Behind every first-team setup is a team of dedicated academy coaches, helping to pave a path for those players to eventually represent the senior side. Working on 1v1 drills, small sided games and on an individual basis, academy coaches dedicate themselves to teaching the talent of tomorrow. One of those coaches is Ryan Charalambous, a BA (Hons) Football Coaching & Management graduate, who plies his trade in the academy at League One Peterborough United. Here, he tells us more about the role of an academy coach and his time at UCFB…

Tell us about your role as Academy Coach at Peterborough United. What does the role entail and what are the highlights?

My role this year at Posh has been working in the foundation phase as an academy coach with the under-11s. Put simply, my role is to plan, prepare and deliver sessions within the academy syllabus two to three evenings a week and lead the squad on match days. Highlights from a glamourous perspective have been away fixtures versus Arsenal, Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham. I can’t speak for the work that goes on in these places, which I am sure is excellent, but aesthetically these are some amazing facilities to visit.

However, it is all about the people and the work that goes on within the building and on the training pitches, so for me the real highlight has been being able to work with a great team of coaches at Peterborough throughout the phases from foundation phase through to the youth development phase, professional development phase and even first team staff. The club as a whole is a real open environment, and as a young coach learning my craft, applying myself and being supported with my development has been priceless. In turn, this has allowed me to become a better coach for the players I’m working with, and ultimately it is about them and what I can do to enable them to develop as much as possible whilst they’re in the squad I’ve been delegated.

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Ryan Charalambous, a BA (Hons) Football Coaching & Management graduate, plies his trade in the academy at League One Peterborough United.

A lot of football clubs talk about having a philosophy they want embedded from a young age right through to the first team. Do PUFC have that and if so what is it and how is it phased in?

We have five values that we expect from our academy players, and they are: honesty, respect, resilience, drive and ruthlessness. I believe as coaching staff it starts with us to epitomise these values with how we behave whilst representing the club. Like many academies we focus on developing the individual, as eventually individuals will graduate to the first team opposed to the whole youth set-up. However, that shouldn’t be misinterpreted as just working with players on a technical level, which I believe often is the case. Individuals will still have to obtain a level of tactical intelligence to be successful in their long term development, from 1v1, 2v2 and team tactics, not just 11v11. So it is imperative we give every player the best possible chance of fulfilling their individual potential on both a technical and tactical viewpoint throughout their journey with us.

More specifically with my role, from a foundation phase perspective, this will look similar across the country with regards to really pushing players to make them as technically proficient as possible by the time they get to the youth development phase. There will be a heavy emphasis on ball mastery, 1v1 situations, finishing, receiving skills, and working on player’s super strength. In essence, it’s all about the solo artist in the foundation phase, before it becomes more about the orchestra in the youth development phase and beyond, whilst players still keep and develop their super strengths that resulted in them signed in the first place. But it all stems back to those five values; they’re non-negotiable.

You were previously U21 coach at FC United of Manchester. How much did you learn in that role to take forward into your role now?

As an assistant in this role I was lucky to work alongside Mike Walsh, Kevin Hodgson and Kevin Braybrook. It was a dream to work with these guys and I learned different things from all of them, too many to list! We had a talented group of players, many of whom went on to make first team appearances and I believe that the vast majority of that squad are now in paid semi-professional football environments across the country. We had up to five contacts a week so I learned first-hand about the importance of relationships you can have as a coach with players away from the field. It starts as person to person and it is much easier to have this approach as a coach rather than the manager; players will confide in you to tell you things that they aren’t necessarily comfortable talking to the manager or senior coaches about.

 

Tell us how your Football Coaching & Management degree at UCFB set you up for the role. What skills did you develop on the course?

Truthfully, the course is the course and there is only so much you are going to learn in a classroom listening to PowerPoint presentations and observing showcase sessions in the practical modules; the tutors themselves know this and encourage you to pursue work placements. It was imperative for me to go out and find coaching roles to supplement this theory and really learn on the job. It comes at the cost of a social life and friends in my experience; I wasn’t lonely but I was certainly felt regularly isolated because if I wasn’t coaching, I was either at work or studying and doing assignments. However, anyone working in football will tell you the social life is the first to be sacrificed if you are really serious about it, and that hasn’t changed since I’ve graduated. However, don’t forget how social football is. I was satisfied socially with the coaching I was doing; you meet some amazing characters and make some fantastic friends, people you’d never meet in any other context of life. You are far from a recluse working in football.

Furthermore, the rewards have been more than worth it from a professional standpoint. The course gave me the theory behind many topics including the philosophy of coaching, practice design, analysis, tactics and strategies, whereas the experience provides you with some exceptional but equally harsh realities of life as a football coach.

What made you choose to study at UCFB?

After doing some research into football specific degrees, it really was a no brainer and it was a decision that took me five minutes. It was an opportunity for me personally to go and challenge myself both academically and professionally, in a great city like Manchester.

What are your UCFB highlights?

Three things stand out by a mile for me. Certainly gaining three excellent and equally very different coach mentors in Mike Walsh, Kevin Braybrook and Kevin Hodgson, who were exceptional for me to lean on, pick their brains and watch them work. I am still in touch with these guys and they continue to help me with my decisions and work, I only hope I can one day repay them somehow. There was also winning back-to-back league titles in the 17-18 and 18-19 seasons with the UCFB Etihad Men’s first team as manager. Finally, it would be when UCFB represented GB mini football at the U21s World Cup in Prague. We did remarkably well considering it was a style of football our coaching team and players weren’t really familiar, and we managed to reach the quarter-finals before losing to eventual finalists Slovakia.

What advice would you give to students thinking about studying at UCFB?

Make sure it is a career you really want. Football is a ruthless industry from top to bottom, and from my perspective, a lot of people question the level of commitment required for its financial rewards, especially in the formative years that I’m currently in. But if you are dedicated to your goals and aspirations within sport and football, I don’t see any institution that can facilitate this journey quite like UCFB. Don’t go in blind, know what it is that you want out of the degree and UCFB for your future career.

Make the time to gain relevant work placements to supplement your degree, even if they are voluntary to begin with. Don’t think you’re too good to work for free when you are starting out, football is ruthless and it owes you nothing. Some of my best memories in football to this day has been the work I did for free, and now I’m only in paid roles because of those experiences. It would have been easy to say no and work part-time to earn some money (which there is nothing wrong with as it helps pay the bills) but it didn’t get me to where I am now in my working life.