Craig O’Donoghue ‘My Coaching Journey’

Craig O’Donoghue (LLS Tutor and Wigan FC U11 Coach) ‘My Coaching Journey’ 1st February 2016

  • Late beginner now Wigan FC Academy Coach 
  • Unique experience in LA meeting Real Madrid stars provided inspiration
  • Former GK explains why experience is key for aspiring coaches 

I was a late beginner at playing football. When I was a young child I would always be out playing in the streets but never really enjoyed the game until the age of 11 when everything changed. I remember the turning-point vividly: I attended a pre-season match between Everton and Tranmere and it must have had an impact, as soon after I asked my parents “could I be involved in a team?”  Luckily for me they obliged and my footballing journey began.

My first team were based in Walton and were called Orry’s who happened to be the worst team in the league. Even though my team mates and I were a little over 4 feet we played on a full 11 a-side pitch with huge goals and our season consisted of a series of heavy defeats with the team failing to win a single game: surely enough to put a newcomer off! The saving grace of my debutant season was that my position was in goal which meant I was in the firing line every week and my skills improved dramatically as a consequence.

My performances on the pitch soon drew the attention of more established clubs, so the following season I made the move to one of the stronger teams. The fact that I had been noticed improved my confidence and my love for the game grew stronger – along with my performances – which led to me being scouted by Everton Football Club at the age of 14. It was a privilege to train every week at Everton’s state of the art Bellefield training ground where I was on trial for 12 months during which time I felt I developed as a player under the guidance of the elite coaches. Agonisingly I suffered some injuries including broken fingers and a blow to the head; as a consequence, coupled with my relatively small height (5ft 9 not exactly huge in the goalkeeping world), I was released.

Naturally, I was disappointed at Everton’s decision but I was determined to continue playing at the best level possible and my proudest moment was playing for Great Britain Schools in the FESES Olympics in Hungary. Representing my country internationally was something I will never forget and it taught me anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

At this time, despite my playing going well, I realised it was unlikely I would play football professionally and started thinking about other careers in the sports industry. Growing up I was blessed with fantastic role models in the form of my PE teachers, one who particularly inspired me was Mr Durham who I first came across when I took part in the JSLA- a youth coaching award- which involved me coaching primary school children in the local area. Mr Durham gave me fantastic insight and tips and I soon became obsessed with wanting to become a coach. I put my newly acquired skills into action setting up my own goalkeeping lunch time session where I helped develop six players who attended religiously every week.

As with my playing career my confidence soon grew as a coach so, at the age of 16 when an internship with Everton Football Club became available, I grasped it with both hands. My hard work as a volunteer for Everton FC was noticed and I was offered regular work experience which culminated in me working with Everton Academy Development Officers throughout the North West. Whilst working with the academy department I gained really unique experiences, coaching elite players at the main development centres, shadowing experienced coaches and even gaining further qualifications such as my FA Level 2. During this time I feel I really developed my coaching style which I would say is a mixture of good knowledge and information delivered in a fun and enthusiastic way. I always aim to make sure my players are highly motivated and enjoying the game which at a young age is crucial.

As my journey progressed my hard work was recognised as Everton offered me a part time role as a Pre -Academy coach where I would deliver to children aged between 4 and 7. The role was hugely rewarding as it allowed me to work with talented children at such a wonderful age. Gaining the position confirmed to me early on the importance of volunteering and that if you put the hard work in the rewards are sure to follow.

During my early years in the sports industry I soon developed a network of contacts and even managed to coach internationally. Firstly, touring countries like Holland and France and, latterly, the USA. I absolutely loved my time in the US and remember arriving in Los Angeles airport and being shocked as to how big things were compared to the UK. As a 21 year old I recall standing there alone filled with anxiety, but after I met my contact all those feelings subsided and I got to work on having the best summer of my life!

Whilst in LA I spent my days coaching until noon and then I would usually sit on the beach, go shopping down the coastal road or drive round in my cabriolet car! It is safe to say I was generally living the high life and my summer was complete when me and some of my colleagues were invited to Las Vegas all expenses paid! We certainly weren’t going to knock that back!

I look back at my time in the US with great memories but my best has to be my host family, the Gadeas, who treated me as one of their own and were the most caring family I have ever come across. They showed me so much respect and were fascinated by my work due to the fact that they were huge soccer fans! The Gadeas were also good friends of Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez and to my delight I – along with the family- was invited along to watch the then 9 time European Champions train privately at UCLA! Upon arrival we were treated like stars; we were escorted down a red carpet whilst Madrid fans passionately chanted, “Ronaldo, Ronaldo!” We then got the chance to meet some of the world’s best players such as Kaka, Ozil and the man himself, Cristiano Ronaldo! This experience really spurred me on as to where I want to be and upon my return I booked myself onto my UEFA B Licence to start the next part of my coaching journey!

Real Madrid at UCEA

Los Galacticos in action at UCLA

After successfully completing my UEFA B I wanted to take the next step and take an academy group and applied to become an academy coach with Wigan Athletic and to my delight was offered the role of U11 coach with an additional role involving recruitment attached.

Alongside my academy role I am employed full time by LLS delivering on the Liverpool FC Foundation Skills & Drills programme as well as tutoring a group of young people with special educational needs on how to become a coach at Palmerston High School. Tutoring the young people is a personal favourite of mine and it is wonderful to see them develop on a weekly basis.

My advice to anyone starting their coaching journey would be to gain as much experience as possible and learn from people who have greater experience. I have observed that if you approach sessions positive and motivated not only will they generally go well but you will build positive relationships with people and organisations which are key if you want to progress.

Lastly, enjoy life and take every opportunity you get to progress as there is no guarantee they will come around again.

Craig O’Donoghue