Ian, thank you so much for taking the time to allow us to conduct this interview – to start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
It is my pleasure!
Originally from England, I moved to Canada (London, Ont.) in 2003. In 2005 I was appointed the first Head Coach of Chilliwack Youth Soccer Association (now Chilliwack FC) and in 2010, I was appointed into the Technical Director position at the Abbotsford Soccer Association.
Can you expand a bit on your playing and coaching background?
I was a young professional football (soccer) at Sheffield Wednesday FC (old Div 1, prior to Premier League).
I had played two games for the England U21 team, when at the age of 20 and playing in a FA Cup 4th round replay game, I suffered what was noted to be the worst leg break in football.
I had a compound, multi-fracture (7) of my right leg. Although it took me two years to recover, I did indeed make it back into the game and resumed my career.
I transferred to Grimsby Town FC (Div4), however following a couple of frustrating seasons, suffering additional breaks & ankle dislocations, I ultimately retired from playing at the age of 26.
I took up the position of Football in the Community Officer at GTFC and started on my coaching career by establishing school programs, camps and training programs within the local grassroots clubs. I was fortunate to take up the role of Director of Youth Development at GTFC, a position I held for 5 years prior to moving to Ontario.
How did you get into coaching – what was the defining moment that made you realise this is what you wanted to do?
Additionally, I would say that my playing experiences continue to inspire me to help/assist/guide the young players of today to have the same opportunity to experience the game and the various life lessons it affords us.
Who was / is your biggest influence?
I was very fortunate to be involved in the professional game, at the highest level and was offered the opportunity to work with some excellent coaches & managers throughout my brief career.
I would like to think I have taken some influence from many of those experiences but, would have to say that my greatest appreciation would be to youth coach, Mick Hennigan, who scouted me and brought me to Sheffield Wednesday, once I was released by Barnsley FC and to Howard Wilkinson (Manager at SWFC), who offered me my professional career and helped me reach the National U21 team.
There seems to be a bit of a misconception on what a Technical Director actually does – can you shed some light on what your typical day is like when you have your TD hat on?
lol…not sure there is such a thing a ‘typical’ day!
In servicing our members, I am immensely fortunate & grateful for the opportunity to assist across a range of differing areas…answering/responding to member inquiries via e-mail & phone calls, guiding members though the various levels of play, coaching club teams or within the club Academy and camp programs, recruiting & assisting program & team coaches, arranging coach education clinics, developing links with community groups/schools, continually looking to grow the game and grow the experiences of those involved etc, etc, etc.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges Technical Directors face today?
Time…never enough of it!
You had some serious bad luck with injuries and yet continued on – that’s an admirable trait that seems hard to come by these days! In your view, is enough attention being made towards the mental side of the game? We can have all the technically gifted young athletes in the world but if they don’t have situational awareness or the willingness to face adversity head on, have we missed the boat with our players?
Thanks. It would be fair to say that being in a professional environment certainly helps develop a strong motivation and attitude however, a good attitude and strong determination/will to win is certainly a personal trait that most professional clubs would look for during their scouting process.
Certainly this is something that I try to encourage within young players today but, much of it would be self-driven by the players themselves.
It appears that we are identifying players at younger ages nowadays but what about those that develop at a later stage – late teens – are they missing out?
Pathways & Scouting….quite a topical issue at the moment…lol.
Irrespective of quality & quantity of either one of these, I would also say that ‘luck’ would also play a part…being in the right place at the right time!
My advice to players is to encourage them to consistently do everything that they can to give themselves the best opportunity to reach their full potential and to be noticed for their positive impact on games.
As someone who immigrated over here and was able to get into the coaching ranks, are there enough opportunities out there right now for Canadian coaches to follow a professional path? Is this something “we” are forgetting about?
There are many Canadian coaches who would claim to be ‘professional’ and who are making a living from coaching, however, I’m not sure how many would have had the experience of being evaluated within a professional environment.
I believe the biggest chance that this country could give to enhancing the opportunity, quality & quantity of professional coaches within Canada would be to establish a domestic Canadian Professional League.
From your time coming up through the youth ranks in England, how would you compare the environments in place here now as to compared to your experiences back there?
The community/grassroots clubs & development programs here are of a similar standing to those back in the UK up to the age of about 14/15 years.
It is around these ages that we see a drop off in kids playing within clubs here and as such, the level of competition suffers.
Although I’m sure that attrition exists in the UK and across Europe, I don’t think it would be anywhere near the rate it is in Canada/North America.
Additionally, a big difference is the players themselves… Players in the UK don’t need to be told to go to training, they are constantly playing/training themselves.
Pick-up games at the park, street or backyard are happening all the time.
Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it is comparable to the amount of street hockey games you see over here, but a certainty that unless players are training/coaching/developing themselves away from their two-three club training sessions each week, then they cannot expect to be compared to the kids in Europe.
What are your thoughts on the LTDP and what type of support are you getting from the governing bodies (both provincially and nationally)?
The CSA LTPD is a framework and a guidance to assist clubs/coaches in mapping out age-appropriate training programs.
I certainly think it is a good resource and a valuable tool for clubs.
Support is given in many forms from CSA and BC Soccer, should clubs/coaches require it.
Lots of documentation is posted to the various governing body web sites, club visits can be arranged and of course, the new raft of coach education certification courses that are becoming mandatory in many Provinces.
Thanks again Ian for your time an insightful answers - one last question - Fantasy moment: You are in charge of overseeing player development throughout the country and money is no object – what is the one thing you would do/change to improve the system in place now?
Introduce a domestic National League.