At times, it might be tempting to view the end-game of any coach’s career to be to oversee the development of senior, elite level players. Maurizio Sarri, Gerrard Houllier, even the great Carlos Alberto Parreira: all are examples of individuals who sensationally progressed after coaching youth and amateur teams.
Through a combination of graft and natural footballing intellect, they slowly worked their way upwards, eventually coming to occupy the very highest echelons of the game.
But, while it might sometimes seem like the professional, senior coaches get all the glory, there are countless alternative and equally rewarding paths in the journey of football coaching. Grassroots football is the soul of the game; without it, football at the elite level would not exist. Across the world, thousands, if not millions, of individuals give up their time in service of the sport, to coach at this fundamental stage in a young player’s development. Without exception, every great player’s career starts at the grassroots stage. Pele, Maradonna, Zidane, Messi, Ronaldo, their talents were never just handed to them; they all had to learn at the grassroots level.
It’s not just the nurturing of potential superstar talent that makes grassroots coaching worthwhile, however.
Football, throughout the world, is used as a force for social good; it unites communities, fostering a sense of collective spirit and pride within them as well as inspiring people to improve themselves on an individual level. For example, in economically deprived areas where there is less social mobility, the sport has consistently offered young people, who might otherwise have become involved with crime, an outlet. Football coaches at this level provide, not just a sporting service, but a hugely important social one too. This is just one instance of an alternative grassroots career in football coaching, which is both invaluable and doesn’t conform to the standard model of career trajectory.
As we know, the best young players from the grassroots level will go on to play professionally, or at least at a more senior level. From here on, of course, it is the job of the senior coach to oversee their progress as footballers. The merits of holding this kind of position are well-documented. When coaching more developed players, the opportunities for more high-profile success are tenfold. When a youth team wins a competition, a few people might sit up and take notice; but when a senior team does the same, it is generally more universally acknowledged. Consequently, the personal glory for the coach who has taken charge of the team is intensified. If then, like all great sportsmen, you have a competitive nature, this seems like the most logical recourse for you.
Another benefit for coaches who chose to work in a more senior position is that they tend to have access to better facilities than their grassroots counterparts.
Anyone who has worked in grassroots football will explain to you the difficulties of trying to find a spare pair of shinpads or put up a portable goal in the pouring rain. In contrast, higher-status positions bring with them drastically improved provisions. But, of course, there are different levels of achievement in this respect. To do well in spite of the fact that you have less impressive facilities at your disposal might, to some, be considered a more praiseworthy accomplishment. There are no right or wrong answers. Ultimately, it boils down to a question of personal preference and what you personally value in football coaching.
A further factor one might consider when deciding to what level they want to pursue a career in this industry is the amount of stress which they have to deal with at each juncture.
Naturally, one might assume that working in a more senior position would entail more stress, but this is not necessarily the case. Organizing a gaggle of young kids (collecting match fees, communicating with parents, dealing with immature behavior, etc.) might, in some cases, create more pressures than dealings at a higher level. The tensions at senior level are more apparent, of course, as with increased responsibility comes more explicit demands. Senior coaches are far more likely to lose their jobs if they are under-performing, for example. This is especially true at the highest level of the game, proving that one’s job security becomes more and more fragile the further they progress up the coaching ladder. Evidently, there will be tensions at any level – it is how you respond to them that defines you as a coach, however.
Holding any position in football coaching is an achievement to be proud of – it means you are actively contributing to the game we know and love. Choosing the path which suits you is one of the most important aspects of your personal journey, wherever your final destination may be.
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Written by Adam Williams