This is the first installment in a three part interview.
Most boys grow up hoping to play for their favourite team or become a top player. Jed Davies wasn’t any different in that respect; he too spent hours playing his favourite game constantly looking to improve.
What made him different is that he also started focusing on coaching from an early age. At first it was simply looking at magazines in order to find ways of improving his own technique, then it was by coaching his coaching his younger brother and eventually a proper team.
In this first installment of a three part interview, Jed talks about the path that led him to coaching, his inspirations and aspirations.
First off, what is your story? What is your background to coaching?
I remember buying Match Magazine as a ten year old just to find out what skills were going to be detailed about midway through the magazine. There used to be this small section offering tips for the reader to go and practice a particular skill involved in the game and it was Match Magazine’s detailing of how to swerve the ball with the outside of the foot like Roberto Carlos that set me off as a player who would consider the smaller details in the game. So this article explained how I should look to follow through with my leg and bring the leg up to my arm after kicking the ball, the next thing I know I’m getting so much swerve on the ball (after smashing a few of my neighbours’ green houses) I wanted to show everyone how I was doing it!
Where I grew up we had a group of boys, probably six or seven of us, who would get home from school and play football until it was too dark to see out behind our back gardens (where all the greenhouses used to be) in this shared back green that conveniently had two trees perfectly placed at either end of the field to form a sort of six-a-side size football field! We played so much that the street in the village we grew up on actually had community meetings to discuss where they could move us to as were becoming a nuisance (“too loud, too often, too late during the summer, too many greenhouses smashed!”).
From then onwards really, my younger brother (four years my junior) would spend hours out the back going through my tutorials - we’d spend hours running through these self-designed training sessions. I remember the first thing I taught him was how to do something we called “the italian shot” - which was essentially a scaled-down thirty yard first time shot driven in the bottom corner of the net that we’d observed on Football Italia and believe it or not, the very next game he scored a goal with this exact method - the ball rolled back to him, he got his head and body right over the ball and just put his laces through it. It went straight through the crowd of bodies in front of him and into the bottom corner. Just like we’d seen on Football Italia before! It was fantastic to see something like that come to fruition and without knowing it I’d fallen in love with the idea of coaching. I mean I’ve scored a few “long rangers” in my time for a number of really good clubs (before a few knee operations), but none felt as good as seeing my younger brother reap the rewards of something I’d designed a training session for (although I am sure he wouldn’t give me any credit whatsoever these days!).
The first time I was ever really employed in a role that allowed me to coach football was in Belgium at a language school that I worked at for five years to a group of Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Belgian and German students and even at that age (10-18) there are clear cultural differences in the way that each of those nationalities perceive the game of football. This was really a high pressure coaching role and all the pressure was from the students who just wanted to play a game! The trick was always to make what you were doing to be fun and discreet in how you were coaching - there were very few drills or lines out on those fields in the Ardennes! It was all about setting the scene or rules to encourage an outcome you wanted - through this I learnt what worked and what didn’t to a certain extent.
From there I’ve worked for Socatots (18 months to 6 years of age), a sort of pre-Brazilian Soccer School’s coaching company where at the earliest of ages it was all about making sure you didn’t scare the kid and make him cry (which actually happened during my first ever session!). While still in Bristol, I helped Patrick Williams out at Bristol Inner City Advanced Development Centre, my first real experience in a more elite environment as a coach where we played against a number of top academies in England such as Cardiff, Millwall, Bolton and many others. BICADC are one of the most ambitious clubs I’ve worked with and they’ve an excellent curriculum that former-Southampton coach Chris Palmer drew up with Patrick.
Finally I’ve found myself coaching at Oxford University in adult football with fantastic facilities, I like to think (rather dreamingly) that I’m following in the great shoes of Vic Buckingham as he too once coached at Oxford University before moving across to Ajax and setting all the foundations for Total Football to develop. At Oxford, I’m working with Jon Collins (a former Reading skills coach) and taking everything on board. Jon is a coach with an expertise in Spanish training methodology and I’m amazed with the amount of planning that goes into his sessions.
I honestly couldn’t be enjoying the transition from youth football to the adult game anymore than I am right now. I’m just about to start managing the development squad and being the University’s development officer (the University is effectively it’s own FA due to it’s long history in football - we won the FA Cup once!) as well as coaching with Jon too - I really can’t wait to see what we can do and I’ve got some fantastic ideas of how to go about working through our microcycles of coaching areas. It’s an exciting time for me and I’m looking forward to my new responsibilities, but nothing will stop me looking to coach my youngest brother (15 years my junior) and it’s amazing how you’re attitude changes when it’s a family member you’re
coaching! Fortunately for him, he’s just moved with the rest of my family to West Wales and is enjoying playing for Carmarthen Academy. I’m looking forward to getting home for Christmas and taking him on again in our one vs. one drill that got a bit competitive during the summer when he pulled the roulette out on me!
Who have been the coaches who have inspired you the most?
There are a number of coaches that have had and continue to have a profound impact on the way I coach and perceive the game. Louis Lancaster (Watford), Tim Lees (Wigan), James Nash (MK Dons), Chris Davies (Liverpool) and Jon Collins (Oxford University) are probably those I owe most to. I speak with most of those on a regular basis and I am consistently trying things out on the training field that Louis, James or Tim will speak to me about and I really couldn’t ask for more from these guys.
That said, Jon Collins is the coach who has had the biggest impact on the way I coach as I work closest with Jon. From his pre-match and training session team talks right through the training methodology itself, I’ve made so many notes over the last few months that probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who found them - I’ve even written down a few phrases he’s come out with during training or half time team talks - it’s almost like everything has it’s own artistry and everything is as calculated and planned as the next.
So to answer your question, it’s too difficult to isolate any one of those five coaches but my own coaching style is certainly something that has formed as a result of their influences. Fabio Capello said that all “the best coaches were the greatest of thieves” and by that I think meant that the best coaches shouldn’t look to copy other coaches, but directly steal ideas from them and take ownership of them and that’s exactly what I’m doing! It was great to hear that Louis Lancaster ran a training session with his Watford boys recently that allowed him to test Arrigo Sacchi’s famous “organised defence against an unorganised attack” quote that he read to the players directly from my book in his session. I believe Louis’ approach to training is to allow young players to come to their own understanding of what football means and takes the role of an exploratory professor with his players. He’ll like that, ‘the professor’, it’s probably best that doesn’t reach him having said that!
By taking ownership of such ideas or training methods, you begin to form your own understanding of an idea or how something might work and my advice to young and aspiring coaches wouldn’t be too far away from that - don’t mindlessly copy or imitate. Steal, take ownership and understand the ideas inside out! So the next time a coach talks through a coaching development or tactical idea, listen intensively but then go away and question every single facet in a practical environment - training sessions should allow for the coach to learn as well as players!
Finally, what are your own aspirations?
I’m hoping that over the next six months I can get as much progressive learning done as possible in my roles as a manager, assistant manager, youth coach and Oxford University FA development officer and from my planned trips to Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as our next Inspire! Football Event in April.
I always find it difficult when making long term plans, but I think it goes without saying that I would love to move from employment in the amateur game across to the professional game in the next year or two. In what capacity and the location are two uncertainties that I am fine with for now but I’m open to a variety of career paths within the professional game.
I’m still only 25 and I’m enjoying connecting with other young aspiring and talented coaches in world football like Stevie Grieve who is out in India and dozens of others who are creating fantastic careers for themselves elsewhere. I’m a big believer the saying that “if an opportunity doesn’t knock, build your own door” - do something that you believe strongly in and you feel is worth your time, everything else will come when the time is right if you do it really well. It’s for these reasons that I am confident that my company inspirefootballevents.com will continue to be a great success - we’re introducing aspiring young coaches to the likes of Dick Bate and our highest qualified and most innovative coaches this country has.
We’ve just ran our first event and I can tell you now, there were a few UEFA A level coaches who went away from that event off of the back of talks from Dick Bate, Nick Levett, Matthew Whitehouse, Dan Abrahams, Michael Jolley, Louis Lancaster, Tim Lees and myself with a different mindset and approach to coaching as they did before. We’re running our next one in Liverpool next April and I really can’t wait to finally reveal who we have signed up to speak at that event, it’ll certainly turn a few heads let’s just say that much!
You can buy Jed’s book from Soccer Tutor and more information about Jed’s football coaching is available at Inspire Football Events.