Meet the grassroots coach - Andrew Thwaites

Every month we give one grassroots football coach a soap box and let them give the world their thoughts on the beautiful game and how their teams are coached. Last but not least for 2013 is...

Name: Andrew Thwaites

Location: Cambridge

Clubs: YMCA Cambridge FC

Position: Secretary & Manager

Coaching Qualifications: UEFA B Licence

Coaching Experience: 15 years

Affiliated FA: Cambridgeshire FA

Why did you want to become a football coach?

I’m just hugely interested in football. I have played for as long as I can remember and I have been to over 70 of the 92 Football League grounds, not to mention countless non-league ones. I qualified as a referee as soon as I could, so the coaching side was one aspect that was missing. I was lucky to have a Dad who was so interested in football and he certainly encouraged me to be involved in all the game had to offer.

How did you get into coaching?

I really fell into it. My Dad was chairman of one of the local youth clubs and had arranged a one day coaching course for all the managers. A manager pulled out at the last minute so he offered the place to me and I jumped at the chance. Thankfully the pattern continued at uni as I was offered the chance to gain my UEFA B coaching license if I gave back some coaching hours to the university team. It was a no-brainer for me.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

I am very keen on getting players to be comfortable on the ball; I see retention of the football as vital. As a player I want the ball all of the time and I am keen to stress to my players that this is what I want from them too. I love short-sharp passing and players who have awareness – if you have a team of players who are comfortable on the ball and can spot a pass you won’t go far wrong.

Who or what has most influenced you as a coach?

My Dad was a huge influence, he was a real leader in local football in my home town of Hastings and his commitment and passion for grassroots football had a profound impact on me. It made me realise that if people did not take the lead, football at a lower level would not exist.

When I started to think about coaching seriously there were some younger coaches coming through and I loved Gordon Strachan. The fact he took my club Southampton to a cup final helped but, beyond everything, he was so funny and it always reminded me to keep a sense of humour!

What skills does a grassroots football coach most require?

I’d say patience and organisation are key. You can be the most technically-gifted coach in the world but at my level you are dealing with amateur players that meet for an hour a week, so you have to be very well organised to get the maximum out of the time you spend with them.

Most of the team I coach met at university so they should be quite intelligent, but it still amazes me how often something trivial like undoing the knot of the ball bag undoes them!

What are the most frequent challenges / hurdles you have to overcome as a grassroots coach?

There are so many. Even finding suitable facilities is difficult. We have been lucky as a club for the last few seasons with our training facilities, but we spent two or three seasons before that with nowhere affordable to meet throughout the winter. The lack of time you get with the players is another thing - my players are fitting football in around their ‘normal’ lives and play for all manner of different reasons, therefore it can sometimes be tough to really get done all you want.

What is your favourite coaching drill and why?

As I mentioned before, I see retention of the ball as vital. I coach a number of sessions where we overload the team in possession. So we might setup a 5v5 with four other players floating between whichever team has possession. You’ll get a point if you complete 15 passes, which should be easy with the overloading of players, but it often isn’t.

It is useful to illustrate the importance of keeping the ball moving quickly as well as spotting and taking the easy pass and thinking one pass ahead. Beyond that defending 5v9 is really hard work so it means you get a really good workout.

What sort of environment do you create for your team and how do you create it?

I try to create a relaxed environment in which players are encouraged to work hard and learn things for themselves. I don’t want players to have to think about too much other than football so, all of my sessions are carefully planned to encourage players to work the teaching points on their own rather than me just telling them everything. I strongly believe that every player can improve, so I like to run sessions where players can learn, develop and go away thinking.

When judging a player, what are the top five attributes you look for?

- Intelligence
- Composure
- Honesty
- Tenacity
- Technique

What do you think of the FA’s new approach to youth football as a result of the Youth Development Review?

I really think that the English need to develop a way of playing and start coaching it from a young age in the way that Spain and Germany have done in the past. That said you can’t expect kids to run before they can walk – let them enjoy football first before you get too technical.

Again I think the club I support can offer some pointers here. The success down at Southampton is borne out of a clear, long-term philosophy, one that is shared the moment a kid walks through the door. You cannot keep chopping and changing your philosophy all the time.

Should all young footballers get the same amount of game time regardless of their ability and why?

Absolutely not. It is artificial to pretend that this is how football works. I believe in offering opportunities to everyone but you cannot create a fake environment for youngsters. I think you have to be very open and honest and explain how young players can improve to make sure they are in the team all the time rather than just throwing them in whatever the situation. There is no basis for trying to improve in that situation, as you are given game time whatever happens.

What is the best thing about being a grassroots football coach?

Those mornings when it all comes together. Every now and again we will have a morning when we produce a brilliant performance, when all the stuff you have worked so hard on just works. Getting the result and seeing the enjoyment that a display like that brings to the players is extremely rewarding.

If you had one piece of advice to give to a young player what would it be?

For me it would be to really immerse yourself in the game. I don’t necessarily mean by just playing - have a go at everything. If you gain an understanding of every aspect of the game, you can you will become more balanced as a result.

As a player I get annoyed with referees but I understand them better because I have refereed myself. The way I want the teams I coach to play comes from those teams I have enjoyed watching. I love the game and therefore my commitment to it comes easily. As a youngster you should just drink it in and not channel your efforts too much in one area. I have been able to get involved in so much and have got loads back because I put myself out there.


Five aside - a few quickfire question

Describe yourself as a coach in three words: Determined. Discerning. Demanding.

What professional manager/coach are you most like: Mauricio Pochettino - my players sometimes struggle to understand me, or at least they play like they do!

Describe your perfect team and how they play: I loved the England team from the 1990 World Cup - Gary Lineker and Peter Shilton were my first football heroes. Being a bit older I was much more conscious of the team that played in Euro ’96 though; the way they embarrassed Holland by just playing with such confidence really stuck with me.

Describe your current team and how they play: Hard working and honest - they take after their manager in that regard!

2-0 up at home against a tough opponent. Go for the jugular or shut up shop? You should never chase a game in which you lead. Naturally I am quite a cautious coach; I am at pains to protect what I have when my teams lead. That said the way I ‘shut up shop’ is by relentlessly passing and keeping the ball. If you do that well you will create chances anyway without chasing them.


Have your say!

What do you think of Andrew's coaching philosophy? Whether or not you're a grassroots coach yourself, we'd love to hear from you and spark off some debate about the key issues facing coaches today, so please leave your feedback in the comments section below.

If you'd like to be featured in 'Meet the Grassroots Coach', please email your name, contact number, location and details of your coaching qualifications to

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