This October is Black History Month, the theme of which this year is 'Proud to Be', with black people throughout the United Kingdom being invited to share what they are proud of about themselves, their history and their achievements.
At Southampton Football Club, we have been speaking to some of our very own staff members, who are sharing the stories of their own journeys into sport, with the hope this can inspire more black people to consider and pursue a career in football.
Our latest colleague to feature is Carl Martin, U18 Game Coach...
Tell us about your journey and how you go into your position now?
My ambition was always to play professional football and in the end I managed to achieve this through the non-league route. I entered non-league football with Wealdstone at 17 years old following a few trials at higher league clubs and not making the cut in Academy football. Whilst playing part-time, I studied at Stanmore College as well as working part-time in Waitrose stacking shelfs and coaching a Sunday league youth team called Pinnacle.
I did this for four years and within that time I went into full time coaching at the college I was studying at whilst still pursuing a professional career. I loved coaching and knew long term that that was what I wanted to do, but in the short term I was desperately trying to achieve my dream. At the age of 21, I was scouted by a few lower league teams and began to trial with them - Aldershot, Dagenham & Redbridge, Crewe Alexandra - the latter being the one that offered me a contract. I played at Crewe Alexandra for three years achieving promotion in the play-off final at Wembley and what an experience that was. I was not offered a contract extension at the end of that season and moved on to Macclesfield Town where I enjoyed playing for two seasons.
Unfortunately, I had a tough decision to make after coming to the end of my time at Macclesfield Town. Due to persistent injuries, my career became more about the injections, MRI’s, surgeries, doctors visits and painkillers which severely limited my physical capabilities and overshadowed the playing, enjoyment, love, and passion for the game. I knew at this point that it was time to call it a day.
Somewhere along the line, the enjoyment I used to get from simply playing the game had disappeared. In order for me to get through a hard week of training, I had to play through pain. I woke up in the morning after some games and I felt like a truck had hit me in my sleep. My body was crying out in pain. Feeling pain in my groins as I walked up a flight of stairs, or bent down to tie my laces, was a clear signal to me that I had to stop fighting my body. I had given it all I could, and it was time to stop fighting what my body was trying to tell me. Having this daily struggle with my body just to get through a week of practice wasn't worth it. There was no enjoyment in that, only physical pain and mental anguish.
Consequently, I decided to move back to London to pursue a coaching career and managed to get a part-time role at Watford coaching their U15s. Within a few months, I went full-time with the U18s working alongside Southampton’s current B Team coach Dave Horseman and for the next 5 years, I worked across the Professional Development Phase, but mainly with the U18s group.
In January 2019 I joined Saints in a similar role I held at Watford as U18s Coach. I held this position for 18 months and in that time I worked with some fantastic people. At the beginning of the 2020/21 season I was put on a year-long sabbatical with the first team with the aim of developing a better understanding of an elite first team environment whilst gaining a deeper insight into Ralph Hasenhüttl's playing philosophy. Throughout that season I had to support the transition of the playing philosophy in the B Team whilst assisting Dave Horseman and Lee Skyrmes with the development of our young players. At the end of my year-long sabbatical I was appointed as U18 Game Coach which is the position I hold at the present time.
Tell us about your current role?
In my current role I am responsible for the coaching and management of all Under-18 team players, supporting their progress and development, as well as leading an Under-18 Team multidisciplinary staff group.
With the day to day coaching, the staff and I have to make sure we deliver against the playbook whilst ensuring high levels of individual development take place within the team session. We are heavily focused on making sure that the players' individual development is at the forefront of our minds because we know match-driven, week-to-week planning is insufficient for long-term learning and development. Learning is ten times more valuable than teaching, so we aim to create independent individuals, who understand by learning, which provides them with opportunity and freedom within a clear game idea, to excel.
The first team wants players who can open up games and speed up attacks. We are working on a daily basis, individually and collectively, on those offensive, productive, creative and defensive qualities. We are responsible for creating a new generation, a generation who can understand how to defend, create chance after chance at the top level, and to do that we need clarity in our ideas and always look to progress what we do. No one knows what the game will look like in the future; all I do know is that change is inevitable and unstoppable. Being aware of this and looking to the future helps us constantly look to develop the next generation to adapt and excel in an elite environment.
As well as looking forward it’s also important to value what’s gone before; modern coaching is not about throwing away traditional values that were important in a previous generation, we aim to help the players understand some of these values whilst developing players for the future.
Which part of your current role do you enjoy the most?
I feel I am in a very privileged position working with the age group I do. They arrive with me at 16 and move up or on at 18 years old. I get to see them transition from a boy into a young man and I have huge responsibility to help shape these young boys and have an impact beyond the training pitch. Having an impact on a player beyond the training pitch is an area of the role I really enjoy but nothing can trump the feeling of knowing you had a tiny role to play in influencing a player transitioning through the pathway into the first team and establishing themselves in that environment.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or someone looking to follow in similar footsteps?
Badges and qualifications are great, but the biggest value comes with practice and experience, and you have to ‘do the work to understand’. When you don’t know what you’re doing, you tend to focus on the small things that don’t actually matter. You emphasise what you can control, not what has an actual impact. Do the work that differentiates what looks good, versus what impacts learning, development and performance.
As part of Black History month, we are exploring 2021’s theme ‘Proud to be’ – what is your proudest moment to date? Both career wise and personal life?
My proudest moment personally would have to be my two little boys, which is an obvious answer I suppose, but I’m extremely proud of my little family. Anyone who works in football knows how taxing it can be and finding the balance is an ongoing battle, however, they are as supportive as ever and it is for them, I’m trying to make this work.
I’ve had some very proud moments in my career. Playing at Wembley is probably the highlight but not my proudest moment. I think, as boring as it sounds, signing my first professional contract was an amazing feeling. It was only League Two, it wasn’t glamorous, nor was it life changing financially, but I remember this huge sense of relief and joy. It was an amazing feeling; one I’ll never forget.
Why would you say diversity is important to businesses?
Diversity is powerful. Having a working environment filled with staff and players of different backgrounds, skills, experiences, and knowledge means that there will be an increase in innovative and creative ideas. It requires a deeper concentration in order to understand others’ ideas and arguments. I think some of the most successful teams are the most diverse. Diverse is not just skin colour, religion, gender, or culture; it’s also age, experience. In my opinion getting the balance right is an important factor to consider when putting together a team of people.