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The surprising art to coaching talented players?

17.05.2021 @SaulCuttell

Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard! This quote has always stayed with me from a young age, and the art of coaching talent is something that intrigues me. So, I thought I would change tack a little and chat to a good friend mine who is also a Coach at West Bromwich Albion FC and does some amazing work. He even does his own podcast (The Coaches Coffee Club check it out here). I took this opportunity to speak to Lee Garlick about his refining art of coaching talented young players and what he does maybe a bit different to others.  We actually started off chatting about the nature of lockdown and how we have all changed our lives so much, even to the extent that we started to joke about reasons we make to leave the house, just to not mix work with home. But then Lee came out with the immortal line of ‘’I always find a reason, like we need some ground cumin, I better go to the shop’’. Brilliant and somewhat encapsulates Lee’s friendly, outgoing and light-hearted nature, which I think serves him very well in his coaching! I mean you’re more likely to learn from a coach that you like…right?

What was your route into football?

I started off asking Lee about his journey into football, and where his football journey had gone? He started in the ever humble and light-hearted way by saying ‘’I really wanted to be a professional football player when I was younger, but I was too fat. I loved football and wanted to be involved in some way. So, I went to university to study Sport and Exercise Science and simultaneously volunteered at Northampton Town Community while completing my coaching badges’’. It did strike me that Lee feels very passionately about his role as a coach. This came through vehemently in way he talked, which is refreshing to hear. He went on to say ‘’I also went to the USA as a coach, so I had a great time, travelling, learning, getting paid to do a job I love’’. I was beginning to wonder, what is different about Lee and how come he has made it so far in coaching, but I think it’s fair to say that his enthusiasm about coaching was probably a massive string to his bow. He said ‘’I also took any extra sessions I could, applied for work experience at Northampton Town, got involved with Saturday morning early bird clubs (before grass roots football got big) and basically turned my hobby into a job’’.

What made you different?

I did begin to wonder if it was Lee’s passion that made him different, or maybe helped him to get where he is now (i.e. volunteer coaching to then NTFC to now West Bromwich Albion FC). So, I went off-pisté to ask what was different about him, as there are thousands of coaches in the UK that would love to coach at a professional football team I’m sure. Lee’s answer was again given with a great sense of humility, which is endearing and warm. He stated ‘’do not underestimate the power of being reliable, humble and always willing to listen and learn’’. This resonated with me, as I feel like I have always done this too, but Lee carried on with ‘’I was always happy to be around other coaches like Ray Warbarton (Cobblers hero) and Trevor Gould and to learn from them, I was hungry, I wanted to do well and Trevor actually gave me my first opportunity when the Elite Player Performance Plan came in and a position became available. I think I was willing, had the right education. I had been volunteering at the club and I remained unassuming, which also helped me with the players. In fact, one thing that was mentioned about me on interviewing at West Bromwich Albion FC was that the players related to me and liked my session, which I think is always a positive when you make an impression, but are also willing to build good relationships with the players’’. He went on to state ‘’ I also have had multiple skill sets that were never beneath me, for example being a mini bus driver for the lads, helping them with pastoral issues, training and developing them and helping to maintain good relationships with all’’. I couldn’t help but feel that there is a real lesson there for young people in this day and age to think about, especially if you want to get ahead. In fact myself and Lee often talk about great books to read, and one that I believe we have both read is ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie. This is a great book and worth reading if you want to foster better relationships with people in general.

How do you assess talent? What do you look for?

With relationship being a key factor to building a successful career as a coach, I also wanted to delve into a better understanding of how a coach develops talented players once they are in an academy system. So, I wanted to know what a coach looks for in talented players and how did he assess their talent? Lee started with ‘’the first thing I look for is intention over outcome! The ages I work with are not the finished product yet, so we need to be careful, but we also need to encourage creativity. So, I always become fascinated with asking the player what they see in certain situations of games or training, especially when I see they attempted a certain pass, but it maybe did not work. That is a great example of intention over outcome. The other thing this tells me as a coach is if they are willing to explore their creativity, if they are willing to try things with the chance of making an error and more importantly how they respond to the situation if they make a mistake’’. This was fascinating to me, I thought Lee must have a difficult job to create a safe environment for young players to feel free to express themselves without worrying about all of their other stresses in life (family, school, peers, friends and more).

Once in, how do you develop talent?

The conversation somewhat evolved on to how to develop talent once the players are in the academy structure. One of the commonalities of a great coach seems to be player centred, and Lee’s response was very player centred. He started with ‘’you have to encourage them to keep trying, for instance if a player tries a pass but there are errors in the attempt, then we need to encourage the player to problem solve the issue and find creative ways for a solution. I always ask, what did you see there in that pass? I am always looking at the body position of the player too when making the pass, were their hips pointing in the correct position, and can I help with them technically?’’. Lee went on to say ‘’It’s our role to remove the fear of failure and to encourage that creative spark in the player, to give them tips and coach their technical ability, to maybe reassess from time to time if mistakes are made and ultimately to help the young player to be able to resolve those mistakes.”

What advice would you give to released players?

I had to ask Lee this question, as I thought he must have some pearls of wisdom, and he did not disappoint. Lee started with ‘’on release its not the end of the journey, there are many roads that get them to where they want. In some ways they should try to use the release as fuel, to keep going and prove that you can do it. They also need to think, could there be someone else at the club who is in a better position or better player at that moment, and would my skills/ability be better suited at another club?’’.  Lee went on to state, ‘’it’s similar to what you are doing with Pitch, the players can get as many eyes on them as possible, because they never know who is watching, and also playing academy football is not the only route. They can go and play in non-league or even abroad. There are many different routes into football’’. This really inspired me talking with Lee and also reminded me that Pitch will be holding released player trials by invite only soon, and hopefully a flagship event this July.

If you want to find out more about Lee please follow @coachgarlick

To find out more about trials with Pitch follow @RateRmt on Twitter or pitch_football_talent on Instagram