Interviews

Published on March 14th, 2018 | by Harry Dunning

‘Young British football coaches are not getting career support’

Football coaching in the UK is in the midst of a participation problem – compared to other large footballing nations, numbers are on the decline.

So if coaching and management is how you wish to make your career in football, what support are young British coaches getting in a bid to achieve their goals?

Aaron Blackwood, nephew of Eastenders actor Richard Blackwood, fell out of love with playing the game but sought a route back into football from the touchline.

If you starting playing competitively at an extremely young age, the trials and tribulation of Sunday league kids football can often become exhausting.

Be it expletive-shouting parents on the sidelines or over-zealous coaches roasting kids barely out of nappies for not winning a header; the joy of football can sometimes be lost.

Return and disillusion

Blackwood, 23, found that his passion to coach became his eventual gateway back into the game.

“My interest in coaching developed more and more as I went through a frustrating period of falling out of love with the playing side of the game,” he said.

The Ex-Worcester City youth player started coaching in the sixth form at school

After he stepped away from playing, he decided whilst at sixth form he wanted to realise his new found ambition to coach. He also found that stepping onto the touchline gave him a new vigour for the sport.

“I started to watch the game through a different set of eyes, asking a lot more questions and started to pick the brains of other coaches – I suppose you can say that’s where my interest really sparked from.”

But where to begin if you are a young coach with no coaching badges and lack of ability to pay?

“My experience started in sixth form helping coach the year-9s (U-14s) and organising the sixth form (U-19s) team. At 19 years old, I set up and managed Studley FC U-18s in the Midlands Floodlit Youth League ahead of the 2013/14 season which was a real eye-opener, mainly because of the off-the-field running of the club.”

Building a CV

As with most careers or passions, you often have to try and gain plenty of experience as quickly as possible, which is what the newly-blooded coach set out to achieve.

Blackwood is carving a career in non-league football

“I spent three seasons at Studley FC U-18s, winning the Midlands Floodlit Youth League Western Division (14/15) with a fantastic group, before being asked to take over Highgate United’s U-18s ahead of the 2016/17 season, a good club with a lot of ambition – I was involved at Highgate for a year before leaving to set up Feckenham FC U-18s.”

Playing football in a league which often turns out plenty of academy system players in the West Midlands, helped play a role in setting himself up for a momentary switch to men’s football.

“My experience in mens and senior football came on an interim basis, when West Midlands (Regional) League side Bartley Green Illey FC removed their Manager in January 2015.

“I knew the chairman and he asked me to oversee the team until the end of the season who were rock bottom, we had a good 14 games together and managed to put a string of positive results to eventually finish 12th.”

“My intention was to stay involved with Bartley Green Illey FC for the 2015/16 season, but I was asked in the summer if I’d be interested in taking charge at Midland League Division Two side Feckenham FC, and with the club playing at a better level and closer to home I jumped at the opportunity – which is where I am ’til this day.”

The support system

The problems facing football in this country are varied and plentiful, but and a lack of coaches doesn’t appear to be particularly high on the FA’s agenda.

But plenty would argue that more needs to be done to cultivate a better culture of turning out young coaches. Blackwood believes that badges and levels could be funded just like university.

He argues: “If you were to go to university to study for a degree to pursue a career, you’d spend £9,000 per year, but there’s help in paying that tuition back. In football, earning your badges should be no different.

The young coach believes advice from his peers has stood him in good stead

“The costs are nothing short of ridiculous, but in this country, in my opinion, there is also a cultural issue which isn’t just in football and sport, it’s across everything within society.

“I received no real help directly from the FA, but that’s not to say others haven’t [helped].

“Without the guidance of previous managers and people’s footballing opinions that I hold in high regard, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today and that has nothing to do with the FA.

“They have updated the coaching badges and improved certain facilities and given grants for 3G pitches, which is what we train on, but is that enough?”

A lack of minority managers

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Chris Hughton last month became the first black team boss to win the Premier League manager of the month award.

But, despite black British players featuring prominently in professional football, non-white senior coaches and managers remain a rarity.

‘There seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches’

Blackwood said: “I’d like to see more people of colour being encouraged to pursue a career on the sideline – those that have ambition, drive, a willingness to learn and be successful will eventually get opportunities.

“But I feel more needs to be done. The figures are alarming, considering the pool of talent out there. I believe at all levels, but at the elite level especially, there seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches.”

So is positive discrimination needed to make things fairer? “I’m a strong strong believer in people being given opportunities on merit, so for me it’s important regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity people are given managerial and coaching posts because they’re deemed the best person for the vacancy.”

Whether Blackwood will be given chances to further develop a career in coaching remains to be seen, but he is optimistic.

“If it’s something I really want, then why not?”

“I’ll continue in non-league football, which is improving in quality year on year. Each level is becoming more and more professional in regards to matchdays, training, how players now look after themselves, and if I do well and opportunities present themselves, then we’ll see.”

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