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Heading Up Southport F.C Academy - Darren Wildman

'... the average time i'd had with the grassroots teams was roughly an hour per week. This increased tenfold at the academy, being able to plan for sessions in the region of 12 – 14 hours per week'

Name, age, where are you based?

Darren Wildman, 45 years old, Lancashire, England

Current Role:

Head of academy based at Southport Football club. My main roles are to enhance the player and the coach development pathway, design and implement coaching curriculum and deliver methodologies, mentor the team of coaches, expand and deliver the clubs community programs through the club community football pathway, and launch and deliver the clubs scholarship program into the 2020/21 season.


I hold the UEFA B license, both outfield and Goalkeeping and have been accepted as an A license candidate into 2020. I am also working towards my affiliate tutor license with the Football association. I also hold medical qualifications as well as the FIFA medical diploma and I am a member of FMARC (FIFA’s medical arm) having served as a Royal Marine medic for 5yrs when a lot younger.

If I could give a valuable piece of advice to anyone embarking on a pathway or coaching qualification it would be to remain open minded and adaptable to whatever you are being taught. I believe that a good educator should be open to adapting and developing their principles every day. Try to remember not to settle on your ‘philosophies’ early in your coaching journey, every day is an opportunity to learn so maintain an open and fluid approach to your philosophy.

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

I played at semi pro level when I left the military, but injury put pay to that, sort of dipped my toe into the west lancs prem and counties football but I had fallen out of love with the game and started a family, it was only when my son hit 8yrs old and was playing for a grassroots club that I started watching the game again. As is often the case, his coach quit, few parents knew id played a bit and I was ‘volunteered’ to be the kids’ coach. From there I started my coaching pathway and the rest is history so to speak. It’s interesting that now I have started to go down the coach education route how the differences in coaching players and coaching coaches present themselves. It’s a unique challenge and one I enjoy enormously.

To change the subject a little here; I think it’s important not to be too fixed in your future career ‘plan’ or ‘pathway’. Just try to work as hard as you can, take as many opportunities to sample different methods and approaches and then weigh up each opportunity as it presents, from there make a decision based on what you feel at that moment in time. Of course, its fine to have a plan as to where or what you want to do/go but, in my opinion, it is essential to remain open minded to any new opportunities that may come your way.

This ethos eventually brought me to Southport FC, which in all honesty wasn’t really on my radar in terms of where I wanted to work – more due to being happy as a grassroots coach. However, I decided to give it a go, mainly because the club ‘felt right’ if that makes sense? and happily, I haven’t regretted that decision since.

What benefits has moving into an Academy setup brought you?

Coaching in an academy set up has presented me with some unique opportunities. Firstly; time on the pitch, the average time i'd had with the grassroots teams was roughly an hour per week, this increased tenfold at the academy. Being able to plan for sessions in the region of 12 – 14 hours per week, plus classrooms sessions, challenged my session structures and planning, as well as ensuring that my Plan/Do/Review became more honed and tuned into the needs of the players and team as a whole. Every day became a chance to learn and create new delivery through testing new ideas and strategies.

Secondly, I quickly learnt the value of forming strong connections and relationships in and around the football and education sector. For many this is a part of football that is often frowned upon or looked on as being a negative thing which only occurs in the football industry. But I have found as I have worked in various backgrounds and industries, that this tends to happen in any industry you care to mention, not to mention life in general. I don’t feel that there is anything misleading or untoward about presenting yourself in a professional and personable way within your chosen industry and enjoying a positive and mutually beneficial relationships that you inevitably form as a result of this.

I have met some wonderful people at Southport and within Lancashire and Liverpool, both on and off the pitch and to some I owe a huge debt of gratitude for how much they helped, nurtured and advised me along the way. I often find myself casting a look back and thinking of how many errors I made which allowed me to learn and ultimately improve as a coach and a person. There has been numerous times over the previous few years where I have entered what is often called the ‘ugly learning’ zone, a zone where you feel out of your depth, worried that you are looking silly or just not doing what you are supposed to do, but without those moments I think it’s unlikely that I would be where I am now personally and professionally.

One of the best terms that still resonates with me, and one I try to tell players and coaches to abide by is; ‘’there is no such thing as a stupid question’’ , it’s a simple quote, but once conveyed allows anyone you are working with to feel comfortable enough to ask the questions that they may of previously felt uncomfortable in asking, as the saying goes ‘’to get a positive outcome, you need to create a positive environment’’

What is your training focus with your current players and what are your main duties in your role?

I tend to be involved in the day to day planning and delivery side of things at this level. I am lucky to have a great team of coaches but a lot are volunteers and that presents a unique set of problems as I am the only coach on a salary. However, I strongly believe in the importance of allowing the coaches some autonomy in terms of what they plan and how they wish to deliver it. There is still a core plan we work to in order to better deliver the principles of the club’s ethos, but each coach is able to deliver with the freedom he or she wishes in order to create a varied and enjoyable curriculum for the players.

As a club we believe passionately about development over results, we try to create a balance between game related and technical practices (depending on the needs and developmental phase of the players), we look to ensure that we set an environment where the player can feel confident enough to try new things without fear of failure and we believe in creating a culture where players are not afraid to fail.

I am often asked what my coaching philosophy is and find it a tricky question to answer. Football is a sporadic and random sport, to then try to be specific on how you deal with any given situation, I feel, is setting yourself up to fail early in a player’s development. There are just too many random factors involved. I always raise an eyebrow to coaches who are steadfast about ‘the way to do things’ and who vehemently rebuff anyone who might have a different approach or idea.

There are multiple issues with this approach, the main one being, if you think you have already ‘completed football’ and you have learnt all you need to know, then I am convinced that at some stage you will be in for a very large shock! The second, and for me, main issue here is that you are closing yourself off from new opportunities to learn, and through that develop yourself.

So, when I am now asked the question ‘what is your philosophy’ I tend to answer with – ‘depends on the game and the players’.

Over the past 5 years I have been lucky to work with some amazing coaches, ex pros and current industry respected coaches, I am not going to name drop, it does my head in when I hear others do it; but if I had any main advice from past experience and learning it would be;

Be adaptable.

Its important that you are flexible in your approach to coaching and delivery. Maintaining an ability to adapt your own methodology to suit a constantly changing and challenging landscape is a vital skill which many claim to have but in reality few possess, it can take time to develop, and you will make mistakes, but if you can develop this you will invariably enjoy success.

Take responsibility.

You are going to make mistakes, it is how you learn, but by accepting responsibility for mistakes, taking on that responsibility to see that it is a way to improve yourself every day, you will increase the quality and opportunity to improve each and every child you coach with the best possible footballing experience you can.


‘Create a positive environment and you will get a positive outcome’. Children and adults alike thrive on positivity, bear that in mind and you will see a huge difference in your outcomes. Easier said than done at times but I cannot stress how important this is in order to develop players and people.

Accept failing as part of the journey.

Things are going to go wrong, its how we as coaches learn, once you accept that you’ll be a lot calmer in your planning and delivery, we all have the perfect session that we plan, but I can honestly say that I have never had a session pan out exactly as I wrote it or planned it, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, but as long as you adapt and look to change your planning in your review section then you’ll be fine moving forward.

Keep smiling, and remember why people play the game when you coach. For fun.


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