Joe is the Head Coach and CCC at North Sydney United Football Club.
How did you first get into coaching?
I played for my regiment whilst serving in the British Army (Royal Engineers) and was in limbo with my career. I was involved a lot in football and was told in order to further my career I needed to concentrate on being a solider much more. As a result, I stopped playing but started to watch the coaching and putting out cones etc. I became a kind of assistant and just being in and around the players helping organise sessions, travel and other admin. During my last tour of Afghanistan in 2012, the caching educator for the British Army was also on the tour. As engineers, we were instructed to build a 5 a side football pitch using AM2 matting (a type of movable heavy duty Lego that helicopters can land on) in order for the instructor to facilitate an FA Level 1 course. I ended up on my first coaching course during my downtime in the middle of Helmand province.
You have been involved in NSU for 6 years now (I think), can you describe the change that has occurred?
When I first arrived in Australia I looked to volunteer at a local club. The club, North Sydney United gave me the opportunity to coach a U9 Development team. We had seven development teams in 2014 and trained on the grass pitch at Cammeray Oval. After the pitch was upgraded to synthetic the club was looking for someone to take it further and be more involved. At this point I was offered the role of head coach with the aim being to improve the club’s numbers, culture, coaching staff and try and make the significant investment by parents worth every penny. We now sit at twenty-seven teams across a two-tiered system, Academy and Development. The aim is to enthuse and improve players football ability but also their interpersonal skills and standards. We look to try and promote development players into the Academy and then onwards to rep standard football. We have a staff of around thirteen professional coaches working across the twenty seven teams and have looked to add more value to the program every year. We now have extensive injury prevention protocol, we set very high standards of preparation and planning for our coaches and we have tried to create a tight-knit team of people who put the kids first. We are looking into sports science and how that can further aid our development through the use of GPS and local business professionals like physio, high-end athletic training facilities and tapping into parents who have knowledge of these fields to further aid the club.
What changes have you seen that have made the greatest impact?
We set a culture whereby the players have some basic jobs and duties that aid their own professionalism and make them buy into the training and the club. They are expected to wear the right kit, have their shirts tucked in (U7-U11 I have found that after these ages no matter how far you push they will do their own thing), laces done up, and socks pulled up with shin pads on the inside of the socks. They are given a football each, it is their ball and they are responsible for it. They should place it in their training area before the session starts and also bring it to games. Teams are expected to applaud both sets of parents at the end of the game and they do so by the captain lining them up at halfway and making sure they thank the efforts of both sets of parents. Basically, in summary, we have a few small responsibilities in the early age groups that breed respect and professionalism across the club.
What steps are you taking to ensure all members of the club are engaged and developing? (development squads and social team support)
We send professional coaches to our social venues as “ground support”. These coaches are there to watch the sessions and help parent coaches improve their own skill set. They are careful not to intrude and take over, they are there to advise and guide coaches to make sure the players get the most out of it. We also try and ensure that all coaches at the club sign up to INSPIRE to further help their development. I am available by phone or email at all times for any advice or any help they may need. One the adult side we have coaches where possible and also under one of our main sponsors THE OAKS, organise events that help team bonding. The volunteer staff and board do most of this work and do a great job.
Can you give us some insights into what you believe makes a coach great and a club a great development focused club?
A coach can have every licence on earth, can have a CV packed full of winners medals and achievements but this doesn’t in my mind really mean all that much. I hire people who can’t sleep at night if they feel like one of their players are struggling either with their football or just generally. The greatest skill in coaching is the ability to enthuse and be followed, for every word you say to be soaked up and acted upon. The best coaches are great at understanding characters and have the emotional intelligence that comes naturally. If a coach gets their team to show up and love the game then the courses and the technical side of the game can be taught to them. In my opinion, you cannot teach emotional intelligence, it’ s a natural trait and I look for this foremost before anything else. For the club, it must have a common understanding and goal from top to bottom. The president must have the same ideas as the staff, coaches parents etc. The club must be transparent in its use of funds and put its heart and soul back into the club so the players get the absolute most out of it. The parents must be informed, educated and made to feel part of it. Communication around the clubs ideas, philosophy and culture are essential as well as all of these being acted upon and executed. The club must have harmony across all levels that everyone understands and works towards in order for it to improve and keep giving more to the players.