#1 Tècnica Talks: With Gary Curneen
At Tecnica we passionately care about coach and player development. Every Wednesday we have brought a new blog post full of tips and good practice to add the extra % to your coaching ideas.
This was easily one of most exciting opportunities so far to share with our followers and we are thankful that UEFA A Licence coach, author and Head Coach of the California State University Gary Curneen was happy to share an insight into his coaching journey. Those that use social media will more than likely be familiar with Gary's work and he has certainly supplied valuable words and methodology that myself and network of coaching colleagues have put into practice during various roles.
1) Hi Gary, coach, educator and an author of some outstanding books! But where did it all begin for you in the coaching world?
I took my first coaching badge at 17 back home in Northern Ireland, but it was not really done with a career in coaching in mind. I realized that having a coaching license would enable me to work in the summers in the States and meant that I wouldn’t have to work a real job when I was in summer breaks from college. When I finished playing college soccer here in the States, I moved onto a graduate assistant coach position at Wingate University because I didn’t know what to do for a career. Initially I wanted to go into corporate America and work in marketing, but for some reason I got cold feet. I was always a student of the game but did not realize how complex coaching was. Once I started studying it and open my eyes to psychology, science, systems and training methods, I knew that this was going to be a path that I wanted to follow.
2) What experiences did you pick up early in your coaching career that have shaped your development?
I didn’t have a lot of structure in my playing days when I was younger. Northern Ireland struggled with facilities, competitive league set-up and climate, which meant that I was only training with a team one night every two weeks. As a result, I practiced a lot on my own and dedicated hours to the game every day so that I could improve skill and touch of the ball. However, lack of team training meant that I struggled to see pictures develop in games and it impacted my development. The biggest positive that I took from my coaches at a young age was how great they made me feel. They had this phenomenal ability to transfer enthusiasm and energy to the majority of players every single week. As a coach now, I still look back and marvel at that. They may not have had the most complex or advanced training sessions, but they had a huge influence because of the power of their personality. My memories with those coaches are very positive and I really appreciate the fact that they had the skill and influence to make my experience with them such a good one. 3) How has the american culture adapted to your coaching methods and was it a difficult transition?
The culture in the US holds so many advantages for coaches. Facilities and climate allow you to train all year round and enable kids the opportunity to travel and gain experience in new environments. I feel coaches here are treated with an enormous amount of respect and because of that, young players are very coachable and there are very few issues with attitude and behavior. I have had to adapt in a few ways. Communication is an obvious one because of accent, but the terminology is something now I still have to be aware of. Even college players don’t necessarily understand coaching terms so you constantly have to check to see if the message is received. That area has been a major focal point for me over the past three years and even if a player nods, it doesn’t mean that they understand. 4) You clearly have great views on player centered coaching, repetition and position specific work. Why do you believe this philosophy has worked so well for you and what advice would you give to coaches who wish to dive deeper into individual objectives and development?
As I said earlier, my playing experience had a major impact on my coaching. Looking back, I honestly don’t think I could have spent any more time practicing and working on my game. I literally spent all day and night with the ball on my own. As a result, I was technically good but really struggled to impact games and it effected confidence levels and enjoyment. Looking back, the connection to practice and game was never going to be strong enough for me to excel in matches and that is at the foundation of my philosophy. Are we training players for the demands of the actual game, or are we training to excel in training? There is a big difference. Almost everything I do now from training exercises, feedback, individual development, is about preparing players to go out in a match and be confident in performing their role to the best of their ability. Then, if you get the science and psychology right i.e. mind and body, you have a good chance of success. I would advise coaches to have start with the game/performance in mind and work backwards. Then, most importantly, teach players how to prepare correctly and receive feedback.
5) Do you have a particular role model who has inspired your coaching career or your love of football/development?
I think coaches are heavily influenced by who they played for and surrounded themselves with. My college coach and my old boss Gary Hamill probably had the biggest influence on me as a coach because he was the first one to teach me what it takes to be a professional. When I was a young assistant coach, it was like one of those police movies where the young detective follows around the experienced one. The young guy makes all these silly mistakes and the experienced one just shakes his head, smiles and drinks his coffee! I had no idea how much time and work went into the job and he didn’t let me away with a day or night off. He gave me experience on the pitch with training sessions, but also let me speak in team and individual meetings. I wasn’t the best communicator in terms of confidence and delivery and needed as much practice on that as possible, so he helped facilitate that without addressing it directly to bring unwanted attention to it. Above all, he handled victory and defeat the same way and if you met him five minutes after a match, you wouldn’t know whether he won or lost. In his eyes, players are defined by their character and behavior, not their results. The ironic and powerful effect of that is that his players are willing to run through a brick wall for him and he has been (and still is) very successful.
6) In particular the foundation phases 5-11 what type of environment should coaches be trying to develop?
At that age, I would encourage coaches to create an environment where players want to come to practice, work hard, have fun, and get better. Too many young players walk away from the game at a young age because it’s not enjoyable so I feel coaches should have this as a priority. As they approach 11/12 years of age, I feel that they should begin learning how to train – in terms of focus and taking on information. Too many take this area for granted and simply overload players with terminology and volume of work that they cannot grasp or retain.
7) At Tecnica we closely follow your work but for those don't where can they find you? and whats next for Gary Curneen?
I am in my third season at California State University, Bakersfield, and really enjoying it. We have a great staff and a young team who want to do the right things and be successful. Every coach has big dreams of what they want to achieve, but the most important thing for us all is to win the next game. For me, that’s tomorrow night so I’m not looking too far beyond that!
If any young coach wants help, advice or anything else, my twitter is @garycurneen and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
We would highly recommend you give Gary a follow and for those who like Position Specific content we strongly recommend the Modern Soccer Coach series of books available still from Amazon.