In part one of our interview with David Knowles of Accelerate Performance Coaching – a company that’s helping young Irish players further their football-related careers – we speak about how David became involved in coaching kids, how a career in England is not the only career path available to Irish players and the impact the under-17 and under-19 leagues could have on the development of young Irish footballers.
APC is an Irish company set up by David Knowles and Nick Hogan, who have together developed a unique program that combines athletic speed development with football speed development.
We started by asking David what inspired him to start coaching kids in a more structured, professional manner.
“From working as a coach in youth football for eight or nine years, I would’ve noticed there’s a lot wrong with youth football and the approach taken by coaches and people involved with the game and it just seemed very unprofessional.
“I never had any real aspirations to coach, although I went on to do Uefa qualifications and wanted to become as qualified as I could, and as experienced as I could, to back up the job I was doing because I believed I was doing a good job.
“I never ever felt that I would want to get into the system of management or coaching, I just didn’t think that’s where I wanted to be. I come from a background of services and worked in IT and legal environments and I was just used to doing things professionally so I felt a little bit out of place when I was working as a coach at youth level.
“I just found that I was giving a lot of time to do a job, even though I was only working as say a youth coach or a coordinator or going on to work as a development officer. I was giving 20 to 30 hours a week to do a job and everyone around me didn’t seem to be prepared to deliver that kind of service and I just felt that was what was needed to change the game and to change how kids were taken care of, and to try help more players go on and have a career in football.”
Youth football in Ireland is still very much an amateur arena but David feels that going to England and getting a contract should not be the be-all and end-all for young Irish footballers, as the League of Ireland, David feels, is now an avenue to professionalism for kids.
“Far too many kids and parents are focused on having to go to England at 16 and get a contract and see that as their only option, but what they don’t realise is there’s a massive leap from community-based football in Ireland to professional-based football in the UK and what a lot of them don’t realise as well is a lot of players come back, they just don’t make it.
“Very few are getting through now. Although they’re getting over there at 16 and getting a couple of years on a contract, they’re going over there training and playing some matches at youth level for a couple of years, but then it’s not renewed and they might get a move on to a lower level somewhere over there.
“But most players, it seems, are coming back and I think one of the things we’ve tried to educate the players in is that there’s other opportunities there now. The League of Ireland is an avenue for players to look at to make it as a professional footballer.
“When you look at the likes of Chris Forrester, even only last month moving to Peterborough from St. Pat’s. He was part of an excellent Belvedere team a few years back when Pat Fenlon was in charge of Bohemians and he would have had him in there early on and he was a really talented player already at that age. He’s continued his development in a more professional environment by going to somewhere like St. Pat’s and playing for a couple of years and really competing and having to test himself. Now it looks like he’s going to get a good opportunity to go and play at a good level and hopefully he makes the step up even higher because I think he’s talented enough to do it.
“But then you’ve other players who’ve gone through the League of Ireland and have ended up becoming Irish internationals. I know now it’s towards the tail end of their career but even looking at the likes of Stephen McPhail or Damien Duff coming back into the league, I think it shows that some players actually respect the fact that the league could become something if it was given more support.
“From my point of view, it’s kind of the idea that you can teach players that you can go and have a career in football and it doesn’t just mean at 16 years you get a contract at an English club. There’s lots of other opportunities, whether it’s League of Ireland, as a professional in the UK, Scotland or Wales or whether it’s to become a coach or a trainer or go on a scholarship to the US.
“I think there’s lots of opportunities there and that’s the approach we take with players to try and teach them and educate them about that.”
The introduction of the under-19 league, and most recently the under-17 league, has brought a more structured approach to elite-level youth football in Ireland but David feels it is still too early to judge just how successful it’ll become, while remaining hopeful it will have knock-on effects in the future.
“I think it’s very early days. I know the ’19s is a little bit more established, but they’re trying to bring in this whole structure, where it goes ’15s, ’17s, ’19s. I think there is still a lot of work to be done because you might change the clothes of a few people involved in the game but they’re still the same people, so you’ve still got the volunteer approach to coaching and training. It’s a good idea in principle but I’d be more inclined to see how the ’17s league pans out.
“Trying something new is a really good idea and trying to develop more professional structures for kids is a really good idea and hopefully with that then you’ll get more people taking the job of coaching and developing players more seriously. That in turn will develop the league and create more of an industry for football in this country and would ultimately benefit the international team.”
In part two of our interview with David, we discuss what type of players his business takes in and coaches, the educational and psychological side to football and how ACP are also helping to coach the coaches of youth football.
To find out more about Accelerate Performance Coaching, check out their website here.