Saul, thanks for agreeing to share your coaching journey and views with coachingfamily.com. To start with, could you give us an overview of your background in coaching? Where did you start out and what led to you doing the work you do today?
At University I was captain of the football team, a team mate of mine had spent a summer coaching out in America, this really appealed to me, I meant to go out there for the summer after graduating, I loved it so much I spent two years out there. I was coaching for 3, some times 6 hours a day, that time was invaluable in developing my coaching style and understanding the pace and rhythm of a session which I believe is vital.
Who would you say has had the most influence on your coaching career so far? Are there any coaches or people outside football that inspire you?
I was fortunate enough to work under Tim Bradbury at Noga Soccer in New York. I hadn’t taken any coaching qualifications previously so I was a blank page. He is a real innovator and my coaching philosophy and methodology that I developed under him has stayed pretty much with me to this day.
When I Returned to England I was lucky enough to get a coaching position at Spurs academy, working with Danny Buck and Chris Ramsey really took my coaching to another level, they helped develop me into a coach of Elite Players.
I’m fortunate enough to now work at a world class academy and I’m surrounded by World Class coaches and can’t help but be inspired everyday.
You have had great success running PDA 1 to 1 football coaching sessions in the London area, what do you feel are the main benefits of 1 to 1 coaching for young footballers?
I get asked this question a lot. 1on1 training benefits players of all abilities.
In my 10 years of running PDA Football 1on1 Coaching I have developed players for the Academies of Arsenal, Chelsea, Aston Villa Spurs, Norwich and more. They have also gone on to sign Pro and play in the Premier League. I’m also immensely proud to have my former players represent their countries including England, Northern Ireland and Jamaica. This success has been down to developing technically excellent players with a programme that helps them be masters of the ball, dominate 1v1 and develop explosive dynamic moments with the ball. When working with older players I like to do a lot of position specific training. I have found this to be extremely effective particularly when players are going for trials at Pro Clubs.
I can’t stress enough the importance of individual technical practice if players want to play at a high level. Players should be doing at least 20-30 minutes a day of technical work if they want to be professional footballer. Working with a 1on1 technical coach helps stretch players and develop their technical game, they can then take this into their games and team practices. This is deliberate practice! People criticise un-opposed or semi-opposed practice. In my opinion they don’t really understand elite sports development. If your not master of the ball you have no chance, technique is the base from which all football comes. If you look at any top performing athlete in the world, Ronaldo, LeBron James, Rafa Nadal, all these guys are spending hours developing and mastering their technique.
The trick is as a coach to make the training stimulating and enjoyable. You need repetition to master and develop any skill, its how you package and deliver it. its our job as coaches to inspire and make our sessions challenging but also enjoyable.
Tell us about your new venture, My Personal Football Coach? It’s a fantastic concept. What’s the aim?
My Personal Football coach.com has been growing in my mind for the last few years. I wanted to create a world class technical programme that players and parents could access from anywhere in the world. This is a ‘how to, manual’ for developing the essential techniques needed to be an Academy and a Professional Footballer. The site is in effect a virtual 1on1 football coach.
The site is broken down in to essential techniques and then individual practices to master them. I will also be giving users weekly technical hints and tips and video blogs to support them in their development. Users can also choose to upload their clips and we will analyse them and in a live video chat give them a tailor made programme.
I think there is a big information gap in terms of how to develop players technically for Academy and Professional football. A lot of parents and players contact me wanting to know what they should be doing. The idea of this site was to be a support mechanism for all these people. Being their online 1on1 coach.
As youth coaches, and as a nation we speak a lot about developing more technically outstanding young footballers, but how should we go about actually doing it?
The simple answer to that is to focus more on technique. What does that mean? Spend more time on working on first touch, playing with both feet, introducing players to turns and dribbling skills and ensuring they get these into their muscle memory. 1v1 challenges and lots of SSG’S.
I am a foundation phase specialist with nearly 10 years experience of working in Premier League Academy football. Developing technique at an early age is vital, the older a player gets the more difficult it becomes.
If we can support players at 8-11 year olds we have a really opportunity of changing that players DNA for the better. By that I mean stretching them technically and mentally. Develop positive movement patterns that will stay with them for the rest of their footballing life and most vitally helping them in becoming two footed.
Every season we see a new trend develop in the professional game as top coaches and managers attempt to outwit each other, how can we, as youth coaches, stay ahead of the game and prepare our players for the future game? Is it possible to predict how the game will look in 10 years time?
I think think the English game will be in a much healthier position in 10 years. The quality of player coming through the academy systems in this country is very high, we have now fortunately got some great people working also in the FA youth set up under Gareth Southgate.
As a coach its vital to have an open mind or Growth mindset, to borrow from Dweck. Don’t get stuck in your ways or a routine. Stay fresh, open to new ideas and what other people can teach you. If your going to your session and just going through the motions, then that’s a problem. I work full time in football and coach everyday, I have to keep being reflective and ensure I’m challenging myself and more importantly the players.
How do you like to educate yourself as a coach? Everyone is different, what works for you?
I try and see as many other top quality practitioners as possible, I’m fortunate to work at one of the best Academies in the country so I have plenty of opportunity to watch and learn from other great coaches. I am also lucky enough to visit Ajax regularly, watching Michel Hordijk the foundation Phase Lead and Skills Coach is a real inspiration.
I also try and watch top players as much as possible, whether in live games or training. I’m interested in the technical assets of elite performers and how they achieve success on the pitch, I then try to replicate this in my individual sessions.
To finish off, what do you see yourself doing in 10-15 years time and how will you go about achieving your aims?
10-15 years I would like to be Lead Coach of the Foundation Phase where I am currently or I would like to be working for a federation or a governing body. Supporting technical development in players on a national level. I am extremely passionate about player development and the best way to support and create elite players.
All I can do is keep learning and keep developing. Working with elite and aspiring elite players on a daily basis really helps, also now I have been doing this for 10 years I have seen a complete player development cycle. Seeing this again and creating a greater understanding will really help.
Make sure you check out the great work Saul does at mypersonalfootballcoach.com and follow him on Twitter @MyFootballCoach