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Farewell To Neil Winskill

Today is my last day working for Newcastle United Foundation.

I have spent the last three weeks reminiscing over my professional life thus far, pondering  the lessons I have learned and the people who have had a huge impact on me, both personally and professionally.

I leave my role as Football Development Manager, having previously been a Football Development Officer with Newcastle City Council, a role which had itself progressed from a sessional coach role, working a couple of hours per week,  and before that a young volunteer coach position at a local grassroots club. I thank Rob Atkin for the initial opportunity; he championed my ability and encouraged me to follow this career path. Having left Newcastle United FC aged 18 at the end of my 2-year apprenticeship, admittedly heart broken and lost, it is thanks to that opportunity in 1996 that I am in this position today.

I have had many great mentors and coaching buddies over the years too. From the inspiring Barney Jones to Ben Dawson, Terry Mitchell and Liam Bramley, I have been very lucky to work with such talented, generous and forward thinking coaches who have subtly pushed me to be better. As we are all still based in the North East we work together frequently and still have “coach’s coffee mornings” to chew the football fat! We also still spend many hours driving up and down the country to watch top professionals in action, anyone from  the RAF Red Arrows to Terry Venables. I have also worked for great managers like Rob, who taught me to “build a reputation” by being good at my job and Kate Bradley who has taught me how to manage, lead and motivate the people I work with through being positive and politely demanding!  Kate also nominated me for what turned out to be the greatest day of my professional life when I collected my FA 150 Grassroots Hero award from Prince William at Buckingham Palace. Both managers have made a lasting impact on me.

Fast forward 17 years from my first ever coaching appointment with Newcastle Football Development Scheme, and I am moving to Newcastle United Academy as Youth Development Coach with the Under 15’s. It has been a long apprenticeship to become a full time member of my club’s Academy set up. I have never hidden the fact that this has been a personal goal of mine and the chance to work on the grass every day, nurturing potential future toon stars is a huge honour. The employment history on my CV is very simple and I have learned many lessons on coaching and managing- all transferable.

I leave behind a team of 22 full time coaches and 8 sessional coaches all of whom have their own coaching aspirations. We all have completed various FA Coach Ed Awards to validate our position in the coaching world and, whilst we are all unique in our own way, be it personality, preferred coaching style, practice libraries etc., we all share the same passion for working with young players. I have tried to reciprocate the help given to me over the years by encouraging, supporting and mentoring many of my own staff towards their coaching badges, most recently a cluster through their UEFA ‘B’. Their ambitions are often in danger of being overwhelmed by impatience and the notion that ‘certificate chasing’ allows rite of passage. The “instant gratification” attitude is prevalent in society generally but time served is often more valued than a piece of paper. Young coaches want to be the finished article yesterday and hurry through courses before consolidating what they have learned. I really admire, and can identify with,  their ambition and thirst for knowledge but I can truly say that the gap between courses is often where the true learning takes place. I waited 6 years between my UEFA B and UEFA A as I felt I hadn’t earned the right to progress. Those 6 years involved endless hours perfecting the craft of teaching with all age groups and all ability levels from playgrounds to non-league grounds. To this day I either come off the pitch satisfied, or equally often frustrated with myself, my own X Factor judging panel in the car on the way home as I plan how the next session can be more effective. I am still learning daily and am as hungry to develop my skills as I was when I started; I thank my team at the Foundation for constantly challenging me and for becoming very inquisitive which keeps me on my toes! I am certain I was the same with Barney et al – I still am if you ask them! Only last week myself and Liam had a painstaking and profound conversation about the skill of crossing the ball into the penalty area! Matter still not closed!

I started my coaching journey working with 5 to 7 year olds with Terry and I would not change this if I had my time again. I learned key lessons about group control, giving instructions clearly, demonstrating clearly, 2-way interaction and showing unlimited enthusiasm at all times to name but a few.  Those early lessons have stood me in good stead ever since! We often hear about the 10,000 hour rule for developing excellence. Whether this is correct or not, the overriding message is that to become the best you can be will take endless hours of practice – this applies to coaches also. As an FA tutor I am often asked “how can I become a better coach?” or “I am just starting out as a coach; what shall I do?”  There is not one definitive answer and often you have to self-teach in order to make the improvements demanded by your players. Hopefully this list of tips may help: –

  •   Know yourself and your strengths – play up to them and make them your Super Strengths!
  •   Take appropriate qualifications/courses
  •   Develop clear understanding of learning and how to be a good teacher
  •   Find a mentor/coaching buddy – a sounding board
  •   Gain masses of practical experience – different ages & ability
  •   Keep a Learning Journal/Diary – identify and work at the areas that need development
  •   Build a Practice Library – “selection not collection” is the art of planning
  •   Experiment with new ideas/practices
  •   Observe experienced coaches in action – time very well spent
  •   Question everything – dig deep for details!
  •   Watch & analyse the game with a specific focus – look at individuals, unit or team based on your chosen topic
  •   Use ‘Mind Mapping’ when planning – Who, What, When, Where, How, Why?
  •   Read journals, books, websites | YouTube/DVDs for game analysis

I hope this helps. I have picked up these tips from the many great people I have worked with and will continue to do all of the above in my new role.

Good luck with your coaching everyone. As teachers of our great game, we are all very lucky to be able to play our part – remember “their little eyes are upon you!”. Keep learning.

For more information on how you can get involved
Email foundation@nufc.co.uk

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