Looking at Grassroots football with St. Mirren Youth Football Club
By Sean Graham
Now anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my football, some would say I love it too much, impossible!
I was asked by a friend of mine nearly five years ago now if I wanted to come and speak to one of the coaches at his club about the club and football in general.
Many folk would have been put off by the weather that night but a promise is a promise and I had a feeling about this club as I had heard good things from Iain about them, so all roads lead to Linwood Sports Centre. There I was introduced to the main man, Frank Sweeney and we had a good chat about the club and what running a club like St. Mirren Youth Football Club really involves and it certainly opened my eyes to the kind of unselfish, unpaid work these guys do for their club, it truly was amazing.
Frank told me all the good and bad points of running a club and all the hard work that everyone at the club puts in, for the love of football.
“When I joined the club, within a year or two I was the secretary of the whole club and one of the things that was always brought up at meetings was that we have to get the kids in earlier and this club are doing that.”
“I had a vision that the club should be growing and bringing kids in younger because we used to start at Under 13’s but we had to start it from scratch as it is getting harder and harder as some of the kids are already with a team when they are younger, so about seven years ago when I was still running my Under 21’s I started it myself as no one else wanted to do it.”
“I started an Under 11’s team and Under 10’s which would go Under 12’s and Under 11’s but after a couple of years we decided that this was not working and we would start an extra one and in seven years I have got them down to Mini Kickers and that is between the ages of 5-7.”
“It has been a lot of work but seeing the kids come on and seeing the kids progress all the way through from maybe coming through from when I have started the club, hand them on to other coaches and then you see them maybe three or four games later and they are bigger and stronger players and maybe they are playing for the region or someone like that, it does give you a certain amount of satisfaction.”
After speaking to Frank, I knew that I had to be involved, if they wanted me and I started to write a blog on their fortunes especially as they had just given Iain MacMillan and Will Devlin their chance to take on a new team from scratch to see how they would do.
By doing this, Frank could see if the boys had the right credentials not just as coaches but how it would develop them as people, could they deal with the highs and lows of being football coaches and could this brand new team cope with the pressure of being a new team in a successfully run Youth Football Club?
I have got to know the boys over the years and I could see just how much they wanted this, this was a great opportunity for both of them and they would not let it slip through their hands.
I had asked them what they both looked for in a young player.
Iain: Correct attitude and a willing to learn. I would never turn anybody down if they wanted to play football. Especially at this level should encourage the younger kids to play more football? We got to get them out and interested. If they are interested and willing to learn, then we as coaches need to develop that as best we can.
Will: Your role is to help develop the kids and coming to enjoy themselves. But to develop kids then kids they have got to have the correct attitude and be willing to learn
I could see the boys not only wanted to develop the kids as players but as people also and they would not only be looking for talent but what kind of individual they would bring to the club as a person first and foremost, these coaches cared about the well-being of the person as well as the talent and that really shone through for me as they embarked on their coaching careers and that was very encouraging to see.
Both lads have been of a mind-set that since embarking in this journey at St Mirren YFC, that sometime in the future they would like to be involved in football on a day to day basis.
Both guys have studied teams from youth, junior and professional level, formations, tactics and many other ways of playing so that he can learn something new and fresh to bring to their team.
All this hard work would pay off at the first time of asking as their new side went on to win the league in their first season, much to the delight of both coaches, Frank and everyone at the club, it was a magnificent achievement.
But just as with any football club, if you stand still, others will overtake you and leave you far behind, they had their success but knew they had to plan for the future as they would now be stepping up a level.
MacMillan was frustrated with the grassroots scene in Scotland and decided to take matters into his own hands and headed down to Bolton to do his FA Level 2 coaching badge and showed his commitment and how serious he was by paying for this experience out of his own pocket and it wasn’t cheap!
But he knew this would hopefully benefit him and the club in the future and Will tells me he will be heading there soon also.
Iain enjoyed his experience at Bolton and the coaches there were impressed at his commitment and what they saw from Iain while he was there and he had only good things to say about everyone at Bolton also.
I know that Iain is thinking of doing his FA Level 3(UEFA B License) again paying out of own pocket to do so.
This shows the kind of commitment and dedication that he has to succeed in coaching and given that he hasn’t played the game at any level (due to his heart condition) showing that kind of commitment and dedication to succeed, emphasises to people who are contemplating introducing themselves to grassroots coaching, that just because you haven’t played the game at a high level means nothing as decent or perhaps without being disrespectful, average footballers have gone on to become decent managers or coaches.
If you look at the case of a certain Jose Mourinho , he started out as a player in the Portuguese second division before going on to study sports science before attending coaching sessions in the UK before working as a youth coach then scout, then assistant manager and even an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon and Barcelona with Sir Bobby and Louis van Gaal before having successful spells himself with Benfica and then Porto winning the UEFA Cup and Champions League with them as well as domestic honours.
The blend of Iain not playing the game and Wills limited playing experience cut short by injury have resulted in a terrific chemistry between the pair over the time, almost a good cop, bad cop, Clough and Taylor like partnership, which sees them bring out not only the best in their players but the best in each other.
I am not saying that both will end up like Mourinho and AVB but everyone has to start somewhere, everyone has a dream and a vision and it is up to the individual with a bit of hard work and luck to make their dreams come true and also being noticed and given the chance also to put yourself on the coaching map.
Being involved as a coach at a Youth Football Club, you don’t just have to deal with events on the field but you have to deal with things off the field and part of that is trying to find the best sponsorship deals they can also and that is not easy!
Leading up to the Player of the Year Awards this season they struck gold and announced that they would be sponsored this season by Club orld Sports.
ClubWorld Sports is a charitable social enterprise supporting the development of sport in Scotland. The organisation was a finalist for Social Enterprise of the Year 2013 in Glasgow for the work it is doing to encourage more people to become involved in sport.
The company deliver sports classes across Glasgow with over 500 weekly attendees and have also developed a professional football training programme to support young players and part time professionals who benefit from professional support and also to give talented individuals a chance to find a pathway to a career in sport.
This commitment to the development of young footballers was one of the reasons behind the agreement to sponsor St Mirren YFC 1995′s. In addition to shirt sponsorship we will also provide UEFA licenced professional coaches to provide occasional support sessions and content to assist the club coaches with the teams on-going development.
Speaking of the sponsorship agreement, Enterprise Manager Scott Allison commented ‘I am delighted to be able to support St Mirren YFC 1995′s for next season. As a youth I had a spell playing with the club and value the great work that all the coaches and volunteers do to provide opportunities for young players. We have strong links with the professional game and hopefully this partnership will be beneficial to assist any players with aspirations to further their careers in football. We have also agreed to support the coaches in any way we can with content and sessions that will hopefully raise the professional standards for all involved. We are delighted to become sponsors of the team and wish all the players, coaches, parents and officials every success in the season ahead’. (www.clubworldsports.com)
Iain MacMillan commented: “We would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the team and club to thank ClubWorld Sports. The players and coaches will benefit greatly with their involvement and support in the forthcoming season ahead. “.
After fantastic sponsorship news for this season the club invited me down to the annual Player of the Year Awards which was a fantastic evening. Now not only was the night a great success for everyone involved and a most enjoyable evening, it was also an eye opener for me as I was to speak with not only some fantastic players .
Now not knowing what to expect from a group of teenage boys when I walked in, I could not have been more surprised and delighted with their reaction towards me.
The guys all had a laugh and a joke with me and listened intently as I spoke to them about what it meant to me writing this blog for them over the last four years.
The venue for the night was perfect and agenda for the evening moving perfectly to give everyone a chance to mix and enjoy themselves all through the night and I was lucky enjoy not only the company of Iain, Will and the boys but I was introduced a coaches from a grassroots football development soccer school and I spend quite a bit of the night chatting I found out that his club have quite a story to tell also and he has invited me to share it with the readers at Youth Football Scotland in a future article and I am looking forward to spending time with Bobby McCracken and former Clydebank player Gerry Ronaldson and hearing all about their soccer school, from what I have heard already, I think this will be quite an interesting conversation.
Attending such events, you find out things about not only their club but other clubs and now I have managed to make contact with other Grassroots coaches in Scotland and all over the world as I have been on this journey with the boys and everyone I have spoken to feels the same, more could and should be done to help clubs at Grassroots level.
But the Player of the Year Awards was what it was all about that night, not just for me but for all the players at St. Mirren Youth Football Club and the winners were as follows…
- Most improved player Kris Gray
- Top Goal scorer Ryan Officer
- Players Player of the Year Ryan Officer
- Player of the Year Taylor McConnell
I noticed when each award was given out was the amount of support and encouragement each play was given as each nomination was read out and each winner was warmly applauded also, these guys really are as one with each other as are their management and I think the boys now appreciate that.
I have no doubt that some of these players in this team might move on a forge a football career at junior possibly lower league level. In addition, I think both lads that run the team are destined for bigger and better things. One day in the near future I suspect these boys will be presented with an opportunity to move on and improve themselves in the game and when it does happen, I’ll for one will be monitoring their progress as the raw potential they have, their willingness to learn, curtailed with their ideas and enthusiasm for the game makes me think these lads will flourish if they move on to a higher level. I know first-hand clubs are impressed at what they are seeing with the coaches and the team and I know that the future will be bright both on and off the field for the boys and their club; these guys are destined for bigger and better things. I for one look forward to their journey continuing for a long time to come and I will be with them and support them every step of the way.
The whole club and setup in general will grow over the next few years from the young teams at soccer 4’s and 7’s right through to their 11 a side teams.
Clubs struggling with no money to buy players and limited budget where teams requiring built from scratch with youth in particular, might have to start looking at the grassroots scene in particular for young aspiring enthusiastic coaches like Iain and Will to come in as clubs like Stockport and Kettering can testify, bringing in experienced people have not worked and both clubs have went into free fall and decline.
Perhaps they might consider what people with lesser resources are doing and doing very well to maybe build foundations for them to rise again. Who knows? But one thing is for sure. The grassroots scene constantly overshadowed with regards scouting of players could actually be a source not only player talent but coach talent as well and I believe over the next few years you may see grassroots coaches become more involved in the game moving forward non-league and professional.