Q&A with Alfie Tate

Pocket

So tell us a little more about Alfie Tate?

My current roles include being at Peterborough United as an Academy Coach within their Foundation Phase while also working with two local grassroots clubs at both U13 and U18. I’m also doing school clubs within Cambridgeshire a few days a week. They all have their different challenges but I enjoy all of them hugely and learn from every group which is massive for me – hopefully the players feel the same in me aiding their development. Not being full-time, I have some spare hours during the day and between sessions where I have the freedom to study the game a lot. Whether that’s going out to watch games, watching games back on TV, reading articles, meeting up and speaking with coaches, I’m always looking for ways to learn from other people and resources

So what inspired you to become a coach?

I got into football all together very late. I didn’t start playing until I was 13/14 years old and wasn’t that great, I wanted to try a range of positions which I didn’t get the opportunity to do so I left my team and didn’t get back involved. I wish I had continued playing as I think it’d have been beneficial. Before I had stopped playing I was already coaching after school clubs twice a week and involved with a local grassroots club working with the U10’s. I felt I suited coaching as I was always someone who was a leader, taking charge in group work, maybe sometimes a bit bossy! It was just in my personality, that’s how I was. I enjoyed the responsibility of managing and working with people to get desired outcomes and success and that’s exactly how I am with my coaching/management. 

Do you have any specific type of football that you have a love for?

Has to be the possession-based sides – Barcelona, Bayern, Man City under Pep Guardiola. Liverpool under Klopp, there’s so many managers I admire for the way they play. Some go less recognised such as Roger Schmidt, Juan Lillo, Marcelo Bielsa. I look up to a lot for their playing style and identity as a coach. Some are admirable simply for their innovation and creativity as a coach, others for the success and trophies they’ve delivered. But I particularly love the sides that try and build from the back, dominate possession throughout the thirds and find creative ways of opening up teams. It’s almost an art. Each phase takes great intelligence, finding ways to get out of tight spaces to exploit other areas of the pitch. It takes great decision making and confidence. Playing route one doesn’t give you that. There’s minimal risk and often frustrating to watch. To dominate the ball, find ways out of certain areas, breaking down low block teams is both very entertaining but also takes time to develop and work on. It’s not an overnight build and takes time to implement which makes it interesting from a coaching perspective. There’s so many fine details to each factor you work on. 

Do you have the best player you have ever worked with?

Hard for me to define the best player I have worked with considering I’ve only worked with youngsters during the 4 years I’ve been coaching. Every group I’ve worked with, there’s always been that stand out talent where you go “Wow. Yeah, there’s something there for him to go and have a career in the game”. Whether those players do or not, is ultimately up to them. We don’t get the contact time with them that we’d obviously like to, but I’d like to think I’ve always given players the tools to go away and know what to work on in their own time. I’d also like to think I’ve always been approachable for players to come up to me and ask “What can I improve on? Can you help me with this?”. For example, with our U18’s, there’s a good number of them who have asked for ways to improve, we regularly have individual conversations on different aspects on their game and I think it’s fantastic. The players deserve credit for that attitude and application to improve since I came in. We’ve also recently started doing position-specific practises before or after training. Allocating 15-20 minutes to focus on key aspects of the game with loads of repetition. For example, last week we worked on finishing with our forwards and midfielders. They all got about 20 shots each and the keeper has probably had 100 saves to make. It’s short, quick and repetitive with lots of decisions to make. 

What are your ambitions as a coach?

“What’s the point of running a race if you’re not in it to win it?” was a quote I heard a little while back which has stuck with me. But ultimately, I’ve always been a winner. I want to win. That might not always be winning games, but at youth level and in terms of developing players, that might be seeing a player develop a new habit that we’ve been plugging away at with him for a while, that might be a 15 year old scoring a goal for our U18’s or ultimately getting a player into the reserves or first team – that’s my main objective when working with U18’s this season. Similar when at Peterborough United, our ultimate aim is to develop each individual and move them on to the next age group – we want players going through each phase at the club and getting into that Youth Team before pushing on to the U23’s and first-team hopefully.

We always remember that there is an extremely slim chance of these boys getting into the first-team, we know that and they and their parents know that. It has to be mentioned, as you have to remind them and essentially keep them grounded and ensure they make use of the experience being at a professional football club. Enjoy the experience, learn from it and work hard.

I know a lot of Academies get criticism nowadays but they genuinely offer a great experience for young players, it’s a great learning curve for them all and they develop as people ultimately. They develop important life and social skills, they get to go away on tour and experience different cultures, they get to meet the first-team stars and watch them play and train on a weekly basis, workshops that are delivered by the Academy staff. I think they’re very fortunate for their age.

So ultimately to answer your question, I want to manage and coach at the highest level and win trophies because that’s what is expected of you at that level. It’s a challenge but I’m always learning and trying to develop myself.

Any advice you could offer aspiring coaches?

Be yourself. I think too many coaches look at the FA Courses and feel they have to copy everything from the England DNA to the practises that are delivered, worrying over whether they’ve done enough Q&A during their session or got “enough” technical detail out. It’s a big bug bear of mine. They say their courses/observations aren’t all tick box and they want you to be your own coach but I haven’t experienced that from tutors or courses yet – you have to get a certain amount of ball rolling time, have to manage the opposition, paint pictures, loads of Q&A, everyone opting against ‘command’. If you don’t do that then you don’t pass your courses, but they want you to be yourself?

Hence why I genuinely believe you have to be yourself and be creative. Go and watch other coaches, study what they do, what and how they deliver. There will be ideas you love and might implement, there might be ideas you don’t like and wouldn’t include in your own coaching, and the best ones are where you watch a session and you see something where it triggers a thought in your head where you change it, you tweak it there and then. “Yeah I like that, but I could actually do it like this, or change that and that could work” – those are the best moments when trying to take ideas away from other coaches. Sometimes those ideas that you experiment at your own training session but don’t work, it’s great because you’re learning, you’re trying to be creative. You can go away and tweak it again and try again the following week.

I’ve recently started recording our training sessions and games which has been really useful – it allows a better quality of reflection and allows us to also feedback to players on specific areas of training and games. There’s so much to learn and improve on yourself when you can record and analyse the sessions and games. I’d definitely recommend that and wish I had done it sooner. So ultimately, try and be yourself. I’m not saying you can’t learn from the FA courses, you absolutely can, but don’t replicate every message they preach and every session they deliver. But try and learn from everyone and develop your own coaching identity and beliefs. I’m always open to learning from people, but I will also challenge their ideas, just like I’d want them to challenge mine – because it gets me to question myself and my thinking and ultimately improve those aspects of my identity as a coach.