'Being able to watch masters of their craft on a daily basis has been invaluable – I was fortunate to be working with the Youth Team and hence observe closely Chris Wilder and Alan Knill during their title winning season at Northampton Town....'
Name, age, where are you based?
Lee Garlick, 32, Northampton UK
Current and past roles:
· Asst Lead YDP Coach at West Bromwich Albion FC (Current)
· FA Coach Mentor (Current)
· Head of Coaching at Northampton Town FC
· Lead YDP Coach at Northampton Town FC
· Football Development Officer at Northampton Town Football in the Community Programme
· UEFA A Licence
· FA Advanced Youth Award
· BSC (Hons) Sports and Exercise Science
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I knew from a young age I wasn’t good enough to play professionally, but didn’t want to give up on a career in football, so coaching seemed the next best thing. I have been very fortunate to progress through at one club, starting as a volunteer coach at 16 years of age, progressing to part time coaching in the community scheme before moving into a full time role as FDO for the community scheme at Northampton Town.
During this time I volunteered in the academy, working as an assistant coach across multiple age groups. After several years of this, and a brief spell of coaching in Australia, I was in the right place at the right time whereby the introduction of the EPPP stipulated that clubs must have full time staff in specific roles.
The academy manager at the time offered me the role of Lead YDP coach running the 12-16 age groups, a role which was new to the club. I spent 3 years in this role before progressing into the Head of Coaching role. 3 years of developing coaches was a great learning curve for myself, however getting back on the grass with players was a driving factor for my move to WBA in a coaching capacity once again.
Any achievements you would like to highlight?
I wouldn’t say I have had any major achievements as such, maybe because I am the type of person who is never satisfied with where I am and always want more from myself. I have been very fortunate, through spending several years at one club, to witness boys go through their personal journey to the first team from a young age.
Sitting in the stands and seeing a boy make his debut, knowing you have played a very small part in helping them achieve their goal, is a very fulfilling feeling. I think back to the struggles these boys had at younger age groups, the setbacks they faced and the way they, over time, grew and developed to become a young professional – which I now know is the reason why I coach, for moments like that.
What experiences and skills did working as a Development Officer provide you, and how can such roles working with clubs and the community help to build a coach’s career pathway?
Working within the community scheme was a valuable experience for me, and something I would recommend to anyone looking to make a career in coaching. The ever changing, challenging environments of a school hall or playground were invaluable environments for shaping my ability to think quickly and deal with the unknown.
It definitely helped me craft my communication skills, and my ability to differentiate and individualise aspects of my coaching – dealing with a class of 30 children, all with different needs and motivations, was by no means an easy task! But over time you find strategies and ways to succeed, and I certainly have carried some of those skills with me to date.
Also, being in a management role and leading up a programme came a significant amount of responsibility, something that in a professional sense I had not experienced before this role. Problem solving was definitely a skill set I developed during this time, as well as many others.
Almost 10 years working at Northampton Town F.C, how was it and how did the club’s academy evolve in that time, to keep up to date with the latest youth development strategies and policies?
My time at Northampton Town was excellent, and I am very grateful to the club and the Academy especially for the trust and belief they put in me. I saw a huge change in the way the Academy was run, mainly due to the implementation of the EPPP standards. The club went from 3 full time staff to 8, increasing contact time, growing multi-disciplinary departments and working within stricter guidelines.
As a Category 3 club we had little to go on, so a lot of it in the early years was trial and error, learning from mistakes and going off the experience of the senior staff. Luckily myself and Mark Lyons (Lead FP Coach at the time) were fresh out of university and had a keen interest in the off-field side of player development also. We were tasked with writing performance plans and putting the experience of our Management onto paper – something which was a big task but allowed us to gain an insight into the complete runnings of an Academy.
As years progressed, more full time staff were employed, and the level of work continued to grow. I think the EPPP focus caused a shift towards clubs having more “specialists” in different disciplines, rather than people with a diverse knowledge and skillset.
What are the main role differences between a youth phase coach and a Head of Coaching role, and what skills are useful for a coach to have for the latter role?
The main difference between the two roles, and for me personally the reason I stepped back into a Lead Phase role recently, is in a nutshell that a Head of Coaching is responsible for coaching the coaches whereas the Lead Phase was responsible for coaching players.
Both roles are similar in the sense that they both involve developing people, helping them progress with their performance, the only difference being the way in which you operate. Communication and listening is key, as is building relationships – people who respect you and you are respectful of are more likely to listen, ask for help or follow your guidance whichever side of the touchline that fall.
Obviously having a high level of coaching experience or knowledge helps when being a HoC, but also having the confidence to say you don’t hold the answers, or asking for help yourself is key.
In your opinion, what considerations must a youth coach make when supporting the development of a player from youth to senior levels?
In my opinion it is vital that a coach equips a player with the relevant tools required to succeed at the highest level. Understanding that the professional game is a whole different animal to the U18 game, and players must be ready to cope, and more importantly thrive in this domain. I do not however believe you should merely copy the senior environment at U18 level, which I see happen a lot.
Players need to be challenged, and need to fail, as more often than not when a young player plays in the first team (especially at the lower levels) they will experience some failure. As coaches it is our duty to make sure that they have faced challenges in their journey, some which they succeed with ease but some which they have to struggle to overcome, to work hard at, to fail at many times, before coming out on top.
These challenges must be relevant and supported appropriately, but I feel that the role of the coach is to ensure a player does not face a challenge for the very first time at senior level. The challenge may look different, but they should have some experiences to fall upon to help them find the solutions.
What’s been best for your development so far and what challenges have you had to overcome?
Courses and qualifications aside, the best development for me is talking to other coaches within the game, at any level. I found that for me personally, some of my best learning or moreso curiosity comes from informal chats with other coaches or people developers.
Being able to watch masters of their craft on a daily basis has been invaluable – I was fortunate to be working with the Youth Team and hence observe closely Chris Wilder and Alan Knill during their title winning season at Northampton Town.
The level of detail and planning, how they brought this into their training sessions, the style of play and energy, and how the coaching staff interacted with the players was fascinating. It is no wonder that he and his coaching tea have gone on to achieve such success.
Photo: From within a 'Coaches Coffee Club' meet
You’re also an F.A Coach Mentor. What does this entail and how useful have your past experiences been in terms of being able to support other coaches’ learning?
The FA mentoring programme is an initiative which is in place to support coaches working within the grass roots game. My role is to provide assistance in any way shape or form I can to ensure coaches are developing, but more importantly creating a positive and safe environment for the many young players playing across the country.
I took this role just as I was about to become Head of Coaching at Northampton Town, as I felt it would enable me to gain more hours practicing the craft of coach development. I continue this role to date, as I have made many friends through this role. I believe I have actually learnt more from these coaches than I could ever teach them – the skill set of some of the coaches working in the grass roots game is incredible.
Communication, dealing with children, problem solving, enthusiasm and passion are some of the things which have blown me away by all the coaches I have had the pleasure of working with. And a high percentage of them do it all on their own, incredible!
You started the very successful ‘Coaches Coffee Club’. What’s this about and how can coaches get involved?
The Coaches Coffee Club was born of the fact that like I mentioned previously, some of my biggest learning and development during my career has been in informal settings – over a beer in the bar when on a residential course, chatting before a match to a fellow coach, on a bus journey etc.
This is what I wanted to recreate, an informal networking and sharing opportunity for coaches across all levels of the game. We have hosted a few physical events which have been great – there’s no stopping a group of coaches in a room chatting football!! This progressed into a monthly podcast, which was born of a selfish nature – it is a way for me to pick the brains of people I admire or enjoy chatting to, and so why not share it in the meantime?
What’s next for you, any thoughts on the future?
I am really enjoying being back on the grass working with young players, and that is where I see my career going for the next few years at least. I would like to test myself with U18 players, so that is a personal goal of mine.
I am still very much interested in the coach development side of things too, so this is something I know I will revisit in the future in some capacity. I am planning to take the Coffee Club online so that we can continue to grow the community of coaches getting together to discuss, debate, challenge and share, so keep an eye out for that, as well as more episodes of the Podcast of course.