Have you got your free copy of Blueprint According To...Volume 3 yet? No? Here are the details to fix that.
Any coach will face challenges throughout their career; be it unresponsive players, lack of facilities or difficulties getting opportunities. Tim Palmer is like any other coach with the exception that in his case the challenge is a bit more specific and unique: he was born profoundly deaf.
It is about how he has gone about facing this challenge and how it has impacted the development of his blueprint that we spoke in this interview.
Blueprint for Football: What got you into coaching?
Tim Palmer: Like many, I originally grew up with the dream of being a professional footballer. However, around the age of 16 I had the sudden and not particularly enjoyable realisation that I would not make it to the highest level. Thankfully though, this realisation was quickly followed with the question, "what else can I do to work at the highest level of football?". The answer, inevitably, was coaching.
I'd actually always thought if I didn't make it as a player, I could fall back on a career of writing. I did a lot of writing as a teenager in high school, starting my own blog as well as doing bits and pieces for others on the Internet. At 16, I'd actually already been lucky enough to be doing freelance work with FourFourTwo by this time, but a week's work experience at the Daily Telegraph (an Australian newspaper) made me realise that although I loved football writing, I didn't necessarily love journalism. I'd realised there's a great joy in being able to teach, learn and bond with others. You just don't get in journalism, but you do in coaching, and even at the age of 16 I knew that was the path for me.
Since then, I've looked to immerse myself as much as I can in a learning process of coaching; doing as many courses as I can, observing as many sessions as I can, reading and talking as much as I can. Nothing quite beats actually working with a team, though, and at the moment I'm working with a team at St Joseph's College (a private school in Sydney) as well as with a regional team in Sydney.
BfF: Have you had any mentors?
TP: While I haven't had a mentor in the strictest sense of the word, I've been fortunate enough to have guidance and experience from a number of excellent coaches, as well as teachers and friends. Furthermore, as I'm still playing at a competitive level at present, I'm able to observe and discuss coaching practices with the coaches of my current teams.
One of them is Robbie Stanton, who's just been appointed Sydney FC's new youth coach. He is my coach for the Australian Deaf football team and he's been an absolute inspiration in terms of his approach to the game, and particularly in structuring training sessions.
I'm also lucky enough to be currently working as an assistant coach under Alex Zimbounellis, who gives me some much-needed direction in not only how I coach, but in also many aspects of life. He is the closest thing I have to a mentor, though I learn something from all those that I meet.
BfF: You are also a performance analyst for Prozone. What is that about?
TP: Prozone came out of the blue last year. I'm friendly on Twitter with a fellow called Grant James who works in Prozone's South Africa office, and when discussions began at the company about starting a division in Australia he was kind enough to put my name forward. The Australian based guys, who had been working exclusively with the NRL (National Rugby League), approached me and asked if I would be interested in creating and establishing Prozone's football office in Australia. I was only 19 at the time so it was hugely flattering that they would consider me for such a role, but it's been nothing but a positive.
My role, at present, involves working with the A-League clubs and Socceroos to provide performance analysis services. This includes pre- and post-match reporting, statistical analysis, video analysis, opposition analysis and much more. It's a wide-ranging role where I'm working with lots of different clubs, but the challenge is fantastic and the opportunities it offers me to work with some of the top people in the game here in Australia is unbelievable.
BfF: Does that aspect help in your coaching? If yes, how?
TP: Absolutely. Analysis is obviously a massive part of the game today and working in this area has given me lots of skills and ideas for my coaching. Even something as routine as opposition analysis; the more I do it as part of my Prozone work, the better I become at it, and the better that is then able to serve me as a coach. By virtue of Prozone I'm able to talk many highly knowledgeable, experienced people in the game, as well as observe and work with A-League clubs, look at their practice and then apply that to my own coaching.
Another example I can give is video - like I would, say, for a national team who is a Prozone client, I clip and categorise the footage of the team I coach: the players are able to access that via a private website, and they can view their game footage.
The relationship also works the other way round, too - there are things I learn as a coach that I then use with my analysis work. It's a fantastic gig, one I'm very lucky to have.
BfF: What is your learning process like? In which setting do you feel that you learn most?
TP: As I have quite a history in writing thanks to my blog, I actually learn quite a lot from simply reading - I like soaking up information from books and articles and just reading for hours on end. But I learn in lots of different ways: for example, as a player I've always understood what coaches want from me through visual tools like whiteboards or video; as a coach, I learn best when I'm actually out on the training ground, actually coaching. That's the setting where I learn the most, where I'm able to experiment with my practice and approach and find what works best for me. I learn so, so much from just being out there, working with teams, and it's the environment I try to put myself in as much as possible.
BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
TP: I agree with the likes of Ray Power in that I think the word 'philosophy' can be a little broad or generic, although I do have a very clear vision of not only how I want my teams to play, but also what I want my players to become, and how I want to be seen as a coach.
The dominant playing style many coaches today endorse is what we might call the 'Barcelona' approach: one founded upon possession and an emphasis on technical play. That is certainly how I might summarise my preferred playing style and certainly here in Australia there is great work being done by the Football Federation Australia to promote this proactive style of play in coaching courses.
Personally I like to break the game down into four components - possession, opposition possession and the two transition moments - and develop a clear set of principles for each of these moments in each third of the pitch. Therefore, for example, one component of my Team Model is that when we have possession in the back third, I want my teams to 'build up play in a structured manner to progress the ball with control into the middle third'.
With that statement - an objective, if you like - I can then articulate team tasks and player tasks which I can communicate to my players in training sessions so we can bring the playing style to life. Of course, given that the four moments in a game are interconnected and interrelated, there are several principles, team tasks and player tasks which my players must learn - but the Team Model is clear, consistent and logical, and I have a clear style of play which I can call my own as a coach.
As I mentioned before, though, I think philosophy extends beyond that. How do I teach the players this Team Model? What methods do I use? How do I foster leadership skills in players? What human qualities do I want my players to have? How do I teach them to have the same love of learning I am lucky enough to possess? These are all important questions which I can answer and that encapsulate my philosophy.
There is so much to coaching that I would find it impossible to write it all down, and developing a coaching philosophy is an enormously tough but incredibly joyful and rewarding process.
BfF: You have cochlear implants: what exactly does this mean? And how does it impact your coaching?
TP: I was born profoundly deaf; which means the only thing I would've heard as a baby was a jumbo jet if I was sitting next to it when it took off. I was implanted at the age of 2 which gave me the incredible gift of hearing. I received a second cochlear implant at the age of 14, giving me hearing in both ears for the first time.
While the cochlear implant (an Australian invention, something I'm quite patriotic about!) gives me incredible hearing that would not otherwise be possible, it's not perfect. As a result, I don't hear everything, I find it very difficult to hear over large distances or in crowded areas, and because there was such a long time gap between implants (12 years), one has developed far more effectively than the other. The result is I essentially can still only hear out of one ear.
Thankfully, this doesn't impact my coaching as much you might think. I'm not much of a shouter anyway, and I prefer to talk via quiet conversation with my players. When they're together in a large group it can be difficult to facilitate discussion as a result of my hearing. These are minor things, however, and the kids I've worked with in my career to date have all been very good in terms of any difficulties we might have.
BfF: How do you communicate with players?
TP: The same as any coach, to be honest: through language, naturally, something which does come naturally to me as a result of my writing. Communication is a two-way street, of course, so I always need to ensure I listen carefully to what my players say and ensure every interaction we have is a positive one that contributes to their learning and development.
I like using video and whiteboards, too, when I can, and I'm always looking for new ways to communicate my ideas across to players. The private website I mentioned earlier is a nice tool as well. Along those lines, I think it's important too that we embrace the technology we have available today, so that means looking at things like Facebook and Twitter as ways of communicating with players (although there are obvious privacy issues here). I'm still learning as a coach, and finding new, appropriate and the best ways to communicate with players is an ongoing challenge.
BfF: What is your relationship with players' parents?
TP: I think it's important that there is a level of respect in the relationship between parent and coach; I think there needs to be an acknowledgement from both parties that ultimately we both want what is the best for the player, and that that sometimes requires certain boundaries so that the coach and the parent can work effectively.
It should never be a negative relationship, though, and I always look to reach out to parents, be friendly, honest and sincere with them and to communicate to them as well what my aims are as a coach. I think sometimes coaches can forget that players don't always tell their parents everything about their sport, or sometimes the message from player to parent can be disjointed, and hence, it's important that the parent understands what the coach is doing and why they are doing it. Things like mid-season meetings and informational documents you can give to the parents are simple ways of strengthening that relationship.
BfF: And the kids themselves?
TP: I want it to be open. I'm still young myself and I'm still learning, and there's so much my players can teach me that it would be foolish to have a relationship where I am firmly a 'dictator' coach. Instead, I aim to be open and honest with players - making my expectations clear, but emphasising how they can improve and better themselves as players and people, hopefully with me as their guide along some of the way.
I love unlocking that little door where players realise they can and want to be the best they can possibly be, and can achieve that if they are hungry for it, work hard and never give up. I was lucky enough to have that door opened for me, and if I can open as many of those doors for others, too,, that will be the most rewarding part of being a coach.
BfF: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to achieve?
TP: In the future, I plan to continue my current development - doing courses, learning from others, working on the training ground to develop my coaching practice. Ultimately I want to be working professionally as a coach, whether that be in the A-League, Asia or beyond. I am ambitious, and I'd like to think there'll never be a point where I can look back and say 'yes, I have achieved everything'. The further I can go, and the better a coach I am, the happier I'll be.