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Leigh Robinson: Record Breaker With Taunton Town FC

Name, age, where you are based?

Leigh Robinson, age 37 based in Exeter, Devon

Past and current roles

I spent 10 years working for Premier Soccer, who then became Premier Sport, delivering football and sport into Schools across East Devon. One day, a parent came to me and asked if I could help out coaching his men’s team and I have been working my up the ladder coaching men’s teams ever since.

I am currently manager of Taunton Town FC. We have just gone the entire season unbeaten away from home, the only team in the UK from Premier League to Non League to achieve this, naturally going on to win the league in the process. Last season we also qualified for the FA Cup First Round Proper and were the lowest ranked team to do so.

Tell us a bit about coaching non-league football…

Managing and coaching in non-league is challenging but rewarding. At the level we are at, pretty much all players have been at a pro club at some point either as a youngster and got released or have come out of the pro game towards the end of their career so the standard is pretty good. Players ages range from 18 to 35.

The season is a 9 month marathon of training, travelling and matches. You come across so many different challenges over the year, in particular how playing conditions change over the months due to the weather. You have to be able to adapt to this constantly with different game plans and tactics. I am a big believer that you cannot play the same way each week and having the ability to be flexible is key.

Is there a lot pressure in managing a non-league team?

Meeting expectations of the club and supporters is something that is always top priority for any non-league manager or coach. Football management these days is all about there here and now. You can win 10 straight games and be heralded a genius. Lose the eleventh and you are questioned as to whether you know what you are doing. I try to create an environment whereby we try not to live in the moment and always look at the bigger picture, never getting too high after a win and never panicking after a defeat.  

What’s been the best thing for your personal development?

I guess in this job you learn so much though experience. I am 6 years into my current job at Taunton Town FC and 10 years as a whole. I still learn new things each week from dealing with certain situations off the pitch, coming up against different match situations and finding new ways to win. Also, learning from mistakes is a huge part of any coach’s development.

What things have been a hardship or testing?

Money! The least enjoyable time of the season is the summer when all players are free agents and the scramble begins. Players will receive offers from other clubs (in terms of weekly wages) and most likely inflate that offer from the other club to leverage a better deal from you. As a manager you have to make a decision when to improve an offer or when to stand your ground and walk away from a deal if they ask for more. You would hope that the most important decision for players in the summer is going to the club with the best environment, or where they think they can improve/enjoy their football most but all too often nowadays it becomes about money sadly.

What things would allow you to develop more as a manager/coach?

I am not sure if the FA offer such a thing but separate coaching workshops in addition to courses would be really beneficial to coaches. Current coaching courses in this country are ridiculously long, not to mention expensive, and often coaches are put off as they either cannot give such a length of time due to their day job, or in my case my part-time football job.

If there were a way to deliver workshops on various topics, particularly on weekday evenings rather than weekends, I think this would be really popular as it would make it accessible to so many coaches in the UK who can then keep learning and keep their coaching brains ticking over!

Coaching courses are like driving tests. You are under pressure and you have to do it certain way to get the qualification. No one drives like they did on their driving test and no one coaches like they did on their course, you find a way which works for you. So the ability to learn and gain ideas in a non-pressurized environment would be fantastic.

Do you feel coaching abroad can be beneficial to British coaches?

I think it can only be beneficial to experience coaching abroad in terms of learning how to get your message across in different cultures and adapting to different playing styles. For example, the football here is fast, frantic and physical whereas in other parts of the world it is slower and a lot more technical. As a coach or manager if you can embrace these differences, succeed in another country and add more strings to your bow, this can only be good for your career moving forwards as you will be able to adapt better to all sorts of different situations.

What do you think is the perception of British coaches?

I think on the whole we are frowned on a little bit due to the physical nature of our game over the more technical coaches perhaps on the continent. Certainly in the professional game you see this, but it is great to see younger coaches getting experiences abroad and making a name for themselves. A great example of this is Graham Potter at Ostersunds in Sweden who hopefully will get a job in the football league here one day because of how well he has done abroad. He has backed himself to succeed in a different country when perhaps opportunities weren’t great here in the UK at the level he wanted to be at. In my opinion the FA should have a PR machine behind guys like this as you have to shout about success stories and it helps the perception of British coaches as a whole.

What does the future hold for you?

My job at the moment is to keep learning, keep my current club Taunton Town is moving in the right direction and I’m enjoying the journey. At the level I am at I have a bit of a disadvantage in terms of securing jobs higher up the ladder because I will often be up against as ex pro who have 500 odd league games under their belt and they will be favoured for any position. I am fine with this though, it is what it is and I have learned to accept it.

It would be great to work abroad one day should the right opportunity present itself, particularly in a part of the world where the game is still developing. 

Inspiration for anyone reading this..

Create memories. Last season we were the lowest ranked team in the UK to be in the FA Cup first round proper. We played at home in front of a crowd just short of 3000. My family were there and it was such a proud day, one that I will never forget. You couldn’t pay my Mum to watch a game of football, she hates it but there she was for weeks after, showing her mates the videos from Match of the Day.

Whether you are in this game to develop youngsters, work at as high a level as possible or simply win trophies, keep focused on the memories that you are trying to create and keep working towards them. When they come, make sure you never forget them!

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