Interview with Jed Davies on Youth Development

Interview with Jed Davies on Youth Development
August 22, 2013 Arnar Steinsson

Interview by Arnar Steinsson. 

What started as a series of tweets from Chris Steel about concern over the development of youth football in England has resulted in three articles on TTT, interviews with several coaches working in different countries and even continents. There are many challenges involved, as the interviews and reactions in the comments section have shown, and what we would like to do is reduce the challenges bit by bit.

One of the ways to do that is to continue interviewing coaches. By asking for advice, ideas and solutions, in time we will start to see a bigger picture and the way forward will start to be clearer.

I am very happy to introduce Jed Davies to TTT. Davies is a coach with some extremely exciting ideas and I´m fascinated by his writing on football. He´s the assistant manager and head of analysis for Oxford University FC Centaurs for the 2013/14 season, working under former Reading FC technical skills coach Jon Collins.

Jed Davies IMAGE #1

Arnar: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing England in order to improve the youth development and what steps would you like to see in order to improve it?

Jed Davies: For me and what I have seen, youth football on a whole is riddled with coaches (sometimes qualified) who are coaching for the wrong reasons and either choosing to ignore the good pieces of information available on a basic level 2 qualification or are unaware of some of the fundamentals for coaching youth players.

Take this example: a club (unnamed) in the south west of England that has facilities that many would dream of, a near full-size indoor facility, a 4th generation turfed pitch and a waiting list to join the club so long they could create 3-4 teams in each age group, recently ran an U11 training session and I happened to be watching the progress of one particular youth player. The lead coach, blessed with these facilities, had clearly planned the session – he laid out hurdles, gates and bibs, before the players had arrived which is fantastic as some coaches don’t even do this. However, what followed was almost half an hour – in the blistering heat – with no water break, of impossible fitness regimes that included jumping over hurdles, press ups and short sprints – and not one touch of the ball during that time. The players were then taken inside to the indoor facility (which was comparatively a lot cooler) and then they went straight into a non-themed game in which both coaches joined in on the session. The lead coach’s presence was uncomfortable to watch, he would call for the ball quite often and would always receive the ball, furthermore he would never be marked and would overpower the quieter coach during the half time talk, which essentially was ‘to pass the ball sideways more often’. The lead coach would then receive the ball and ‘dummy kick’ the ball at 11 year old players before slowly dribbling the ball past players as they turned away in fear of a ball being hit hard at them. The player I had come to watch then performed an excellent roulette on the quieter coach and got through on goal with only the keeper to beat, only for the lead coach to be screaming at him to square the ball to him to tap the ball into the net. The young lad didn’t even get acknowledged for his excellent roulette on a man 30 years his senior.

Now I’m not saying all clubs are run like this – but this particular club was in a position of having the best facilities within a hundred miles. I later discovered that the club’s part time secretary was a young UEFA B licensed coach and he is often pushed aside and instructed to continue with admin as the clubs elder staff (like the lead coach we spoke about) took training sessions instead. I have since overheard the lead coach in conversation with a parent who was boasting that his own son (who played for the u11 team) was approached by a Birmingham City scout along with two other players in the team; the lead coach went on to say he refused the scout permission to speak with the parents of the players (without revealing he was one of the parents) because he didn’t trust the academy’s ability to look after players and that they couldn’t offer anything more than his team already could.

There are a serious number of problems coming to the surface here that are widespread in my opinion at grassroots levels.

While there were many examples of poor practice in the example given above, the one that strikes me most is the arrogance and ego-centered manner that this lead coach has conducted his training session and has chosen to manage his club.

Coaches need to be coaching for the right reasons. Many coaches are looking to re-live their playing days or are interested in coaching as they only trust themselves with their son’s quest to become a professional footballer. Neither of these are the bottom line however; it is instead the lack of interest that these coaches have in the field of coaching itself. The belief is that they know everything there is to know about coaching and overlook the fact that even Mourinho is still learning about the game every day. Child development expertise, tactical theory understanding/application and a motivation to want to become a scholar of football are all basic fundamentals in my opinion to become a successful football coach. Many of these aspects are actually covered in the Level 1, Level 2, Uefa B and youth module courses run by the FA: the principles of play, the appropriate environment conducive to child development, technical and skill aspects of training etc. However, like our friend who ran the training session I observed (who I have since been informed has a level 2 qualification) the coaches really need to buy into these aspects of coaching education. You don’t have to agree with everything the FA teach you, but you certainly need to understand why the FA has chosen to teach you certain fundamental components of being a coach. It’s much like passing your driving test, there is a certain degree of ownership afterwards that forms your driving style – many pass their driving test and then slip into many bad habits. Style is fine for me, as long as you have made informed decisions about why you may be choosing to ignore something the FA have taught you and that is certainly the case for many great coaches in the industry – they do things a little different from what the FA have taught them, but they have certainly made informed decisions based on their academic research or experiences, not for reasons of ignorance.

Away from the grassroots game, it’s easy to analyse the elite levels of football and conclude that we are lacking players with the correct technique, positional flexibility, level of creativity or even an understanding of a central philosophy. However, for me it is more important to start with really getting the right people involved in coaching and providing opportunities for those that want to succeed (like our admin UEFA B coach who is forced to watch from the sidelines with me).

In my upcoming book I have intentionally included a whole first part about development theory: development for youth players and football clubs. I am hoping that a coach that may buy my book for the purposes of learning about ‘tiki-taka’ tactical components or to view training session recordings of Barcelona or Liverpool will also buy into the complexities of what makes a great coach. For me a great coach will always look to educate players each week, a great coach will always look to continue his own development as a footballing scholar by listening to others (regardless of age or qualification; Louis Lancaster is a great example of someone who has the HIGHEST qualification possible and yet still rings other coaches to listen to their ideas without even asking what their qualifications are) and a great coach will question the smallest of details. I would go as far as saying that the coach that ran the session I observed had considered none of the above in his life time and instead feels that he knows all there is to know about football and coaching – which is a shame, because there is a world of layered information on every aspect of football: habit formation, tactical understanding (the four basic moments of the game), appropriate communication (psychology), systems and many other aspects of football that can uncover areas that would take a lifetime of study to master.

So for me and in my own experiences, youth football isn’t flawed because of the FA’s teaching methods but in those who are in football for the wrong reasons. How to fix this? I’m not sure. But we certainly need to start breaking down barriers of the ‘old boys network’ we hear about a lot, to give talented and enthusiastic coaches (who are in coaching for the right reasons) the opportunity to tell us about their ideas because right now, children aren’t being given a fair opportunity to be represented by the right people at the earliest ages. In every league in this country, a good coach will exist but at the same time three or four coaches who have no interest in becoming great coaches are ruining the opportunity for young players to (a) enjoy the game and (b) enjoy learning something new in every training session.

I later congratulated the young player who performed the roulette and asked him why he didn’t perform this skill to beat players of his own age in 1v1 scenarios. The eleven year old turned around to me and said: “because I get told off by the coach for doing it if I lose the ball”. Heartbreaking isn’t it?

Now, not all teams are run like this that much is for certain. Bristol Inner City Advanced Development Centre (@Bristolicafc) – a club ran by Patrick Williams – has captured my attention over the last year and I have been lucky enough to have coached for them.

BICADC look to educate their players in a pressure free environment and have as a result gone on to win the Bolton Super Cup this last week and have over the last two years regularly played fixtures against top youth academies – being invited back after each game. This is in my mind, excellent proof that there are coaches out there that are in grassroots coaching for the right reasons. When these people are involved with coaching it is transparent through the club so that your opponents can see it.

Another great example I have heard of in recent years is the FA chartered standard football club from Taunton called Hamilton FC. When Karl Lindsay, (@Karl_Lindsay) the club owner, started the club he found little success in trying to recruit players through schools and had to go to the local parks to recruit players who were having a kick around in the park – some who could barely kick a ball. 6 years later, the club is championed in Taunton, and I know that Karl will find it difficult to ever leave Hamilton FC, not because he has an ego to protect but because Karl has created an environment where football players join Hamilton for the environment and coaching they can offer.

That said, for every great success story, I could point out 3-4 clubs where the coach is hindering development of his players for the reasons we have spoken about in this interview.

We need more Karl Lindsay’s and Patrick Williams’ in football. Now if someone can set up a coaching academy like that, that would be a starting point!

Arnar: Thanks Jed that was very informative and yes I agree, what you spoke of is heartbreaking, but in equal measure encouraging to hear about Lancaster, Williams and Lindsay. Can you go into more detail of their, and of course your, methods and ideas in coaching?

Jed Davies: I am by no means on the same level as those three mentioned in terms of establishing a way I want to work.

I’m in a position where I am doing as much research as possible to really understand where I want to be and I’ve spoken to a few people who have really influenced me in terms of the way I will think about certain issues in football. Through Tim Lees and Roberto Martinez’s methods at Wigan last season, I really bought into Martinez’s ideas that coaching for children under the age of 11 should really focus on developing habitual action for one vs. one scenarios. By that I am referring to a player knowing which skill or action to use from set cues such as the angle and distance of the opponent he is trying to beat.

I have just accepted the role of assistant manager at Oxford University Centaurs to work under Jon Collins. Collins, a coach who has worked with a few Premier League clubs and has also studied the Spanish model inside out. I’m really excited to get started with Jon but also to work with adults for the first time (with five training sessions a week!) at a developmental age that really does test how we will implement our tactical ideas.

Patrick Williams is a coach I have studied for a while and I really appreciate how Williams and his head of coaching Chris Palmer (a coach with 10 years of experience at Southampton Youth) look to get their youth teams playing a really technical game through the thirds. I’ve seen Patrick coach with U8/9 a number of times and I am struck with how good he is at keeping their attention and getting key messages across at those age groups. During the Bolton Super Cup Patrick met former Liverpool coach Sammy Lee and I’m told Lee was extremely impressed with the unity of BICADC, who went on to beat the Bolton youth teams.

Above all else, it’s Patrick’s professional approach to training that is keystone to how that club works – his players often eat together after games and fill out assessment tasks etc. For anyone wanting to take their club to the next level, Patrick is certainly a man with a sea of ideas about how to portray yourself in a way that will allow you to secure big development fixtures and maintain a successful educational model. Everything is planned and most training methods directly refer back to the same outcomes that the FA is looking to implement.

Karl Lindsay is all about enthusiasm. I haven’t seen a coach get such a kick from training sessions in years – there is no doubt that he thoroughly enjoys the art of coaching a new idea to a group of players. His enthusiasm is contagious and he certainly isn’t afraid to risk a new idea with either the adult team or u15 team he coaches at the moment. I’ve seen Karl doing demonstrations during sessions and he makes everything seem so natural, thoroughly fun and maintains a high level of energy throughout. It’s really easy to see why players want to play for him and how his personality has taken his team from a group of kids picked from the park to a whole club that challenges in every age group. Taunton Town and the likes of Yeovil men’s team really should be looking at what they have on their door step and taking advantage of a coach like Karl. As a young player, I really would have loved to have played under Karl and I would place my full trust in Karl’s attention to each and every player to reach their full potential.

Louis Lancaster isn’t a coach I have seen in action as of yet. Having said that, I have spoken with Louis and his enthusiasm for learning and studying the game is second to none. You only need to speak with him about what he learnt from analysing Bayern games last season (and probably now this season too) to realise just how obsessive you need to be, to become a coaching academic. I think along with myself and Louis, Jon Collins, Tim Lees and Liverpool’s Chris Davies you would have a team of coaches that may arrive at similar conclusions about how the game should be played but you’d have five unique visions of how players can be developed and coached. No coach is the same and I guess that is the point – so long as there is a level of acceptance and understanding between coaches, collaboration can work to benefit the overall ideas.

With all of us, and many more in the industry, it’s the attention to detail and the amount of research/study taken out before concluding ideas that sets people apart. I certainly envy each of the coaches mentioned for different reasons – Karl’s manner on a training field, Patrick’s ambition and professionalism, Tim’s tactical expertise, Louis’ studious approach to furthering himself and Jon Collins’ ability to portray complex ideas into simplicity. If we were to mix these qualities together you’d be left with a sort of ‘renaissance coach’ that even a lifetime of study would struggle to compete with.

If you are going to take one thing from this, the key differences between the coach we spoke about in question one is the will to learn more and never settle for what you think you know already or even what your mentor knows (for Tim Lees that was Martinez and for Chris Davies that is Brendan Rodgers). Not one of these coaches does it for any other reason other than that they love the game and that they love what can be achieved through hard work and believe me, there is a hell of a lot of hard work and dedication to get even half of the way to competing with the coaches I have mentioned – coaching for these guys extends beyond the hour and a half of training right through to every minute of the day. Forget the 10,000 hour rule; becoming a great coach is a lifetime commitment.

Arnar: One of the things I noticed is that some coaches mentioned how hard it can be to access quality coaching material. And at the same time I was looking at your twitter account and you post information like that on a regular basis. And I thought there must be a way to highlight a path for coaches looking for that information. A database online where coaches can access material in great detail in an easy manner is surely crucial? What are your thoughts on that and in the absence of such a database, where would you direct coaches to access such information without too much trouble?

Jed: I remember Capello saying that all great coaches are the greatest of thieves. Capello didn’t mean that the greatest coaches should steal session plans or tactical drawings but instead we should look at the coaching precedents that we admire and learn from those by getting in the minds of the relevant person.

I’ve been fortunate in many ways to have collected nearly 11GB of documents (coaching presentations, videos, session planners, club documents, e-magazine articles etc) and have made as much of that as possible (copyright issues prevent me from sharing it all) available on my website for free in the members’ area. I uploaded this for the very reasons you are talking about but in truth I have learnt most through other channels.

Studying football and becoming a ‘Capello thief’ is more than just looking through document after document. You can analyse football games through a new set of lenses for example and arrive at new conclusions. Perhaps you decide that from now on you will make notes on the four processes or ‘moments’ of the game and ignore everything else. These four moments are (1) in possession, (2) out of possession, (3) the transition of losing the ball and (4) the transition of winning the ball. I would say that just by focusing on the formation differentials you’ll create an ‘ecosystem of play’ for a team and you’ll learn a lot from this. Liverpool is a club I did this for on a number of occasions last season (some of the content is available to view on and at times it was fascinating to see how Rodgers would look to manage the movements of players in between the two general formations. Teams like Liverpool that look to have 60% possession really do think about formations like this, you have to – you cannot simply put players in a 4-3-2-1 formation and let the rest fall into place. I challenge you to pick a side and watch the games through analytical objectives lenses – within a few months, I can almost guarantee you’ll look back and think ‘wow, I never looked at that aspect of play like that before’. Start with formation, move through to other components such as player movement, how each area of the field is treated and tactical variations depending on who they may be playing – paying particular attention to zone 14, counter attacks, crossing etc. Louis Lancaster has done this with Bayern Munich and he’ll tell you how much he learnt through doing this – and he’s done every qualification you can do!

Of course games are just a small percentage of what a coach is involved with and you can achieve a similar model of learning through analysing training sessions with a structured analysis looking at aspects such as communication, body language along with the session plan itself.

I have learnt most from speaking with coaches and asking the right questions to really get inside their minds and how they view their role as a coach and how they can implement ideas they have.

I have also learnt much from literature that may or may not be directly related to football specifically: The Goldmine Effect, Bounce and The Power of Habit are three I have had epiphany moments during the course of the books despite not focusing only on football itself. Not everything in football has been understood yet and for those reasons I feel it is important to continually read loosely related material. Next on my list is a book about street football and the science behind that (A Coaches Guide to Street Soccer by Lavey and Hartley – recommended to me on twitter recently by @playpanna).

Be warned though, there are hundreds of poor books out there on football. During the writing of my book and while furthering my own knowledge I have spent over £1,000 on books and only about 10% of that has been worthwhile!  Believe it or not I actually began to learn Dutch last year for the purposes of reading ‘devoetbal trainer’ magazine and a number of books not yet translated into English. I feel that learning languages will always help you branch out your ability to learn. Anthony Hudson, Chris Davies and Jon Collins all speak Spanish and I know that all three have utilised this along the way.

Finding a career in coaching is all about networking and for those reasons I will recommend that you get yourself on LinkedIN and find the coaches that you admire the most, connect with them and ask questions or for an invite to come and watch them coach. You’d be surprised how helpful some coaches out there are, particularly at the youth levels – after all it is likely that if you can convince the coach that you share the same passion and vision he does then he will want to help you. For me that’s the best advice I was given: network, network and network! In an age where it is pretty easy to get in touch with either a person you want to meet or someone who knows them, you’ve got no excuses. I wrote out thousands of emails to get to meet and speak with the people I did for my book and that book was just as much for me and my own learning as it will be for others. I also used the football manager database to find out many of the names of coaches currently or previously employed at particular clubs. If all else fails you can always resort to marching up to Villas-Boas and demand to know why your favourite Spurs player on the bench isn’t playing – because that’s just how a 16 year old AVB found his feet in football by questioning Sir Bobby Robson outside a Portuguese team’s stadium, only for Robson to invite him into training to find out for himself why his favourite striker wasn’t playing. Of course this plan was my last resort, so try all other channels first!

Lastly of course, your FA courses and Coerver coaching courses out there will always test what knowledge you have acquired from elsewhere. I understand that these are expensive but I have taken courses when I have had to look into hiring and sleeping in a car as I couldn’t afford the hotels and/or train costs (I was pleased to see that even David Moyes had done this recently! So I have no shame in admitting that anymore). If you are serious about coaching, nothing will get in your way.

Additionally: websites such as TED Talks offer us with a large amount of inspirational content about learning, development etc. Feel free to find me on twitter for help finding a few fantastic videos on this website that I found interesting. Make sure that you check out the likes of @Tad690, Nick Levett and join @coachingfamily on twitter too – make the best use of twitter as you can! There are dozens of other great coaches on twitter that share fantastic content – again please feel free to ask for a few recommendations for who to follow along with these guys.

Arnar: I would like to take you up on your offer and ask you about a few recommendations of who to follow along with these guys?

Jed Davies: I was reluctant to make a list as such in fear of missing someone out but I decided that if I had missed someone out then you’d certainly discover them on the timelines of these guys:

@tad690 (Tony Taylor) – always sharing. More than me!

@nlevett – the national development manager for youth football in England

@Louis Lancaster – level 5

@MichaelJolley07 – also a pro coach and level 5

@coachingfamily – goes without saying

@the_w_address (Matt Whitehouse) a little bit like myself as he also writes about footballing issues as well as sharing content

@steviegrieve – big name for the future. Only in his 20’s and heading youth development in India and author of many books

@GaryJWhiteTD – L5 and doing huge things for the nation of Guam – he’s the first face you see off of the planet.

The names below all share great content:

@NCHammer (Neil Cooper)

@goaliecoach00 (Rob Parker)

@soccerresource (Jamie Edwards) – huge database of videos

@JHarvCoach (Jamie Harvey)



@Baldy1974 (Hugo Langton)

@CosmosoccerCA (Lee Merricks?)

@Markproskills (Mark Senior) former Manchester United coach

@Hodgaa (Chris Hodgson)



@benbarts (Ben Bartlett)

@mworthington (matt worthington)

@_charrington_ (Craig Harrington)


@uppy01 (Mark Upton)

I know I am missing many people from this list but I have no doubt that through these guys you’ll suddenly be opened up to a whole new world of people with similar interests to yourself. After all, they say you know everyone in the world through six people…

Jed Davies IMAGE #2

Arnar: Thanks Jed that´s really helpful.  I have touched upon the benefits of small-sided games before, but not street football and futsal and even football tennis, could you tell me about the benefits of all four examples, for young players?

Jed Davies: I recently wrote an article ( that had an unfortunate grandeur heading given to it but I looked at the benefits of Futsal as a tool for youth players.

For me the key benefits are all in the creativity side of the game. Your brain has two sides (hemispheres) to it – a creative side and a more rational/disciplined side. It’s important to know at this point that rational side is often too slow to react to a fast moving game like football.

We in the developed world have structured football so much that we are now only really exercising the rational side of our brain. In Brazil, football is also played through various ‘pelada’ or ‘pick up’ set ups; unorganised and free football known over here as ‘street football’ and if you couple this with Futsal (a sport with many limitations on the player that aren’t found in football) you have a way of exercising the creative hemisphere that we currently do not. This may explain why Brazilians are so often brilliant with the ball but score lower on the more rational aspects such as positioning and discipline.

Put short, we need more variety in this country and the street football schemes that are coming to the surface every now and again, along with the rise of Futsal can only mean good things. I applaud the work by Simon Clifford of Brazilian Soccer Schools over the last decade or so – a few elite players in England have already mentioned that BSS was a defining tool in shaping them as football players.

There is no doubt about it – this country is missing a level of creativity at the elite levels of the game. This is in part down to the types of games played but also down to the small number of touches that players have had over the last decade during their youth. I remember playing a game and I only had a few touches, and none of them with my feet (centre-half)!

The FA have made some great strides with introducing smaller and proportionately sided games for younger age groups in recent years; next season I am looking forward to seeing the ‘retreat line’ being used widespread. The retreat line is a rule whereby the opposition must start heading back to the half way line as your team takes a goal kick. You don’t have to wait for them to retreat all the way back but as soon as the ball is played, normal play is resumed. I favor this rule because it enables players to take short goal kicks and begin to play through the thirds. Right now I see too many keepers kicking the ball as far as they can at each goal kick and nothing good is coming of that in youth football.

If only we had these rules as central defenders, ten or fifteen years ago, maybe we would have actually enjoyed playing centre half rather than constantly requesting to move into midfield, onto the wings and then back into defence because you realise that all they do in midfield was run after balls being lobbed over them (my own personal experience!). There should be no place for that situation in youth football in my eyes. Fun, touches of the ball and giving meaning to all the players on the field (not just the goal scorer) make up much of my approach to how I have envisaged myself as a youth coach over the years. Winning is a by-product of playing well, not something that dictates that an eleven year old should fear making mistakes, while trying to beat his man with a skill that he has spent many hours mastering in his back garden! Games at youth level are the opportunities to practice these skills and grow confident with them. If only I could perform the roulette so brilliantly at the age of eleven, the young lad we spoke of earlier did everything perfectly: the correct angled approach, the change of pace, the finesse – everything, only he didn’t get the acknowledgement he deserved, for something he had clearly been practicing!