Grassroots coaches get the gold standard

Jessica Ennis’s coach, Toni Minichiello, spoke to Level One and Level Two grassroots football coaches at the FA's Licensed Coaches’ Club conference at St George's Park

Jessica Ennis contributed greatly to British sport’s golden summer. The Sheffield-born heptathlete enjoyed instant fame and a place in the country’s heart after securing Olympic gold on Super Saturday.

However, Ennis hasn’t hogged all the glory. Recognition has deservedly followed for the man behind her success.

Toni Minichiello, Ennis’s coach since the age of eleven, was named SportCoachUK Coach of the Year in November.

Speaking to the 300 grassroots coaches in attendance on the opening day of the FA’s Licensed Coaches’ Conference, Ennis’s mentor stressed the importance of patience and appropriate training in long-term development.

“I think it’s crucial in any sportsperson’s development that you look at the ‘long game’.”

“It’s important that you look at the individual and define what skills you need to get into them at a young age and then you build year on year.”

Grassroots coaches have a significant role to play in the development of the future of English football and the recent changes to grassroots football, prompted by The FA Youth Development Review, promotes a more skilful and enjoyable environment in which to play the game.

Coaching gold medal-winning athletes is, however, a far cry from the experience many grassroots football coaches encounter.

Minichiello believes there are many key messages grassroots coaches can take from athletics, and using appropriate methods at different times is a crucial issue.

“What you have to understand is they change as people [athletes and footballers] and so how you speak to an eleven year old will be different to how you speak to a fourteen year old.

“The relationship is going to change and it means you’re not going to be ‘boss’ all the way through.”

“There’s going to be a lot of instruction early on, but later there’s going to be coaching and feedback.

“Later on still you’re getting most of the feedback from the athlete and them telling you what they want from you.”

Minichiello’s success is built on a strong coach-athlete relationship. Interestingly, Ennis’s coach cites ‘listening’ as one of the key foundations to success.

“It’s the listening that helps me write a decent programme for her to be successful. I need to take on board what she’s saying. She feels it, she plays the game and she runs, so I’m interested in what she’s feeling and what she’s experienced."

Post-Olympics the popularity of athletics has soared. However, Minichiello has voiced his concerns about the slim number of qualified coaches who can capitalise on the new-found enthusiasm.

Qualifications and experience are key issues for any coach, important messages for those attending the Licensed Coaches’ Club Conference.

“Qualifications allow you to coach, but fundamentally they give you the ideas of how to structure your training. And we all need that. How can we make the session fresh? How can I add new skills? How can I make changes?

“Not everybody is the same. What works with Jessica doesn’t work with someone else in the group so I need to find a way of teaching to get the message across.”

Tony Minichiello was speaking on the opening day of the FA's annual Licensed Coaches Club conference at St George's Park last Saturday. To find out more about the Licensed Coaches Club, or to get more reaction from the conference, visit


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