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Empowering Youth Football Players in Ireland - Coaching Insights from Bray Wanderers FC

October 13, 2023

Derek Ashmore is the head coach for Bray Wanderers Under-17 Academy Girls. Team is a combination of Bray Wanderers FC and Greystones UTD FC. Team is playing in the highest level of team sport for girls playing football in Ireland before reaching international level. 

When discussing coaching approaches and asking Derek what things are important in coaching, his reflections are pure gold. “My main coaching philosophy is helping players become better versions of themselves. The academy structure is not about winning, it’s about making them better players and people.”  The coaching program includes a variety of football-based activities, but it also introduces leadership activities that encourage broader thinking - thinking beyond the scope of football like Derek stated: "We challenge them to be thinkers and to develop leadership qualities. Football serves as an enabler."  

Wellness and Player Development

Derek Ashmore's coaching journey has already lasted 18 years, covering various age groups and both boys' and girls' teams. A few years ago, Derek obtained UEFA B and C licenses. However, he noticed that coaching approaches emphasized football skills and tactical knowledge, which, while essential, didn't address the holistic development of young players. As Derek delved deeper into coaching, he recognized the importance of holistic player development: “It wasn't just about mastering football skills; it was also about nurturing the well-being of the athletes. This involved addressing aspects such as mental preparation, psychology, and managing their own headspace.”

Exploring Journaling and the Search for a Digital Coaching Solution

Drawing from his extensive background in people management outside of football, Derek embarked on a coaching diploma course at the Irish Management Institute. Here, he encountered the concept of journaling – a practice that involves transferring thoughts from the mind onto paper to gain a more objective perspective.

Inspired by this newfound perspective, Derek decided to implement journaling in his sport coaching. First he provided paper diaries to the players in his team, encouraging them to record three things before every game that they hoped to achieve. After each match, they reflected on whether they had accomplished these goals, and before each training session, they set three objectives to work on during the week.

To enhance his coaching and better address these vital aspects of player development, Derek began searching for suitable tools and technologies. “So I started looking up, seeing if anybody had got it, was there any software out there, anything out there that could help me in this space. And then I came across Qridi Sport.” 

Coaching in football academy.

What immediately caught his attention was the platform's journaling feature, which allowed players to reflect not only during games but also as a separate entity. ”And the piece that immediately latched onto me was the ability to journal, to journal, not just in the game moment, but to journal, you know, as a separate entity.” Qridi Sport offered both specific and general journaling options. Derek and his coaching team saw the potential and began implementing their journaling method with the app - not only match journaling but also more in the training. After training sessions, players were asked to consider what they had learned that day and document their insights. The emphasis was on capturing quick, concise takeaways: I learned about the correct way to pass the ball, or I learned about the correct way to put pressure on a player, or I learned about my body share, my position within the back four when we're defending. There is no need to rewrite the entire session.

In a traditional setting, players might hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification in front of their peers, fearing it may make them appear less knowledgeable. However, with the player-centred app it is possible as Derek puts it: “Players can privately reach out and ask, the coaching team, what can I do to improve my game? How can I be more specific in my actions? This allows us to provide targeted feedback. For instance, we can address issues like not being on the half-turn when receiving the ball, which limits their options on the field. By offering specific advice, we help players understand how to open up their game.”

Post-Match Meetings and Player Evaluations

In addition to journaling, the evaluation features have also been an invaluable asset, offering insights that would have been challenging to obtain without a digital coaching tool. It has significantly improved the interaction between coaches and players, aiding in a better understanding of individual needs. 

Derek and his team have implemented post-match meetings to discuss more and learn together. While this is not different from what other teams do, they discovered that having these discussions immediately after games was often ineffective due to the heightened emotions and energy levels in the room. Instead, they decided to wait until Monday meetings after weekend matches. This is where Qridi Sport truly made an impact. 

Given that the players were already comfortable with mobile technology and sharing aspects of their lives on social media platforms, they embraced the Qridi Sport app as a means of communication. It allowed them to provide feedback and insights in a way that felt natural to them, as Derek elaborates on this: ”I particularly appreciate the post-game evaluations, which help gauge levels of nervousness and anxiety before, during, and after matches. This has been instrumental in our coaching approach. We've also initiated feedback sessions, allowing players to share their thoughts on training sessions and coach engagement. It was eye-opening to learn that some players felt they weren't receiving enough feedback, which prompted us to be more specific in our interactions with individuals rather than treating them as a collective. This feedback loop has been invaluable in our coaching journey, and it wouldn't have been possible without the Qridi Sport app.”

Through evaluations conducted, Derek and his team gained a deeper understanding of the players' levels of nervousness and anxiety before, during, and after games. This information became invaluable in tailoring the coaching approach to each player's needs and application significantly streamlines the process. Derek goes into more detail on this: “For instance, after a game, I can quickly assess that 50% of the team was nervous before kickoff. In the past, I'd have to sift through 20 individual diaries, deciphering their unique expressions, which might not always reveal their nervousness. With the app, I use a precise scoring system to gauge their feelings, like rating pre-match nervousness from one to six. This scoring approach is familiar to them as we use similar scales during training sessions. For instance, if a drill isn't working optimally, I gather them in groups and ask about their perceptions of the session. Then I introduce a scoring mechanism from one to 10 to gauge their group's performance. This method allows me to understand the team's dynamics better.” 

If one group rates their performance as a four and another as a five, it opens up a discussion about what players can do to improve collectively. “This scoring method, which I encountered during my personal course for work, aligns with the psychological evaluations provided by the app. It's all about personal perspectives rather than right or wrong answers. It's a way to gain insights into their views and identify areas for improvement. By using this approach, we can understand their feelings better and work on ways to enhance their overall experience.”

Unlocking Potential: Derek's Coaching Success Stories

Bray Wanderers Under-17 Academy Girls Football Team.

When asked about his best coaching memories and what he considers successes as a coach, Derek's answers are clear: “For me, the greatest moments in coaching are when I witness kids unlocking their potential. It's not limited to sports; it could be any aspect of their lives. In a sporting context, achieving success as a coach means helping a player progress to the next level, and that's incredibly fulfilling.”

In his coaching career, Derek has also tasted success at a demanding level, but the best rewards in coaching come from everyday work. “I'll never forget the time our team, five years ago, reached the National Cup at the senior women's level. It was a remarkable achievement, even though we didn't win. That experience marked the pinnacle of my coaching journey. But beyond the trophies and accolades, true success, in my opinion, lies in those moments when you teach something and see it come to life.” To reinforce this approach, Derek shares a great example of teaching a skill to a particular group of young kids. There they broke down a complex skill into manageable parts, and watched them master it step by step.“What made it truly special was when one of the kids tried that skill during a game, not because I told them to but because they believed in themselves. And when they succeeded and credited it to what I had taught them, that's when I knew I had achieved success as a coach. It's those moments of recognition and growth in the players that mean the most to me."