'The majority of other doctors in the side still play across the non-league pyramid as work allows. This is broadly the case for the other, stronger nations too. We also have a few professional club doctors in our ranks as, inevitably, a lot of them have played a bit...'
Name, age and location
Daniel Collins. 38. Sussex but I get all over!
A few. Most people who follow me on social media probably know about my part-time role as the Head Coach of the Great Britain Medical Football Team, who have won their last two world championships, but I’m also Head of Football at a private school and I coach youth players at Crawley Town.
UEFA B licence and Youth Modules. I should actually be on my A licence, but the public health emergency means the course has been suspended for a bit, so I’m spending the time on lots of other professional development work. I’m taking some courses on video and data analysis currently and have a few other things lined up.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I think, like a lot of would-be coaches, I watched football differently from many other people. I’m a bit weird like that and couldn’t just ‘enjoy’ games. I was obsessed with how goals were constructed, how managers countered each other’s tactics, why teams played in a certain way and how players developed their technique. In my early twenties I had a medical issue which caused some lasting, if relatively minor, damage that meant playing was no longer an option - and I didn’t play at any level regardless - but I was still passionate about the game so I thought, ‘try coaching’. Turns out it was a good move!
My local adult grassroots club, who I will be forever grateful to, allowed me to coach their third team and put me through my initial badges; within a year I was coaching their first team and we developed together to win a national amateur cup competition, for which we received lots of regional media coverage, using mainly young players. I started working in various professional club community schemes and at non-league clubs. This was alongside having a full-time job in journalism and then PR and marketing.
An employer of mine where I was Head of PR, a very well regarded private school with an excellent reputation for producing athletes, encouraged me to coach one of its age group sides, which also ended up winning things, and we assisted the development of some representative players, but, more importantly I hope, we helped to develop good people, which is a cliché perhaps but always the aim if possible.
As for the Great Britain Medics job, I saw it advertised in 2016, had a few interviews and I was lucky enough to get the gig. They had been in the doldrums results-wise for a little while and didn’t want to simply make up the numbers again at the annual world championships, which had grown into a pretty big event. They all bought into what needed to happen, we changed the culture together and achieved some success.
I must have clocked up thousands of hours on the grass; learning, experimenting and making loads of mistakes (which is so important), but it got to the point where I essentially had two full-time jobs; the career in PR and marketing and also the football coaching. So my very supportive wife allowed me to focus on football full-time (and accepted the substantial pay cut that came with it!) But I still have multiple coaching roles - club, school, Great Britain - and do lots of guest sessions too, so I’m not sure it quite worked out the way she planned! I sometimes think not having been exclusively in the football ‘bubble’ my whole life has its advantages from a coaching point of view and offers a different perspective.
What have you taken away from these different roles and how have they supported your development?
You simply can’t stop learning and improving. It’s funny, you come into coaching as a know-it-all (at least I did!) and then quickly realise you know nothing and are horribly out of your depth. Then, as you gain experience and expertise, you become more confident and capable, but also appreciate there is still loads you don’t know and the certainties you once had about things simply aren’t there now - but that’s ok and part of the journey. If the best coaches in the world are still learning and improving, there’s no excuse for the rest of us not to be doing the same. I quite look forward to feeling out of my depth these days!
Also, there’s no one size fits all solution. The needs of a non-league U21s, an academy youth development squad, a senior grassroots side or a team of doctors who meet once a month are all very different - you have to be adaptable. I think in coaching, much like society generally at the moment, we can fall into this trap of judging ‘this way is right’ and ‘this way is wrong’ - whether that’s in something like opposed vs non-opposed practice, different coaching styles or the importance placed on winning. It doesn’t have to be binary! They are all tools in the box and there is room for nuance and different methods and beliefs. I took a law degree at university and one of the few things I can remember from it, and this applies to football, is that the best answer to most questions is ‘it depends’.
The other important lesson is that even small roles can open doors to something else. I can draw a pretty direct line from coaching a tiny grassroots third team in Sussex to being presented with a tournament gold medal at the Zofin Palace in Prague - that’s ridiculous when you think about it!
What’s it like coaching the Great Britain Medical Team?
The standard at the world championships is, fair to say, mixed. But the top teams who contest the final stages are pretty useful and getting stronger; we’ve got several players who were at academies and released before becoming doctors or who decided to go the academic route instead of pursuing professional football (it happens).
The majority of other doctors in the side still play across the non-league pyramid as work allows. This is broadly the case for the other, stronger nations too. We also have a few professional club doctors in our ranks as, inevitably, a lot of them have played a bit. There is a full futsal international in the current squad and probably Great Britain’s best known past player is prolific Scottish ex-professional striker Kenny Deuchar or ‘the Good Doctor’ as Jeff Stelling used to call him on Soccer Saturday!
The tournament is pretty intense - six games in seven days in a host city, with group stages and knock out rounds. You learn to manage your squad.
Some of the experiences it has afforded me have been great. We’ve been fortunate to train at Carrington, Manchester United’s training ground, the guys at Peterborough United take an interest in us, including the chairman Darragh McAnthony and Director of Football Barry Fry, who’s good mates with a former player and he’s come to watch matches and made a few phone calls in support over the years. Nottingham Forest have offered use of their facilities ... the game is pretty good to us. Some years ago, a past squad had sessions delivered by a coaching idol of mine, the late, great Eric Harrison - so there’s lots of these nice little links back to the professional game.
I enjoy the travel too. I’ve been to tournaments in Austria, the Czech Republic and Mexico and met some lovely people - footballers, coaches, supporters, health professionals and administrators from leagues abroad. Oleksandr Zinchenko of Manchester City came out to support a family member I believe, who was involved with the (very good) Ukrainian team in Mexico - so apologies to him for beating them! We had a friendly against Norway a few months ago, a very decent side with some current and former players from the Norwegian second and third divisions and I was asked if I’d like to come out to Norway to deliver guest coaching sessions at a club. Those sorts of connections build and build.
From a coach development point of view it’s advantageous. Very few coaches will get to experience international, knock-out format football, sometimes in big stadiums, and to represent your country in anything, I don’t care if it’s medics football or tiddlywinks, is pretty special. To get a world championship medal is the icing on the cake.
And, of course, I get to support NHS workers in what they love to do away from the daily grind and I take a lot of pleasure from that - perhaps more so in the current environment, which really puts football into perspective. What we do as coaches isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, even though we sometimes like to think it is!
Where do you see your coaching going and what skills do you think you will need to make the most of future opportunities?
Increasingly, I think coaches will become multi-skilled. Or at least have an appreciation and understanding of related disciplines. I’ve already spoken about data analysis and how that might allow us to adjust training or tactical approaches; you can already see this widely in aspects such as shot locations, set pieces, recruitment or how teams apply pressure.
We can also use technology to empower players - I like the example of the successful England U17s who were encouraged to come up with their own game plans in World Cup matches by being given opposition footage. Social and psychological development used to be overlooked or ‘one size fits all’ but more coaches now realise the importance of this ‘corner’ and value the individual. We’re seeing more specialist skills coaches, which I think is great and will only grow; throw-in specialists, corner routine experts ... it’s exciting, if a little overwhelming at times!
More and smarter people are entering the game all the time, thinking about things differently. That’s not to say older methods and values aren’t now applicable, far from it, but if you aren’t looking at how things are developing, learning news skills and making smart decisions, you’re going to get left behind and I don’t want that!
Have any coaches influenced you during your coaching pathway?
Edu Rubio, the former Head of Academy Coaching at MK Dons and current Crawley assistant, is a brilliant coach and I was fortunate to work alongside him on a session a short while ago. Lots of enthusiasm, intensity, a top communicator and some fascinating ideas on the game - he’s also a really nice person who went out of his way to say I had an open door to seek advice in the future should I need it. I’ve yet to find anyone with a bad word to say about him!
He won’t thank me for saying this, but I learned loads from watching Chris Agutter work in his time at Eastbourne Borough and now as manager of Hastings United. I’ve actually run out on him twice now for other offers shortly after he’s given me jobs, so I hope he doesn’t take it personally!
A quality coach (coincidentally we played informal football together as kids on a patch of grass in the same village) who delivers so much technical detail and considers every aspect of the game on and off field to create a fabulous culture - frankly he should be inundated with offers from National League clubs and constantly approached for academy professional development side roles; the brand of winning football his teams play in non-league, predominantly with young players, is awesome.
Early in my coaching journey, I toyed with the idea of going out to the States and Gary Curneen took the time to write me a nice email, which was good of him. He posts lots of good content for developing coaches. I’m also a big fan of Lee Garlick's writing and podcasts and I could listen to the ideas of Aaron Danks for hours - and have done through several podcasts he’s appeared on in the recent past.
I’ve found Chelsea boss Emma Hayes’ journey really inspiring and Lisa Fallon’s pathway as a broadcaster, grassroots, non-league and professional coach and analyst is fascinating. And lastly, Gary Walsh, a good mate who was brave enough to give me opportunities as a young coach when I might have ruined his team!
What’s next for you, any thoughts on your future?
I’ll listen to any offers!
I’d like to coach more women’s football at some point. I’ve done a bit now and loved it. I’m cautious about generalisations, but I find the coach/player dynamic in the women’s game refreshing in its lack of cynicism or closed minded thinking. It would also be nice to be part of the explosion in the growth of women’s football. But perhaps there are already too many men coaching in it (I would like to see more opportunities for women coaching in the men’s game too) and it certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a stepping stone for male coaches, in my opinion.
I’ve often thought about coaching abroad. I think it’s something that can really grow a coach, professionally and personally, and for some reason I’ve always seen Scandinavia or Canada as likely destinations - I have no idea why! And if my Italian ever improves from ‘exceedingly ropey’, I’d love to get an invite to have a nose about the Italian national centre at Coverciano - maybe one day! I also want to take a Masters degree in performance coaching or similar.
I’m really into video and data analysis at the moment and upskilling myself in those disciplines, so a job as a club analyst might appeal at some stage. I think if you can bring a coaching background to it and be a bridge between the management team and analysts, both in terms of communication and implementing the findings on the training field, it can only help.
And I want to give it at least one more crack with the doctors - I think I owe them that for all they are doing for us at the moment in their day jobs. And three world championship wins in a row has a nice ring to it!