In part two of our interview with David Knowles (part one can be found here) of Accelerate Performance Coaching – a company trying to increase the amount of Irish youth players making it as professional footballers – we discuss what type of players the business takes in and coaches, the educational and psychological side to football and how APC are also helping to coach the coaches of youth football.
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.
With the step up in physicality from amateur to professional football being so extreme, David discusses how APC works with each individual player to prepare them for the training they’ll be subjected to in a professional environment as well as keeping those who have returned from England in tip-top shape ahead of their next professional opportunity within the game.
“We started out about a year and a half ago now, and initially started out just working with youth footballers. Our specialisation, to start with, was speed development for football but at a higher level it was more athletic development, giving players the work they needed to improve their physical qualities to have a better opportunity of a career in football because the balance has shifted too much one way where you’ve two sessions a week.
“It’s pretty much an hour, hour and a half, a bit of football and then going out and playing a match at the weekend and from our point of view that wasn’t enough. This was based on the feedback we were getting from players who went to the UK from development squads who were going there to play matches and were getting blown out of the water by the physicality of players when they went there.
“The important thing to say is that when I say physicality – I’m very much a fan of technical players – but I think the reality is that when you do go to a higher level you have to have certain physical attributes to play the game, combined with technical ability and combined with a desire to be a professional footballer so we see ourselves as a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle.
“So we set out to work with youth players, which covered all aspects of their game. We talk about recovery runs and counter-attacks within their sessions and we work on stuff that will help them improve on that within their matches, and we do a lot of stuff with and without the ball, depending on what work we’re doing.
“We started out with ten players initially in what we would call our Performance Coaching Programme and then we went on and developed that and we introduced programmes for younger and older players. Now we have in the region of 100 players a month between the ages of nine or ten right up to under-17s, under-19s and LOI level so we’ve a pretty wide spectrum of players from lots of different clubs and lots of different locations.
“We’re based in Santry at the moment but we’ve gone and looked at two new venues. One of them would be in Drogheda. We’re looking at Navan and then we’re also looking at south Dublin and Kildare as well. It’s something we’re looking to expand on.
“The interesting thing that’s happened recently is this idea of players coming back from the UK.
Daniel O’Reilly, who’s now playing for Bray went to Fulham when he was 16 and signed a three-year contract and he’s now gone back to Bray. Joe O’Gorman went to Crewe, he’s playing with Drogheda now.
“So there’s two players who went away and came back and the the thing that both of them would’ve said was that they’ve gone away, they’re in a full-time professional training set up, they’re training one or twice a day. They’re in full-time nearly, still doing their educational stuff as well around that, which is great, but they’ve then come back to Ireland and they want to play at a good level so they’ve tried to get into a LOI team here, which they did, but you’re going from a full-time training situation in England to a part-time situation in Ireland.
“They have aspirations to maybe go back and if you’re not training in the same way as you were there it’s going to be much harder, so we’ve approached it that we bring those players in around their training that they do with their clubs and we bring them in and do the additional training that they need.
“For some of them they want to work on their speed or for others it might be strength and power and just developing overall athleticism. We also cover lots of other things like nutrition to make sure that their performance levels are at a high level when they go and play.”
Although APC focuses mainly around coaching and improving players’ physical capabilities, we also quizzed David on the psychological benefits of being coached to a higher standard.
“There’s a lot of education work to be done to teach players what the process is and don’t try to rush things. Also, a lot of parents and players need to understand that if you want to achieve something you have to invest in your own development.
“You can’t go from a situation where you’re paying €5-a-week to train twice a week and then play a match, to go from this situation to one where their kid could potentially earn €1,ooo 0r €2,000-a-week. There’s a massive leap from A to B there.
“The example I’ve used is if you want to become a doctor or a lawyer or achieve some profession in your life you’re going to go and do a qualification and it’s going to take time. You’re going to have to invest that time and it’s not going to happen straight away but if you do invest the correct amount of time and you do it in the right way you will get there.
“You’ll have a few knocks along the way but that’s part of the learning process. If a lot of players learn that there is a way to approach their development and if more clubs and coaches out there realise that there’s a better way to educate and coach players and show them how to become professionals and have a career, the level of the game in general in this country would rise and the standard of the league in terms of its professionalism would rise, and I think slowly but surely we’d start to see a big turnaround.”
While APC can coach up to 100 players, the coaches at grassroots level also want to improve the professionalism of the game and this is something David and his team are also helping to do.
“We run a number of coaches workshops. We bring coaches in who are just volunteers and they’ve done a youth certificate or maybe they’ve no qualification, but they coach teams and the great thing about those guys is they come to us obviously wanting to learn something new. They obviously want to prove their own knowledge of the game, so we really work hard to teach them how to approach coaching in a professional way and how to get measurable results when working with kids.
“We would be well established now for how we work with kids when it comes to their development. We can make them faster, stronger and all that stuff but we have invested a lot of time into our own knowledge of when it comes to how to actually work with kids and teach kids because I think a lot coaches don’t understand that there is a science around teaching, particularly with kids.
“Even though the coaches come to us for something slightly different, it’s equally important that if you have the knowledge fair enough, but you have to be able to teach that knowledge to the kids you’re working with.
“Ultimately, our role when we work with kids, we’re not there to dictate to them, we’re there to teach them how to become decision-makers themselves, how to become critical and analyse their own development so that’s how we approach teaching kids, but how we’d encourage other coaches to teach kids too.
“The game at youth level can be a bit sterile, it’s very structured. Everybody plays 4-3-3, everybody has to play this way and we all know how we want teams to play, but I think we’ve lost a lot of players who are maybe more knowledgeable and capable of making decisions themselves and know about the game.
“Again, that would be partly what we do when it comes to working with coaches. It’s one of the things I noticed when I worked with youth players, that I didn’t like. I didn’t like the way kids were treated. I didn’t think kids were treated with enough respect when it came to their development.
“I think kids know a lot more about football than we give them respect for and that’s based on the fact that they play a lot more football than any of the coaches that coach them, so they definitely have an insight into the game and I think it’s a mistake to forget that.
“What we’re trying to achieve is about helping players have a career in football and it’s something we’re working really hard on. We’re always interested in talking to like-minded people about the game, who like what we have to say.”
To find out more about Accelerate Performance Coaching, check out their website here.