Making an impact in Stirling. A young coach's journey through the football ladder.
In this interview, aspiring football manager Nick Irwin talks to SPORTSESSION.COM about his early playing career and his ourney into coaching. Nick's story is inspirational and proves that a fantastic coach can belong to any age-group.
Rafe: Hi Nick. How are you getting on? Firstly, I’d like to say how pleased we are to have you on board at SPORTSESSION.COM.
We really love the work that you're doing and the positive impact you're making in Stirling.
Can you tell us a bit about Stirling and what you're studying at university?
Nick: I'm doing journalism and Sports Studies.
I hope that my career will be anything to do with football. It could be football reporting, football presenting, football commentary. I’d like to have that option by the end of my degree to either go down a football coaching route or go down a reporting route.
The end goal would be within football, whether it's in Scotland or England.
Rafe: It’s so good having a passion like that. And I guess you can take it in so many different directions.
Nick: That's why I say to people who are going to start university to do something you love. Don't go because you're trying to fill a void in your life. Go to university to do something you enjoy. That's why I've come. I'm good at writing and I love football. Combine them together and that's the perfect recipe.
Rafe: So how did you first get into football then?
Nick: The age of eight, eight or nine.
My brother really loved football. I played in my back garden with my brother. There was a local team I went to trial for. I wasn't naive. The coaches at time had sons in the team and they were all attackers. So, I said to myself I'm going to be a defender.
And that was me from the age of eight until about 11. So, I was there for 3-4 years.
I played week in week out and absolutely loved it.
As I got older and played at high-school, the coaches said I would make a great coach, because I had those leadership characteristics, even at that young age.
Rafe: That's interesting that he that he spotted that at quite a quite an early stage
Nick: I would always get highlighted for the one who was shouting and being vocal. I've captained a few sides. Then that team folded out. That was in the June of 2018 or 2019. I went straight into coaching back at the club that I played for when I was a wee boy. It came full circle for me. I was always curious when I was a young player looking at the coaches. I thought I'd love to do that.
So, I started there as an assistant for the 5-year-old coaching. Then covid hit. After covid, a school teacher married to the chairman of the Football Club told me I could get back involved in the club and coach at a higher level, so I took over the 11-year-old stage and I was an assistant coach there for a bit. I became the lead coach within two months and that was some experience.
Rafe: I Imagine that was a really great experience. Is that an age group where you can make the greatest impression as a coach?
Nick: The key thing is to make the sessions engaging. If they're in another coach’s group, they're disappointed. You want that, you want the players to enjoy your training.
Rafe: How do you do that? How do you make a session fun and exciting, but also improve a player's game at the same time? Is it a hard balance?
Nick: I've not played football at a high level, but whilst I was playing football, one thing I realised when I was playing was the drills being too long. The same thing would go on for too long. So, there’s a sweet spot in terms of the timing to see when boredom hits. So, when I'm doing my sessions now, I'm coaching boys and they range from 17 to 28. I Make sure it’s short and sharp. High intensity, but short 15 – 30 second bursts.
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It’s having that constant engagement and constant rotation. If it's something that's not particularly exciting it has to be fast flowing.
You also need a having a competitive edge to training. I want players to take responsibility on their shoulder. Someone takes the ball, someone takes the kit, someone takes the bibs. So, whoever loses a Rondo session needs to take in the bibs. That's what happens at university now because we've got players from 1st to 4th year.
All the fourth years take on responsibilities. There's no hierarchy. So effectively, I engrave into these boys, a sense of responsibility.
Rafe: Is it difficult coaching older people? How do they take to that when you’re younger and you're telling them what to do?
Nick: Yeah, it's something that going into coaching I wasn’t too sceptical about. I think it's the confidence that I have as a young person and the experience I've got, I present myself as if I'm if I'm a lot older than I actually am. They thought I was at Uni the last few years. They didn’t know I was 18. All of them thought I was 22 or 24. I set my own standards.
In the first drill, I got players to say their own name when
passing the ball to each other because none of the boys knew each other either.
So, I said when you're passing say your own name, because we're all here on a fresh slate. To get to know each other, say your own name. So that's how you start to build that relationship with players.
But I can't see in the future that it’s something I have to deal with. I've got that confidence.
I may be young, but I've got 3 years of football experience. I've played football before. I know what I'm talking about straight away.
Rafe: It's such an impressive confidence, and if you're passing that on to the people you're coaching, it's invaluable.
It’s challenging coaching people older than you and it sounds like you're managing that in a really impressive fashion.
Who is your ideal person is to coach. Is it an attacker or defender? What are your favourite drills?
Nick: I instil that attacking instinct, to get shots away first time because a lot of times in training people can be lethargic. So, when a ball comes in the box they often take too many touches. I don’t want that to be the case.
I focus on switches of play a lot in training. At this level you need to know how to switch a ball across the field. It's learning skills that are going to help you with the game. Everything in training should relate to a game.
It’s that killer instinct. I tell my boys to work with their the first touch. I'm more impressed if someone hits a first time shot and scuffs it than if someone cuts the ball back or takes four or five touches. There's not realistic. I like to make all my sessions to be related to what's gonna happen in the game.
Rafe: It was so exciting following the Lionesses over the summer and seeing them do so well. Have you seen an increase in women playing football in Stirling?
Nick: I have. At my Uni the main lecturer within my Sports Studies course plays for the women's football first team. She has 550 pupils within her whole bracket for first year. So that means 550 people know about her and know the women's game.
At Stirling, it's the whole club together here. There's no distinction between men’s and women’s football. It's all just Stirling Uni.
Rafe: That sounds really good.
Nick: People in high places within our university are all involved with the women's team.
You know where everything happening. There's a lot coverage. Everything is broadcast so well. So all the teams attract equal support. There’s a huge uptake and it’s brilliant to see.
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