I originally wrote this last year for my blog (which has recently closed down thechalkboarddiaries.com) and was only seen by about 10 people as it was the first thing I ever did for the blog and I didn’t get much traffic back then. So I thought I’d share it with you all today as it does give us a good insight into how a head coach thinks. This interview was the first I did that mixed real football and Football Manager.
Keith Scarlett is an American who currently coaches in Australia and is the head coach for Perth Glory Womens Team. Keith has a lot of experience and has coached at many different levels during his career. He has vast experience and has worked with both the men and women while coaching.
From what I understand you actually grew up playing Basketball as your main sport. So what happened, and how and why did you switch to football?
This is actually a long-story and one that is not pertinent for this platform. However what is, is the fact that I have played football since I was 9 years old. When I first started playing it was for fun, but as I grew older, it became more of a “secondary” sport that I played as a means of staying in shape and preparing for the upcoming basketball season. What’s ironic is that all along I was falling in love with the game, was actually getting pretty good at it and I didn’t even realise it until I was a year away from college.
You played for the Panthers in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). You were a two-time All-Region player and in 1994 was named an All-American. You also set a school-record for most assists in a season with 30. Those 30 assists still stand third in the all-time NAIA Record Book for Assists in a Single Season and coming in only 23 games they still hold steady as the second most Assists Per Game in a Season at (1.30). It clearly proved to be a good move. Judging by the promising start, it seems that football came natural to you. Was this the case?
I don’t know about coming naturally… I guess it did about as much as it could. My success as a player and what I was blessed enough to achieve was more a byproduct of the quality of the players that were around me: lots of finishers thus lots of assists; where my coach played me within his system; and things such as my size (I was small and so I was forced to get rid of the ball quickly which lent itself to more passing and less finishing at times). I also really think the high-level of basketball I played had a huge influence in elements of my game like agility, balance, strength, acuity, quickness, vision, etc…
Was it difficult at times, playing a sport that isn’t as popular growing up in the USA?
At times it was frustrating not having proper training grounds or funding for equipment or even the student body support that today’s high school programs receive, but on the same notion, this was all happening around the same time the US hosted the Men’s World Cup and the ensuing growth in the sport across the country…so, being involved in the early stages of that was pretty exciting…especially when I look back on it.
Over the last few years I have been following coaching a lot more and getting more involved with it, even taking some coaching badges myself. How did you get involved with coaching? Was it just the next natural step after deciding to hang your boots up?
Yep, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. After I had used up my college eligibility I spent a few seasons plying my trade in what was at the time basically third-division football. I was a journeyman of sorts, moving from club to club, getting nominal minutes and I eventually realised that I just wasn’t going to be able to make a living and support a family by playing…plus, when you’d add in all of the injuries that I had taken through the years that had pretty much gone untreated properly due to never really having access to proper physio that were finally catching-up with me…and let’s not forget about the concussions…there just came a point that whether I liked it or not, I had to accept the fact that my playing days were over. Nevertheless, I still had this raging fire in my belly for the game and to be hands on, so coaching was my only option…and there it was…the rest, as they say, is history!
You’ve coached both men and women – are there any differences between coaching either set of players?
I’d be dishonest if I claimed there wasn’t. Yet, I’d be just as untruthful if I said there were major differences. Having coached at pretty much all levels, each level and thus, each gender, has its own discrepancies. Yet at this level, there’s really not as much of a difference as most would think.
Compared to other coaches I’ve read about, your story seems more unique and you’ve been involved with a lot of things over the years. You were involved with the Olympic Development Programme at state and regional levels. That’s pretty big and a great deal of responsibility, how did this come about?
Originally, it was another avenue of coaching that would afford me another opportunity to observe, watch and learn from others, as well as continuing to practice my craft. However, as time passed and the more I stayed involved and eventually “moved up through the ranks,” – if that’s how you would want to phrase it? – the more opportunities and responsibilities I was afforded.
In 2008 you became the men’s assistant coach for Þróttur Reykjavík in Iceland. How did you find the culture change? Did you have to adapt and evolve everything you’d learnt before hand?
It was a huge culture change for both me and my family. We had to deal with a different language, a different climate, a different way and pace of life, etc…a whole new experience…however, the one saving-grace was that the football wasn’t much different. I just had to figure out how to work around the communication barrier, learn how things were done, learn how they operated, etc……the rest of it was the same – it was just football.
You decided to return to the USA when your 2 year contract was up. Was this always the plan, to get the experience and then move home?
Not necessarily. You never want to pick up and move your entire family like that and then do it again two years later. Unfortunately, there were some family issues back in the States that required my attention and my hand was pretty much forced. It would’ve been nice to stay on, as we had just earned promotion to the top division, but my hands were tied.
Now you’re the assistant coach of Perth Glory FC womens team in Australia. What does this job role involve? Could you give us a little bit of insight into the role and what it entails?
Well besides playing a supportive role and the expected training and direct football related activities, I’m also responsible for many other aspects of a first division women’s professional football club. Aspects like match management, pre-match preparation, post-match analysis, scouting, functional training, recruiting, scouting, public and media and community relations, etc…
Have you ever played Football Manager on the PC?
On Football Manager the training side of things was redesigned for last years version to be more life-like and more realistic. It’s now split into two parts, general training and match training. For the main module, I have 7 options I can select: balance, fitness, tactic, ball control, defending, attacking and team cohesion. The match training module gives a little boost for the next game to a particular area. The options I have for that are: tactics, teamwork, defensive positioning, attacking movement, defensive set pieces and attacking set pieces. Speaking as a coach, how does this differ from reality?
That doesn’t differ much from the reality of things; generally speaking and in broad terms. Having played the game myself, I know from personal experience that sometimes there are obviously much more detailed needs than what the game will allow you to do.
How much impact does a coach really have on a player and how he develops?
A coach can have as much impact as the player will allow and the coach is willing to invest. There isn’t this proverbial ceiling that players reach when they reach a certain level. They can always improve. There just needs to be that open line of give and take between both the player and the coach… and vice-versa.
How do you handle players who might need more one to one time on the coaching side of things? Do they get assigned an individual coach of some kind?
If that’s what they need and there is another coach available, then maybe. This isn’t always an option depending on resources and staffing, but it can be a fruitful and viable avenue if all the pieces fall into place properly.
On FM I tend to get the younger players tutored by players more experienced or by people who have better personalities. Is this something that happens and is used by coaches in real life?
Yes, this is a natural progression that occurs. It’s typically not something that is instigated by the coaching staff, but rather something that is established within the hierarchy of the team’s personality and overall constructs in and of itself. Now, don’t get me wrong; there have been, are, and will be again times when coaches will deliberately pair certain players together in certain groupings for the sake of trying to foster this type of relationship, but regardless of what a coach attempts to do, the natural scheme of things still has to be allowed to run its course.
Have you ever done it? Or would you recommend someone trying to change their personality if you believed it to be a hindrance for the player long-term?
I’ve advised players before that their attitude, work-rate and certain parts of their personality were holding them back and were becoming a hindrance to not only themselves, but also the team. Unfortunately, though, that’s all that you can do as a coach – recommend and encourage players to think about how their personality traits may be affecting their development.
Ajax are famous for using the T.I.P.S. system for identifying and developing players. Do you have any kind of system that you use?
Not really anything specific, such as the T.I.P.S. system, per se. I’ve melded so many different concepts and ideas over the years that I probably have a piece of one here and another there, etc. In simple terms, the three basic things I look for when identifying and evaluating players are:
1) Can they play out of pressure with a purpose?
2) Is their first-touch intelligent?
3) What is their pace like?
There are obviously other things that I look for, but these are the three pieces that I have learned that at this level, for the most part, pretty much can’t be taught. When they get here, they either have it or they don’t.
How do you assess a player and his development? On FM I can check attribute development and get monthly reports on how he’s improving. How does this work in reality?
Everyone does it differently both as individual coaches, as well as respective organisations. I’ve been on a staff that was statistically based, a staff that was “gut-based,” a staff that relied on the observations and input of support staff, etc. I have been on so many different staff teams that assess players in so many different ways that it is difficult to actually pin-point how it actually works in reality. What works for one, doesn’t work for another and vice-versa. One thing I have learned is that it really all depends on the personality of the Manger and how they want the players assessed and how they want that information reported to them.
Say you had a few talented youths and some who were just mediocre at Perth. Would the talented players be trained differently to the mediocre ones? And if so – how?
Nope. If they’re all on the first-team, then they’re all in the same-boat. They’ve been selected to the squad for a reason and each player is expected to perform at the highest-level.
You can follow Keith on Twitter – @keithscarlett