the future looking, what’s next?

Well I have just moved out to Florida, where again I’ve not known anyone! I’ve got myself out there and got a job as Director of Youth Programs at XL Sports, so continuing to work full-time in football.

I have visits to a couple of universities planned out there where I am hoping to get stuck into volunteering, as I would love one day to be a Head Coach at college level in the US. I’m going to have to earn my stripes and bide my time, but I believe if you keep pushing forward and doing the right things it’ll work out!

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