Darren Bazeley and Neil Emblen.
Profiles: US1 Technical Department presents an evening:
“Inside Professional Football” Date and Time: Wednesday 6th August 2008.
Speakers: Darren Bazeley and Neil Emblen – Former English Professional Footballers.
What is the Seminar about?
An insight into ‘what it is to be a professional footballer’. This seminar is a must for coaches and players wishing to discover deeper elements of the professional game. The physical and mental challenges of maintaining a prolonged career in football will be examined. The attributes of what makes an effective manager, coach and captain will also be discussed along with other enlightening and provocative issues about what it is to be inside professional sport.
Darren Bazeley: Prior to his arrival in NZ, Darren spent sixteen years as a professional player in the English Football League. During that time he clocked up more than four hundred and sixty appearances at 3 three clubs. Darren was awarded winners medals from League 1 and the Championship play offs. He also represented England at Under 21 Level. Darren is currently US1 Area Coach for Waitakere.
Neil Emblen: In a twelve year span, Neil featured in over three hundred and fifty games in the English Football League. During this period, transfer fees totaling twelve million dollars were paid for his services. Before moving to NZ, Neil wore the colours of Millwall, Wolves, Cristal Palace, Norwich City and Walsall. He is the current Coaching Director of Waitakere United.
Maurice Tillotson: Interviewer and analyst.
Between these two players is a massive wealth of football experience and knowledge; but is this kind of experience and knowledge explored and utilised to the benefit of coaches and players within NZ?
This short seminar is designed to tease out and uncover some of the realities of what it is to be a modern professional footballer. Issues which rarely appear in coaching manuals, but deal in the realism of a career in football, will be raised and examined.
It is envisaged that people from all areas of football, whether it be players (junior or senior), parents, coaches, managers and sport scientists, can take away some learning from this short seminar.
Question: How did you get started in the game?
As a thirteen year old, Neil was turned down by Watford on the grounds that he was considered too small to make the grade in professional football. Not discouraged by this rejection, he continued to follow his dream of playing professional football and was eventually signed by Millwall FC from non- league football.
As a thirteen year old, Darren was recommended to Watford FC, he trained regularly at their academy before signing schoolboy forms at fourteen years. He regards his early success was due to sheer commitment and a desire to succeed on his chosen path. This was reinforced to him when he was chosen in front of other talented youngsters, including an England schoolboy international player.
Managers and coaches should be aware of making early decisions as to the physical suitability of young players. Neil had the necessary techniques and skills to be deemed a future prospect, however, he was considered too small and frail to be able to cope with the rigors of football at a professional club.
Young players in the adolescent phase are at a stage in the human life cycle covering the five to eight years after the onset of puberty. This adolescent phase is characterized by a growth spurt in height and weight (Bogin 2001). It is therefore expected that rapid growth and development will take place particularly around the age from twelve to sixteen years. Because of this adolescent growth spurt and its effects physically and mentally, it can be unwise to make early decisions about the potential of young players.
In Neil Emblen’s case the club made a mistake by dismissing him too early and they later acknowledge their error. Fortunately, Neil showed the necessary resilience and self-belief to overcome this early setback and was able to carve out a career for himself in the professional game. The lesson for young players, from Neil’s experience, is to continue to work towards your goal, overcome disappointments and reversals, and to come back stronger than ever. The lesson for coaches is not to ‘write off’ young players prior to their adolescent growth spurt.
There are millions of talented young footballers, throughout the world, who dream of a career in professional football. It is well documented that talent alone does not guarantee a place amongst the elite. Sacrifice, commitment and dedication are also necessary components of a player’s makeup.
Darren’s message for young players is to commit and dedicate themselves to improving their game. Coaches will usually give every opportunity to players who show an attitude to succeed. They should reinforce young players who take the approach: “the harder it gets, the harder I need to try”. The mastery-oriented method of encouraging youngsters to accept challenges, to be willing to make mistakes in order to improve, will improve their chances of long term success (Dweck 2000).
Question: What must you do in order to be scouted?
Darren: “You must have something inside you driving you”. “Attitude is so important, you need to want to strive to keep on improving Coaches see that and pick up on the attitude.” “Some boys with lots of ability throw it away because they are not willing to work at their game”. “I was constantly playing, before and after school, always trying to be the best player in Rep Teams”.
Neil: “I just wanted to do it, it was always my dream, any chance that I got I was practicing”. “Whenever I got new boots, I slept with them”. “Along with my brother, we played inside the house, using a sponge football”.
The ten year or 10,000 hours rule. Research has concluded that it takes eight to twelve years of training for a talented player to reach elite levels. This translates to 3 hours practice daily for ten years (Ericsson, et al 1993). It is not realistic for our junior coaches to set up formal training sessions for 3 hours of daily practice, therefore, young players can follow the example set by Darren and Neil and play at every opportunity.
Question: Who were the major influences on you as a young player?
Darren remembers all his coaches from 8 years onward. “You have a big input on your kids; therefore, it is important the time you spend with them is productive”. A coach called Tom Whalley stands out in Darren’s memory, “He helped build me up in training and in games and gave me confidence.” “His attributes were as a “motivator, hard man, made me work, made me feel special.”
Although Neil believes he has learned something from all the coaches which he served under, the main influence on him as a young player was his father. His father was a respectable non-league player and Neil was steeped in a football culture from an early age. “As a five year old my dad took me with him whilst he played his game. Sometimes I could be left hours on end, playing football with the other kids, until his match was over”. Neil’s father had also wanted to be a professional footballer and made no secret of projecting these ambitions onto his son, however, not in an assertive manner, he took a more supportive and encouraging approach.
“My father never crossed the line of trying to live the game for me. He never tried to influence or interfere with my coaches in an effort to push me forward”.
Players will always remember special coaches who have influenced their lives and careers. For this reason alone, coaches should use a player centred philosophy in their dealings with their charges. Putting the players’ interests at the forefront of all interactions is a key to the further development of young players. Some current coaching schemes promote an holistic approach to the development of young players and highlights the 4 corner model of player-coach interaction. This model goes beyond the technical and physical growth of young players and progresses into the psychological and social elements of their advancement into maturity.
The coach cited by Darren; Tom Whalley, had an approach with his young charges which went beyond a purely technical and physical aspect of the game and moved into the psychological and social regions of player development.
A minority of parents in NZ football could do well to follow the example of Neil’s father. A supportive and encouraging parent who creates an environment where their child can improve and enjoy their football experience is welcomed by most coaches. Parents who project their own ambitions onto their child and become overzealous and belligerent towards their child’s coach are not welcome in junior football.
Question: Who were the major influences on you as a senior player?
Both players cite the former Watford, Aston Villa, Wolves and England manager, Graham Taylor, as the most significant influence on their senior careers. Darren recalls that his values were instilled in players and clubs long after he had left. Taylor’s attention to detail, his tactical awareness, statistics on game fundamentals and man-management made him, “the most knowledgeable football person I have ever met.”
Neil reports that Graham Taylor changed his life, “Taylor made me examine myself, he knew everything about me, he taught me self-reflection.”
Implications for coaches.
Graham Taylor had an outstanding career as a club manager, however, his tenure as England manager was less fruitful and he left the job as a much maligned man.
Both Darren and Neil give him an almost superhuman status as a coach and manager. Graham Taylor obviously possessed qualities relating to a very humanistic person. His football knowledge was unquestionable and he combined this with a very person centered approach to his players. Taylor knew his players inside out; their abilities, their makeup, where they lived, the name of their wives, children and in some cases the name of the family pet. Although he could ‘crack the whip’ if necessary it appears that his method of gaining trust and developing rapport with his players was much more effective. Neil commented that “he only had to give you a certain look, and you knew that you were letting him down”. Players would go to great lengths in their personal commitment in order to avoid, “that look”.
Neil Emblen commented on how Taylor taught him to self-reflect. Much emphasis is currently being placed, within the NZF Coaching Scheme (2008), on the value of self-reflection, from both coaches and players. Obviously Graham Taylor had recognized the value of this many years ago. His holistic approach to his players reflects the, technical, physical, psychological and social emphasis that is placed, when discussing the ‘4 corners model,’ promoted by the NZF Coaching Scheme, Level 1 Gold Award (2008).
Taylor often set targets for his player’s to achieve during games. For example, he may set a personal target for a winger to deliver 8 crosses during the first half of the game, or alternatively, as a team they should attain a given number of strikes on goal. Players who enter the game with a clear idea of what they want to accomplish, both individually and as a unit, have a good chance of reaching those aims.
Question: How is confidence attained?
Neil reported always feeling confident during his playing career; this may well have manifested during his childhood, as he commented, “I got it as a kid (confidence) because I was good at football”.
Graham Taylor also gave him confidence by comparing him favourably to David Platt (the England midfielder at that time). Neil gained more confidence from the mere fact that he was a professional footballer and the status and platitudes associated with his vocation. Another source of developing confidence came from positive comments from newspapers and the media in general. “When millions of people are reading and hearing good comments about you in the press; it goes inside your head”. If he felt to be lacking confidence at any time he would watch videos of past successful games, and also look at positive write-ups in his scrap book.in order to remind themselves that, “you don’t become a bad player overnight”.
Confidence also comes from being well prepared physically and mentally. Achieving pre-set goals, as demonstrated by Graham Taylor, helps to build confidence. Players can also derive confidence from a belief in the coach or manager’s skills in decision making and his/her leadership.
Neil Emblen mentioned that when “the crowd starts to get on your back, some players go missing”. This is a problem for both coaches and players, particularly when a player makes mistakes and the negative criticism from the crowd affects a player’s confidence and willingness to accept the ball in stress situations.
An example of a player showing confidence in this situation is described by Tony Cascarino when illustrating the confidence shown by his teammate, ex England striker Teddy Sheringham; “Teddy is the only player I know who could miss three one-on-ones and still try to chip the goalkeeper. The crowd could be absolutely baying for his blood but he would just carry on. He had more self-belief and confidence than any player I’d ever known” (Cascarino 2001).
Darren explained that at certain times during his career he had issues with confidence. For him it was important to have a good first touch of the ball and this would set him up to perform well. When he lost confidence he felt that he became too self-critical which resulted in him trying too hard, which in turn made him make more mistakes, thus compounding his problem. Darren’s answer to this was to go back to basics and to play the game as simply and uncomplicated as possible. He also remarked on the effect that Graham Taylor had on him, “He used to tell me how good I was, Graham Taylor gave me confidence”.
Both Neil and Darren emphasized the importance of a positive early start to a game in order to build confidence. In Darren’s case, a good first touch of the ball would ‘set him up’ for the remainder of the game. Neil would gain confidence from an executing an early solid tackle. An often used phrase in professional football is “earn the right to play”. This means to make sure that mistakes are kept to an absolute minimum in the early phases of the game in order to consolidate and remain confident. Players and teams who make untimely mistakes and concede early goals often never recover and the game can be lost.
A belief in a coach’s leadership qualities is a well-recognized source of confidence for players. Graham Taylor possessed these qualities and was able to affect his players in a positive manner. The implication for coaches is to research and develop these qualities of leadership in order to influence your players. There are various behavioural and cognitive techniques used by managers, coaches and sport psychologists which can enhance the confidence of footballers, however, it is beyond the scope of this particular paper.
In his publication ‘Team Spirit,’ John Syer made a comment that of all the professional players that were surveyed, most replied that that they wished to improve ‘confidence’ (Syer 1986). Confidence is a vital ingredient in the make-up of all players, at all levels of the game. Despite reluctance, by many footballers, to acknowledge the mental elements of what is essentially a physical game; players often need to be aware of available resources in order to overcome instances of loss, or lack, of confidence. Neil Emblen used video’s and past positive events to remind himself of previous achievements. Elite players have many successful past incidents which can be recalled.
Question: Team Spirit – how is it created? What are its effects?
Neil explained that at Wolves the players got on well socially; most of the players had young families and there was much interaction off the playing field, this in turn helped to the bond the players on the field. He also felt that a major ingredient surrounded getting the trust of each other. He spoke of the team spirit at Waitakere United during their championship winning season and emphasized: “Our main focus is to do well as a team. Individually we want to do well; however, no individual is bigger than the team”. In Darren’s case team spirit comes from a combination of, “trust and backing each up”. He believes that you need not particularly like someone but you know that they will, “stand up and back up you on the field”. His experience during Watford’s championship winning year was of, “no stand out players”, however, “we had great team spirit, we all knew our own jobs and everyone else’s too”. The manager (Graham Taylor) bonded the Watford players’ as a team unit, “We had such a good team spirit we felt we couldn’t be beaten”.
Neil’s experience at Wolves reveals the social aspects of player and family relationships and how they impact on performances on the playing pitch. He also raised the point of the individual within the team. It is difficult to develop team spirit without acknowledging the needs and contribution of each individual member. Each individual needs to know how to merge with the team and to embrace the team culture. It is assumed, that football teams at professional level are ‘task orientated’ and Neil’s observation that (at Waitakere United) despite individual ambitions, the main focus is to do well as a team. This indicates a ‘buy in’ from all players to, “focus on doing well as a team” and that “no individual is bigger than the team”.
Trust in your teammates is an important component in developing team spirit. Most coaches and players will have had the experience of looking around the changing room and knowing which players would ‘stand up and be counted’ when things got tough. When the whole team is of this calibre and make-up, then a formidable and cohesive force is created and the chances of success are very real. Success breeds success and often team spirit increases as good results continue.
Leadership of the group is also a major contributor towards team morale. Managers and coaches should ensure that they are well versed in the methods and procedures of people management in order to build a strong team spirit.
Leadership – Captaincy.
Both Darren and Neil remarked that captains’ lead by setting high standards of commitment to the team. They lead by example and are professional and encouraging. During their careers they have both captained teams on many occasions and they pointed out that captains must have the respect of the other players.
Kevin Muscat, current captain of the Melbourne Victory team, is the player cited by the two as the most influential captain with whom they had played. At one stage of his career he was considered the most hated man in English football, however, his own teammates warmed to him. “The players would follow him”, “run through a brick wall for him”, “he would do anything for you in a game”. These were the characteristics that Muscat portrayed to his teammates and made them admire and want to follow him. A ninety minute player himself, Kevin Muscat inspired other players and helped them get that little bit extra out of themselves in order to succeed.
Often, the captain of the team is the voice of the manager or coach on the field. The captain should be the type of personality who can lead by example and who the other players respect. He/she does not have to be the best player in the team but must have inspirational qualities that others respond to.
Question: coping with pressure situations.
Although comparatively large transfer fees were paid, by several clubs, for Neil’s services he never felt too much pressure. His attitude was one of ambivalence and that if the clubs were prepared to pay large transfer fees for him then they must think he was worth it. Both Neil and Darren reported being unaffected by large crowds and enjoyed the atmosphere generated by them.
Darren’s experience of taking a penalty in a shoot-out at Birmingham City during the play-off decider for the Premiership illustrates once again the psychological preparation of Graham Taylor. Each training session prior to the game the Watford players took part in penalty taking practice. The players had to stand on the half-way line, walk to the penalty spot and take a penalty. Only one penalty was allowed for each player. As Taylor had anticipated the game went to a penalty shoot-out, with Watford winning by 8 – 7. Despite the importance of the game, played live on television and front of thirty thousand spectators, Darren felt calm, confident and put away his penalty with ease. His experience had the feeling of, de’ja’ vu, in which he attributes to Graham Taylor’s insistence of penalty taking rehearsal in training.
Graham Taylor anticipated the likelihood of the championship game finishing in a penalty-shootout. He programmed his players’ minds, during training, to accept that they had already experienced the situation, albeit, without the amount of pressure encountered on the night. The evidence is quite strong (Darren’s feedback) that the Watford players were able to cope very well with this pressure situation.
The life of a professional footballer.
Both players felt to have been very privileged to have spent so many years as professional footballers. The mere thought of playing a game which you love and being well compensated for doing so appeals to millions of youngsters throughout the world. Consequently, the competition to be enlisted and remain in the game is intense and requires many attributes. Ability on its own is not enough, qualities such as drive, determination, dedication and physical strength are all necessary components. The pressures of competing on a daily basis with your, own teammates, in order to secure a place in the starting line-up, plus a weekly schedule of, in many case, two games per week, instills a competitiveness into the personality not found whilst engaged in most other vocations.
In order to be recruited into professional football in the first instance, sacrifices have to be made. Neil commented that, “football was so important I didn’t want to socialize; my mates went to the pub, I went home; I was so focused”.
Once established in the game it is very difficult to re-adjust to ‘normal living’. Darren still misses the changing room atmosphere and comradeship which was part of his life for sixteen years. Both players miss the ‘short but intense’ daily routine of training which allowed them much time for family life. Despite the disquiet that injury may occur at any time and disrupt and shorten one’s career, Darren and Neil argue that a life in professional football is incomparable with any other, and cite the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and others who continue to play and compete long after their financial future has been secured.