Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Change the Cycle & Think Big

Think Big & NEVER give up
Going again at 40
Leaving school with nothing to show for it certainly hasn't helped my career. Growing up was
certainly a challenge within what became a very dysfunctional family with all sorts of problems to deal with. It meant my priorities became more about survival than studies. I used to escape to the park with my football and do what most lads do, dream of being a footballer. My career didn't pan out that way but I was still able to carve out a career in sport. Now I look at the young people I coach and am always wondering if there is some way I could help them more.

Problems in childhood doesn't necessarily mean you have to continue in the same mold. As coaches we may well recognise either deep issues at home or complex learning difficulties and we should still try to break that pattern. Of cause we need empathy. But I know teachers in Primary schools that find themselves under constant physical attack and feel scared to address the issue. Or maybe its knowledge of how to address the issue and the confidence to deliver it. It does concern me when I look at modern education and the issues of behaviour management. Now I don’t want to suggest that some young people are not suffering serious disorders. I’m certainly not a doctor and I wouldn't undermine that or be disrespectful to people with major issues. But for lots, it is simply behaviour issues. That’s not a modern problem and in many cases it comes from home. It can be frustrations and issues going on that lead to these outbursts. Of course, some young people have other reasons, like peer groups and being misled. They may well have the best parenting but have rebelled.
But for some I think we have to be careful. For many young people they will leave school as adults expected to fit in to society and some of these issues which result in violent outburst will not be tolerated and of course will seriously harm their work potential and land them in trouble with the law. So for many, we have to find a way to show zero tolerance to this now giving them every chance of having a dream that can be fulfilled. I know it’s not embraced but at times it is certainly excused and that is a dangerous state for the individual’s future in my view. Not only is it dangerous, but what if it’s the other end of the scale. What if we showed that child the light and their dreams light up. If some rebel against solid parents with financially stable upbringings, is it not unthinkable that someone could rebel against dysfunctional parents and want to achieve something great?

When considering young people in difficult situations, some people might ask “what do you know”? “You don’t know what its like” etc. Well without disclosing my whole childhood I can assure you of this. Firstly, I’m very proud of my upbringing in a council house on one of the toughest housing estates in England. Despite not having carpets let alone a conservatory, I was taught manners and respect. We were taught to help people and I've worked for every penny I've ever had. However, I've also seen close family members completely destroyed by peer groups, distractions, depressions, crime, drugs, alcohol and that’s all whilst living in poverty for many years. I remember being frowned upon by a working class guy (he told me that) who suggested I had gained some ‘leg-up’ in life.  My answer was “How often did you have to wipe you’re a**e with the Daily Mirror pal”? If its more than me then you can give me the silver spoon sentence. I was bullied in school for other things than ginger hair you know. Like being skint and turning up to school on non-uniform day, in my school uniform and pretending I forgot. That banter was easier to take than the one before when I turned up in the best clothes I had. Mind you, I’m sure my mates today would still suggest my dress code hasn't improved even through choice.

Life is full of set backs 
I spent much of my childhood with a football at my feet and my dog nearby and dream't of a better life. Unfortunately circumstances at home meant I didn't even sit my exams as I had become an unofficial carer. The school never even asked why let alone anyone else. But I had spent enough time at my friends home, one of which they built themselves to know I wanted to break the cycle. What I didn't know or prepare myself for was the setbacks and banana skins that life chucks at you. After snapping my cruciate ligament at the age of 17 I had a further 7 operations over two decades. They had attempted two repairs and decided that it wasn't repairable and I lived most of 15 years effectively not able to run and turn. So, I started coaching and became the youngest manager in the south midlands league at senior level. I started my coaches’ badges along with trying to be the best I could in work and business.

Life sets traps & hurdles. Its not meant to be easy
I had done really well in early jobs and used to drive home very proudly in my nice company cars that I had earned the right to be given as part of employment packages. I always had business ideas. I had books with pages of them. Every-time I seen a problem I would think of a solutions with a business although most of course never got off the ground. I went to my employers and asked to go on management courses and they agreed. Coupled with that living my life was a bit like a real life game of Takeshi Castle. It felt like just whenever we got close there would be a mud slide on the travelator and we were back in the drink.

I was working hard to try and make a difference. By that I don’t just mean a job, I wanted to go further. I want to be remembered and enjoy a great adult life. But huge set-backs tripped us up along the way. Losing both my Father and Mother before they each turned 50 was of course a massive blow and it was difficult to manage the emotional damage that had caused other family members, some of whom had slipped into huge difficulties which challenged our inner survival strength for many years. I dreaded the sound of my own phone. It only ever rang with problems. But, I stayed strong and resilient on the goals and I wanted to achieve something great for my children. 
Their is a motivational line I really do not like. "Things can only get better". Well, the truth is, "Things can always get worse". That certainly was my motivation when I reminded myself how lucky I was to have two healthy, happy children.

There is no right & wrong path to success
Academics is not the only route, but for many, it works. Equally, some of the most succesful business people have done the famous rags to riches. Its the same in football. Us coaches would have you believe the only route is via the elite academies. For most it is, but why then do players get signed from non-league every year? So, the path is not a proven science. The destination doesnt change but their are many routes on the map to get there. Some even take a wrong turn on the map heading the wrong way, but as long as you turn back quickly you can still reach the destination.

The difficulty of leaving school early with no money or qualifications is survival. Although in some ways I did some great things on my journey. I remember later when I was in the Institute of Directors in a networking event and two people were talking about the university they went to and asked me where I went. It’s easy to say the university of life but I was proud to tell them that I went to real sales school on a market to learn about profit and net profit and in order to calculate the sum I need to sell something. I later realised that not all graduates walk into jobs with the most basic of capabilities. I hired a guy with so many business qualifications that I thought he would revolutionise our company only to find that he couldn't translate the textbook to reality. I actually enjoyed my early years on the markets although my wife is not so keen on the Irish music I got a taste for. To this day I find it great meeting new people at all levels and considering I was a shy little ginger pencil in my early years I had become this ballsy market trader that would start by taking the mickey out of myself to make people laugh. It worked for me. I learned to trade and that starts with people skills.

When we was running our successful business we used to attend an exhibition and in my world we all worked. To me it was like the market stall. We had paid £30k for this pitch and I’m dam sure we are going to earn our money back. Of course there is a different approach. You can’t put a fruit and veg salesman in an Aston Martin garage but the principles of sales are the same. It starts with talking to people. There is nothing that rattles me more than going to an exhibition and seeing someone on the stand doing email and on the phone. I think wow, you could have stayed at home and done that for free.

Human Features
So even with all the challenges and seeming lack of luck that always seems to go to the guy standing next to me, we did ok in spells. But you learn lessons. I always used to think us humans are more like a wildlife program than we realise. With a pack of Lions famine always follows feast and in some ways we have lived like that. It doesn't help when you fall victim to the other side of human nature that money brings either. Greed. When you haven’t got money it can bring out the devil in humans. Desperation can cause people to resort to theft, crime and deception. Ironically those same features can be seen in many humans when they have money. They just want more. Those without it don’t feel empathy for their victims and those with it don’t feel sad about the lives they ruin on their selfish path of greed. So, it proves that money doesn't make you 'good'. Equally, don’t label all people without it 'bad'.

To many I have lived a ‘normal’ life. My own children are in their teens and we have tried to support them in everything they want to do. Life is of course not about materialistic things, it is about being healthy and happy. For me that was basically wanting to break the cycle. For me personally, it still is more about making a difference. I want to achieve something really great. What is achievement? Well I have seen some disturbing things and seen the damage and destruction drugs and alcohol can do, so surely raring my children in a happy lawful balanced environment, them completing an excellent education and putting them on the right path is achievement? Well it is, I do go along with that. But I still want more. I have been doing my coaching badges and coached at pro football clubs for many years. I've have had some amazing jobs. I've been so privileged to have experienced what I have in football and met so many great influential people. But I want to leave a legacy.

Change the Cycle
I really want to be a shining example to young people that whatever happens in your life, you can come through it. You can change the cycle. It’s a long slog and I still haven’t completely cracked it. I’m not without issues. I think I’m very dyslexic although I enjoy writing. I’m easily distracted. I have some flash backs and I can be over protective of my children and others getting on my morale high horse called 'principle'. (not good for your career that). I also find it very difficult dealing with sad stories and illness and cannot watch thriller or horror films. To a degree, I lived one, so I watch Comedy. I even use comedy on the TV to help me sleep sometimes.
Its hard work. No one stood still and got to the top of the travelator on gladiators. You've got to cope with some resistance. If you’re a victim of crime and misery then don’t repeat it. Change it.
Despite everything that happened and the strain and worry that we have been through, we still enjoyed great experiences because I refused to repeat the misery. I've done things already that people could only dream of. I watched the FA cup day every year from 12 o'clock, watching the bus going to Wembley and I thought, I want to do that. Like many I dream't of that as a player. Well I sat on the bus going to Wembley for a cup final. I did the walk around the Wembley pitch with a trophy In front of 40,000 fans. I didn't even take football failure as a prevention to be successful in the game I've loved. I've been behind the scenes of Manchester United and most top training facilities in this country as a respected sporting professional and shook hands on a level with more household names than I can remember. I've traveled Europe as a youth coach and played games against great clubs like Ajax, Feyenoord, Shalke, Bayern Munich, Anderlecht and more.   

But I haven’t finished. I’ve finally had my knee fully repaired and now it’s fully stable. I’m ready to go again. At 40! I am now moving into another era of coaching after working at professional football academy levels for 13 years and in sports performance technology all over Europe. I’m going to now embark on professional senior management and furthermore, the sport Fiitball that I've created was on the BBC and schools that play it boast increased participation for classrooms. Now we have enquiries all over the UK and even in Europe and the USA.  I want to see it played in school tournaments, even the Olympics or international matches.
I want my grandchildren to be able to say, that was my granddad.
Whatever I do, I developed a very hardy never give up mentality and I use the great Dell Boy’s line for motivation. “Never stop believing eh bruv”

But whenever I drive through certain communities or work in some schools I look and think about the suffering that could be going on and wonder about who could be rescued. Is he or she the one looking to break the cycle and will someone give them the opportunity? We see all the poverty & suffering abroad but it exists right under our nose. Here in this great country.

If you are the one looking for that chance, believe me the chance will come. Careful you don’t miss it. Grab it, take the risk and don’t look back. It’s going to be hard but you can make a change. Even if you’re a bit older, made some mistakes. It’s never too late. Turn back.  I’ve seen that in my own family.

Look around you, don’t follow the crowd, be someone else and make someone proud

Tony McCool


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

4 Pillars of Success

After 12 years in pro football academies and many years working across Europe with leading clubs 1st teams assisting in preparing for football matches. I now believe I'm ready to take control of a football club. I’ve managed and coached at senior level in non-league and worked with senior professionals throughout my career. I’ve seen and worked with some great high profile coaches and I’ve also seen and experienced things that I don’t agree with. Using all that experience I have developed my own ‘4 Pillars of Success’ that I will put into place at a club. I don’t mind sharing this as if people decide to copy or emulate this theory, then great. That’s what football should be about and in fact, the more clubs that adopted it would mean we would improve our national side’s chances of winning a major tournament. 
I also have the self confidence that I’m the best person to demonstrate how this would work.

Firstly, we would define success. What do you want? I think for clubs, across the top 6 divisions the definition of success is similar. Stability, Strategy and Success. For some clubs the first priority is to avoid relegation. This of course could have huge financial implications which leave clubs vulnerable. That’s why a longer term strategy is so important. To find a formula for developing players for the 1st team or to generate revenue for the club. Lastly, why are we all in football? What do fans want? It’s refreshing to hear Louis Van Gaal openly say he wants to win the FA Cup so early into the tournament and despite seeing his team’s yoyo performances. Yes, it’s a balance. Premier League survival is so important to the overall survival of a club. But so is making history and giving fans some reward for their loyalty. After all, in all clubs it is typically the same faces of generations of families that sit in the stands whilst the pitch and boardroom sees constant turnover of people. Football is perhaps the only entertainment industry where despite the performance, people feel compelled to spend their hard earned money & keep tuning in. It’s a liberty to pick up a salary and disregard that loyalty.

 The 4 Pillars of Success

How will we achieve our targets?
In order to achieve our clubs goals we will put the four pillars in the ground. This is devised by me and not copied from another club or FA handbook. 

Philosophy + Professionalism + Players + People

My system is one devised to win and earn points. Having spent years in youth academies and completing courses like Youth Modules I am fully aware of the dangers in youth football when coaches have a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. However, from scholar years upwards players need to learn the game and know how to win football matches. For the sake of those players I would need to have an influence on those years in (PDF) Professional Development Phase. In the modern game under EPPP these years of 16+ to U21’s falls under the guidance of the Academy manager. In some cases I believe this can be dangerous. I’ve seen these years playing a style of football consistent with ‘development’ in unrealistic settings and scenarios. This is not beneficial to the player. That player will soon be looking for a further contract and possibly somewhere else in the football pyramid. But too many are now coming out of the system unarmed for professional football and are struggling at even Step 7/8 of the pyramid. Football in England has become a place where losing seems to be a positive example of how good I am as a coach, it shows I put development first. This isn’t grass roots mini-soccer. Ask the players. They are instinctively competitive, they want to win. But were trying to convince them that its ok to lose. Then later they are released because the first team manager is not ‘having them’. Get real, win games. But play fair and be sporting win or lose. What’s wrong with that?
In my club the players would develop a winning mentality from scholar years upwards. That doesn’t have to be detrimental to a style of play or development. I would ensure I know every player from scholars and 21’s and pledge to have at least two players in my squad from the development phase in EVERY game. If I find that difficult then I will know that recruitment or coaching is not working and changes are needed. But I would work with the coaches and scouts to ensure we are able to stick to the pledge.
I would also request that scholars and 21’s are picked according to their performance levels and application, as well as sticking to the clubs playing philosophy. Out of favour players will have recorded regular reviews to ensure they understand where they need to improve and are treated fairly. But I also think its fair that if one players works harder than another, he should see that he is rewarded. Scholars and 21’s should prepare for games exactly as the senior team do.

Whilst we will have set systems/formations of play, we should be adaptable. Adaptable to situations, to opposition, to match dynamics. Football in my view is much simpler than many coaches would have us believe. It’s a game of attacking and defending dependant on who has the ball. We will understand our roles in both situations.
Clever game management. We cannot and will not have one style of play. In match preparation playing round mannequins dictating our style is great. But in the real world, mannequins come to life and try to stop you. Yes, hard work is the minimum requirement. But that’s the same message in every opposition dressing room. We have to understand working Smart.
We will have a balanced team to cope with all demands defensively as well as affective attacking options and threats. We want entertaining attacking football. But also understand risk v reward & purposeful possession.

I have worked with top premiership football clubs and in Europe providing match preparation services. Our players will be well organised and be totally clear about our set up and organisation for games. We recognise the value of finding small margins of planning that can provide large gains. We will improve match preparation by taking scouting reports and turning them into vastly improved game plans with professional communication.
I have worked within top environment’s and believe that certain modern approaches within Sports Science can assist with performance which we would embrace.
      We will have excellent standards from everybody with clearly defined boundaries. This includes all our conduct and how we look and feel. Everything about how we look and feel should look like we mean serious business like an F1 winning team.

We want players to be happy and confident. It is my belief that you can still be ultra-professional with a smile on your face. This is especially crucial in sport. Of course results breed a happy camp and we want to create that environment. Players should feel desperate to get to training.
High tempo, enjoyable and engaging training. This will keep players interested and give them confidence that we are improving them and arming them with the tools for the task at hand.
We will create a sense of loyalty, trust and dependency. In some cases this of course means the bearer of bad news for players but we will always be honest and fair with them and hold regular player meetings to discuss their development.
We want to field a balanced team and our recruitment would reflect that. Players will understand the minimum is maximum theory. We should not have to ask for hard work in and out of possession. Players not fitting that mould will not survive in our club.

As an individual I am very much anti ego and feel that everyone has to have a can-do, team ethos where we are all willing to role our sleeves up to get the task done. We would embrace staff and make everyone feel appreciated and valued. This ethos has been witnessed personally at clubs at the top of the Premier League and can have a huge impact on the pitch where it is felt that everyone is in it together. Of course, some things cannot be disclosed for various reasons but even with that in mind I would want a no-nonsense transparent environment with an upside down management structure. This may also include embracing commercial, fans and community projects. In business, the bank or the accountant don’t pay salaries. The customers do. That’s why they are the most important person in the business. In Football, if you’re in youth football the players are the most important people. Not the staff! In the rest of the club, the fan is the most important person and we want them to be desperate to get to our next show.

Tony McCool