Lisa Savage is an FA Affiliate Tutor and FA Club/Coach Mentor (Grassroots). She is contactable via email: Lisa.Savage@TheFA.com
One of the youngest county coach developers in the country
Mike Antrobus, our County Coach Developer explains his journey which led him to this point. Faced with opportunities and challenges, but was it his dream to even become a coach?
My journey in football began as a 4 year old young lad. Growing up in Crewe, a civil parish within the borough of Cheshire East, I never envisaged that I someday, would even become a coach let alone a County Coach Developer, working for the Football Association. Like every young boy, the dream of one day becoming a professional footballer was exactly that – a dream. Even now when I look back over the years on my journey and at times, the tumultuous path, filled with challenges from every corner, I never thought that I would be using my knowledge and expertise to drive others’ ambitions and yet here I am, in an office at Hampshire FA, writing down my very experiences, an in-depth look at my life and journey, the very path which got me here.
As a child growing up, I was accustomed to the boisterous passions of my father and the love for football. He was everything not just a father – a role model, a mentor, a teacher, constantly guiding me on my path and it was that closeness and bond with him that made me want to do all that I could to be part of the special connection that he had with the game. From then it started, rounds of touches in the garden, out on the streets of Crewe, a local park, wherever there was space, a football and my dad – that is where I’d be, aspiring with every session to become the pro that I always envisaged. Equally my mother - another rock in my life - was consistently supportive and encouraging of me to try different sports and taste whatever those sports had to offer from gymnastics to swimming and of course, football. She would be the one taking me to the games, those 1-2-1 chats home in the car when I could open up to her. When I won, I felt great and wanted more of that high and when I lost, she would be there again to put me back on track, reinforcing the fact that any challenge would have a positive impact not a detrimental one; that it was key to development and I should be thankful for those teachings too. The solid, unified background that I had from both of them is what developed me as a person and as a player; I developed and harnessed skills and every challenge thrown at me and looked on it all even to this day, as an opportunity.
My dad played as a Goalkeeper and eventually became a Goalkeeping coach at Crewe Community FC. I on the other hand, took up playing as part of Crewe’s Academy and was given the amazing opportunity to finally start where I thought I’d end up only the reality was somewhat distorted. Things took a turn when I was 14 years of age and I was released from the Academy as a Player. As a 14 year old lad whose dream it was to become a footballer it was a setback; no one wants to feel rejection. But again at that moment, when I thought my journey with football ended with that letter that was handed to me on a cold, frosty night in December, those teachings from a young age came back once again to guide me. This was not rejection – it was a challenge but more importantly, it was something that I had to go through and endure – a temporary setback in order to end up on the other side. My Coach at the time was Steve Holland (England Assistant Coach) who leaning in towards me muttered the words “you will make a good coach someday”. As I departed from the pitch, it was those very words that were to stick with me throughout my life and from that the course of my football career was set for a major shake-up
I took it upon myself to take the Coaches’ advice and I started actively supporting my dad, shadowing him during coaching practice. I was back to being the 4 year old boy looking up in awe again. Things may have changed, but the relationship with my dad stayed the same, he was once again fulfilling all those roles and I was once again learning. As I started taking a more active role in coaching with him, I felt a surge of new passion filling in my veins and for once started to believe in the fact that maybe this was the better path for me after all; it seemed I had a natural aptitude for it. Once in my late teens, I applied and was accepted on the BTEC in sport, coaching and fitness. From that I was given every opportunity to coach and for a variety of sports, expanding my knowledge in lots of different areas and with lots of different sports; I had every coaching opportunity imaginable made available to me. The course boosted my knowledge and I had even more confidence to continue as a Coach. Taking the reins with this new found passion, I applied for the BSc in Sports Coaching at the University of Wales, institute of Cardiff (now known as the Cardiff Met). I felt in a completely different place and with a completely different mind-set, far from the gloom that I once felt as a 14 year old lad turned away from an Academy – but looking back, it took someone else, someone completely external to cause me to change direction and not fight my dream of becoming a player. In a short space of time, I completed a college course and excelled in a degree, even during my years in education (to give me that extra edge), I went on to complete my FA Level 1 and FA Level 2 and soon the paths that I once thought closed, were opening up new beginnings in an entirely new chapter of my football career and life.
Just when I thought that things were progressing well and I finally found my place in the game, I was given the incredible opportunity of coaching for the New York Red Bulls and served a placement of 9 months – I left my family, my home, my everything to undertake this, but I was committed to doing it. I admit my ego was dented from being declined as an Academy player but that defining moment of being turned away is what spurred me on for this. After completing the 9 months in a new country and environment where I knew no one and had no one, I started the search to finally return home and back to my roots. I knew that it was never going to be a permanent option for me as home lingered in my thoughts during many isolated nights. After browsing the internet one evening looking for jobs back home, I stumbled across a full time coaching vacancy at Dorset FA who were advertising for a full time FA Skills Coach, working with 5-11 year olds. Without thinking twice, I gathered my papers and without delay, started the application process; the fingers were heavy on the keyboard and frantically drumming on the keys; I wanted to put across every ounce of what I had and what I knew with the intention of making the panel forget that any other application had ever existed because simply – I wanted this. Two weeks later, whilst on a lunch break, I checked my emails. To my sheer delight and surprise, I was offered an interview. Putting aside the pennies, I didn’t delay in paying for my ticket back to England. Even now I recall settling in from the long trip, rehearsing in my head the answers that I would give at my interview, as many potential questions as possible. Trying hard to deflect the negative thoughts that kept entering in and out my mind purely out of sheer nerves, once I finally found some calm, I slept on it. Next day, suited and booted I went to that interview. The morning was almost a sign in itself – good weather, hardly any traffic on the way, I was hoping the rest of it would be as smooth sailing as this was. I still remember what the day was like as I entered through the county FA’s doors. The interview came and went like a flash, it was quick but I felt good…really very energised, probably from the adrenaline of the interview. I gave it everything I could and more and left with no feelings of regrets. That was a good place to be in.
Luck was to take fold and I received a formal invitation of employment from Dorset FA – the word acceptance was in my mind, bolded, size 20, there loud and clear. There was no declining this offer! Accepting the offer to start employment I rang home and gave them all the good news, eventually slipping in to conversation that I was to be turning back home but relocating to Dorset. I served for Dorset FA from 2009 until March 2016 and progressed to Skills Team Leader. It was my 5th attempt at the role after being declined for the post 4 times! How that didn’t make me change my mind I don’t know but as you can see from my journey to this point, coaching is where I knew I needed to be. I had to fight for it. I gave up my fight to continue playing but I was in a different place back then whilst now, a grown man with years of life experience behind me, I was equipped to deal with any barrier in my way. Who knows as well, maybe subconsciously I knew that I wasn’t to make it as a player and so gave up on the dream the moment I hit a stumbling block. During that time serving as a Skills Lead, I tasked myself with completing as much CPD as I could; I took every opportunity presented and now I am proud to boast that I have my UEFA B and FA Youth Awards, even today I am even on the A License so my development as a coach has never seized even though I made it as one.
Enthused by new learnings and teachings, I further progressed in my career and took on the responsibility of Dorset FA’s U10’s Girls Centre of Excellence team and Dorset FA’s U10 boys development team. From these experiences and heightened expertise accumulated in the varying roles I applied to become County Coach Developer for Hampshire FA and lo and behold was accepted onto that. For once being accepted in a role didn’t surprise me, after all I was already well and truly established in The FA as during my time as a Skills coach I was also a part time FA tutor delivering FA Youth Module 1 and 2, gathering up even more under my belt. I worked with teachers and coaches and supported them with their own development, it wasn’t just coaching football anymore, it was expanding the horizons for other professionals in different environments.
In a nutshell to bring this flashback of my life and journey as a coach to a close end, my advice to anyone reading this is simple. You can have all the qualifications in the world and for any profession, but if you haven’t got the experience to go alongside it, it doesn’t mean a great deal. I am pleased that I’ve been turned away and accepted throughout. The road was rocky at different times but I’d have nothing to share for it, if it was all a dream. At least when I hear of others’ struggle, I can reflect, sympathise and understand, qualities which are needed for any coach (although the list of qualities is endless for a coach!).
Today, I am one of the youngest county coach developers in the country and my ambition is solely embedded in the ethos of helping others become good coaches and develop, both as people and in the profession that they serve. I have the opportunity and the influence to inspire them, to fully engage with them in their coaching journey and to provide them with the guidance and support to achieve their fullest potential as I have done. I still get the odd passing comment because of my age and people of a generation naturally thinking I am too young to be serving in the role that I am, but I remember how I got here in the first place. It wasn’t by compliments but by challenges – naturally now when I hear the odd thing or two in the background, I smile and internally, thank them for reminding me that it was because of that, that I am now here coaching them.
Co-written by Mike Antrobus, County Coach Developer and Isabella Pearson, Business Support Officer