XLR8 Coaching Spotlight: Jeremy Ferral-Smith

XLR8 Coaching Spotlight: Jeremy Ferral-Smith

What is your favourite team and who is your favourite player?

From birth I’m supposed to be an Arsenal supporter – or at least that’s what Dad pushed upon me. As time’s grown, I haven’t really been in touch with the EPL all the time – I still occasionally watch a game or two but mainly from a coach’s point of view and less about a team’s success. As far as a player goes for me, Eden Hazard when he was in his prime at Chelsea was the most exciting player to watch in the world. I love creative players that back themselves to make things happen, driving and dribbling at players, making those tight passes and creating something from nothing for their teams. They’re really the backbone for the team, and I love thinking about creating those special players that you instantly connect with successful teams.

Tell us about your journey within football and what initially got you involved in coaching?

Initially I got involved in coaching because of school, as I was completing a volunteer component for my Year 11 leadership. I thought football coaching was a very achievable way to get the hours done and was something I was interested in. Therefore, I started coaching and volunteering at my local club (Berowra) for the first 2 years and sort of hit the ground running immediately. Kids were very difficult to control and getting a good session every week was very draining – but seeing kids smile and enjoy football made it all worth it.

The second year I got heavily involved in completing my community licences (having done the first season on only a grassroots certificate) with the hope of learning just enough to be able to run effective controlled sessions. After running into Ed Ferguson, at least a handful of times, I finally came to apply to XLR8 and my coaching had grown every week from there on in! One year in XLR8 has been not only the biggest learning experience for me as a coach every week but it has also given me opportunities I could have never accessed at just one NSFA club. The biggest approval I still get is the smile on kids’ faces.

Who’s been your biggest influence within football coaching – and why?

There’s almost far too many! Within XLR8 there’s been so many mentors along the way that have shown me various versions of their idea of coaching. Every single one has influenced me as much as the next. Richard Byrne – the U20s Northern Tigers coach – last year was one of my key mentors. He taught me loads about the game but also a thought process to approaching the game and your players. Coaching isn’t just about knowing the game of football – it’s about understanding a process in order to simplify football for your players and create a culture to improve. He taught me to take a simple approach to session design and not to over-complicate your games, step back and ensure your players are enjoying it – and most importantly you’re enjoying it.

Other notable names within XLR8 and Northern Tigers have been Nick Marr of course and Ed Ferguson. I think the biggest thing is always taking on any influence you’re given when coaching – nobody has the perfect answer because it is so complex and remind myself all the time to stay open minded. It’s about creating your own style which is a mix and match of everyone else’s methods and something you’re comfortable with. 

Why do you coach with XLR8 and what do you love most about coaching?

XLR8 is such an exciting place to be a part of. From the friendships I’ve gained here and the mentoring opportunities I’ve been given it doesn’t compare to anywhere else I’ve been. There’s always a support network wherever you are or whenever you’re coaching, and I’ve really grown to love the collaborative approach we take to every environment – everyone has a common goal to improve the community football space within NSFA and more broadly Australia.

For coaching – I can’t help but love the ability to inspire and engage players in a sport I’ve always loved. I think it’s the most rewarding thing in the world to have players who not only look up to you but also really want to be a part of the vision you’re making for them. Even further, to be part of XLR8 at such a defining time for football and having an ambitious and driven goal to achieve really drives me to be a better coach every day.

Describe a moment that has challenged you as a coach, and how did you overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge for me – and still my biggest challenge to date – is making every player in my team feel valued and creating meaningful connections with them and having the humility to let this happen. Last year, coming into the Turramurra United U13 Super League team a quarter of the way into the season I was plunged into overdrive to get to know the players and get them on board with my coaching. It really tested me. It’s not easy to have players find you inspiring or admirable straight away. It also requires a lot of trust between both parties and requires tonnes of work to want to get somewhere together. Getting teenagers on board is even harder – but it’s not impossible.

I find for myself it’s about not only making players accountable for the relationship, but also looking into myself and what I can do differently. I am too human just like them, I will make mistakes but what’s important is if I’m going to ask my players to put in 110% at training and aim to improve – I must too. Every session or game is an opportunity for them to improve and for myself to improve too – it’s all about being humble with where you’re at. You too aren’t perfect, and admitting that doesn’t make you a bad coach, not aiming to improve does.

What would be your advice to coaches and players that strive to improve themselves?

I think the most important thing is having a set goals that are based on things that not only what you’re bad at – but also what you’re good at or enjoy. I always tell my players at the start of the season ask yourself what you think you can improve at but also what do you like doing? It’s not only important to recognise what you lack in your game, but also motivate yourself to keep doing what you like and get better at it too.

For example, as a coach I love making sessions that engage players and ensure they have fun, it’s about collective enjoyment, and so for me my biggest weakness is creating individual coaching points for my players. I won’t stop aiming to make enjoyable sessions – and pushing myself to find new ways of doing it – because that is what motivates me to coach (like a player that loves to dribble is motivated to play football when he’s dribbling). But then at times I need to make clear decisions to work on my weaknesses that may be tedious or difficult for me – but it’s essential to make me a better coach and the same for players. It’s about balancing your plans to improve between what you love and what you lack.

In one word describe your role as a coach?

Role Model

When you’re a coach, you’re a role model first and a football coach second. You are still the person you were when you arrived at the field as you are when you’re coaching – you’re a person that all your players look up to and respect. Being a good coach requires you not just creating good players but creating good people well-rounded for society. I think a lot of coaches really need to ask themselves first and foremost, “Am I a good person for these players, and am I making them good people?”, before he asks himself if they’re becoming better footballers or if he’s making them win games.

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