The Football Network

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For me, the network I have built through football has been the gift that keeps on giving. In my personal life I have built a network of like-minded friends with whom I have a mutual understanding due to our shared passion for football. Professionally, my time spent working in the game has opened so many doors and opportunities to meet some wonderful people along the way. The experiences that you share in football helps develop meaningful relationships and creates memories that stay with you forever.

One of the most meaningful connections that I have made through football has been with my Football Fun Factory Co-Founder Jonny Martin. When I was 22 years old I led the Regional Development Centre programme at Cambridge United Football Club and ran a talent programme for 1000 boys across East Anglia that fed into the club’s Academy. As the programme grew we required more and more coaches and I was on a continual recruitment drive to find the best possible young coaches across the region. I received a tip off about a young many named Jonny Martin. Jonny was just 17 and extremely fresh faced (which is a polite way of saying that he looked about 12!) and once I had observed him deliver a coaching session I had a really tough decision to make. Jonny wowed me with his coaching delivery. This teenage prodigy was a superstar football coach, but he looked so young! The job opportunity I had on offer was to coach Development Centres with children aged 6-12 and I was concerned that Jonny didn’t look any older than the eldest participants. But I gave him a shot and that was the best call I’ve ever made in my life, as over a 14 year period we have worked so well together, on so many different projects all leading to the creation and development of the Football Fun Factory.

As Jonny and I began our mission to build the ‘world’s leading children’s football coaching organisation’ we had a sneaky feeling that our time working at CUFC may pay dividends in terms of the network we built and relationships we developed. But we definitely did not realise at the time how powerful this would be. Within a month of Jonny joining the FFF we had Kiel Waterfield-Jenkins, Luke Chadwick and Kiefer Driscoll all lined up to join us in our mission, all of whom we had worked with previously. Naively, we thought that would be the full extent of the network that we had developed. However, if you look at the list of superstar coaches at the Football Fun Factory there is a very telling trend:

Jordan Collins – Was a colleague at Cambridge United.
Mike Mair – Dad to Lewis and Daniel, who Jonny and I coached.
Darryl Coakley – Was a colleague at Cambridge United.
Andy Rowe – Was a Development Centre coach under my tutelage about 12 years ago.
Trevor Daniels – Like Andy, worked within the RDC programme I ran
Glenn Sullivan – Is the father of Frank, who Jonny coached previously.
Matty Heneghan – Was a Community Coach at Cambridge United.

WOW – football really does build some incredible relationships and a really large and powerful network. Jonny Martin and I had each built 10 years of credibility and 10 years worth of brilliant connections. Amazingly, of the 16 people we’ve onboarded at the FFF so far, only Dave Caicedo, Matt Lee, Lee Hayward and Freya Louis were unknown to us from our time working at Cambridge United FC. For the 12 people we met along our careers that later became Football Fun Factory Head coaches, I am so proud and pleased to have been able to give them this opportunity. For those that don’t know, the FFF is a franchise business and each of the 16 superstars we have onboard run their own FFF football coaching company. It is my incredible pleasure to see them all flourish.

Of course, with 10 years of meeting people, not every person you meet is a great connection. In fact in football the rate of turnover of coaching staff in particular, can be incredibly high. So whilst we’ve met some brilliant people along the way, there have been more than ten-fold that number, that have been fleeting connections. However, one skill of mine is definitely to be able to quickly identify people that I want to be part of my network and build meaningful relationships with and those that I am not destined to keep in touch with. I guess that is true in any walk of life, but with football the opportunities to meet people are so vast.

I began working as a football coach in England at 19 and now aged 33, I’ve worked with thousands of children over a large geographical area and whilst the number of coaches I’ve encountered is in the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, the number of children I’ve coached is in the ten’s of thousands for sure! The thing is, now many those ‘children’ are adults! In fact, we now have a number of the children I’ve previously coached working as assistant coaches within our FFF programmes and have had conversations with others about them becoming Head Coaches in the past. Another incredible example of how the relationships we create through football are so powerful.

I remember all of my childhood football coaches. I remember the sessions they delivered, the matches we played under their guidance and the feedback they gave me. These experiences stay with you forever and knowing that so well, I am determined to create incredibly positive experiences like the ones that I had as a child, for millions of children across the UK through the Football Fun Factory.

At the FFF we now coach over 2000 children on a weekly basis, aged 2-12. These children will benefit from their participation in many ways, not least in their social development. They will make friends, connections and build relationships like the ones I have described and when they are aged 33, like me, they will remember the children they played football with. That’s why we place great emphasis on social development within our programmes and encourage children to make new friends. There is so much more to football than just trying to kick a ball into a goal!

With all of the examples above about how football can build an incredible network that follows you through life, it left me wondering why the game has this effect. After some thoughtful consideration I think the answer is really simple; it’s passion.

When you play, coach, manage, spectate or are in any other way involved in football, you meet so many like-minded people who share your passion for the game and in doing so there is an unspoken understanding that they are just like you. Finding that affinity with others is very fulfilling, very empowering and really quite special.

My advice to anyone involved with football is to cherish every moment, be open to making new connections and building new friendships. Because along the way you’ll find really valuable ones that make a huge impact on your entire life.

I’d love to hear about the network that you have built in football. Please reach out to me at james@thefootballfunfactory.co.uk or via social media.

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