Our first in a series of Q&A following the subject of coaching we are joined by a coach from the world of Scottish football.
First of all let us know a little about yourself?
Robert Watson, Assistant Manager at Hamilton Academical Womens Football Club. I am a UEFA B Licenced coach and have been involved with Women’s football for over 10 years at every level of the game.
So how did you become a coach?
I have always loved football since I was very young but I got into coaching almost by accident if I’m completely honest. I had finished playing and was done with football after a couple of bad experiences.
I had been involved in the music industry at the time when friend of mine was given the opportunity to manage Motherwell Ladies first ever senior womens team in 2008, he asked me to come in as their goalkeeping coach. I started doing my SFA coaching badges and I had such a positive experience that year it re-ignited my passion for the game. After that first season at Motherwell we moved to East Kilbride Thistle where I became Assistant as well as taking the goalkeepers and it has snowballed from there.
After East Kilbride I moved to Glasgow Girls and was part of the staff that reached the Scottish Cup Under 17s final and getting the core of that progressive team into what is now SWPL 2, eventually taking over as head coach for 6 months. I decided to move on from Glasgow after almost 4 years as things didn’t really pan out as I wanted or expected, I was offered the role at Accies almost straight away which has meant I’ve coached in every division of senior womens football in Scotland.
Accies has given me some incredible experiences and for that I am incredibly grateful, I am now active as part of the South West Regional squads supporting goalkeepers and developing the techniques centre which I also mirror at the Central region. I look back over 10 years and think what an amazing journey, far more than I could ever have expected walking onto the astro when it all began at Motherwell, the game has evolved and changed so much during this time I have been involved.
You mentioned your time playing, what was that like?
I was a goalkeeper pretty much the whole time I was a player apart from the odd occasion filling in at full back. I started out at Lesmahagow Boys Club playing with school friends, we had a fantastic side so many talented players have come from the area, a few progressing to pro-youth, professional and even some fantastic careers at junior level football.
Following that I spent time at Kirkfield United, unfortunately I had a bad experience there due to the coach overseeing the team as the attitude of the team was very much old school. The stand out memory was him shouting “out!!” constantly, the total opposite to the atmosphere we had at Lesmahagow. He had his first-choice goalkeeper which of course I understood but at 13/14 years old all I wanted to do was play and felt I wasn’t given the chance I deserved.
I left them for my own village team, Blackwood, where if I’m honest we weren’t very good but we were like the black sheep team. My dad and another parent took the side, we gave all the local boys who weren’t fancied by other clubs a place to play and looking back that was an incredible thing to do. They weren’t great coaches but they made sure everyone got game time and most of all encouraged us to enjoy football. These two experiences have always stuck with me within 18 months of each other.
After Blackwood I was asked back to Kirkfield to trial where they didn’t take me at my age group as they felt their existing goalkeeper was better. 2 days later I got a call from the coach of 2 age groups above saying he couldn’t believe I wasn’t taken and asked me to go there. I was 15 playing at Under 17s level so there was a pretty big jump in terms of physicality of the game but I eventually got my chance following a goalkeeper injury and never looked back. A couple of the players were picked up by Dundee Utd and both Rangers and Celtic watched me but felt I wasn’t tall or physical enough but they would keep an eye on me.
Unfortunately the interest wasn’t taken much further and despite a few trials at other pro-youth sides it never quite happened but that 18 months there was the best football I played. I could see their point as much as it hurt me. I was 5ft8 in an age group that contained people like Allan McGregor and David Marshall!
After youth football I played at a good level of amateur. I was asked to go junior a few times but the unquestionable love had sort of fizzled out after youth level and I was happy training once a week and playing at a good level on a Saturday. My interests had started moving into music at the time the team imploded with some poor signings and a fall out with one of the coaches who I felt was a bad influence and poorly organised. I hadn’t always played at a high level but I enjoyed my football when it was organised and the team had a common goal. The people that came into Lanark weren’t and I finished up.
Although playing 5s and 7s with friends and in leagues, I basically had 3 years away from football before getting the call to go into Motherwell.
Back to coaching who would you name as great players to work with?
That’s a really difficult question as I’ve worked with so many good ones. Jade Lindsay who is with Accies just now has the little bit of arrogance I like in a player. I loved Courtney McAvoy (now at Hearts) who was a bit of a maverick and absolutely hilarious. There was never a dull moment with her around.
Deborah McLeod is perhaps the most underrated I’ve worked with. She has a bit of a love hate relationship with football sometimes but she’s the kind of understated midfielder I really like. She reads the game so well and keeps it simple.
Gill Inglis as well has been an incredible Captain at Accies in my time there. She’s a full back but has played just about every position apart from goalkeeper and never once complained. You couldn’t get a more dedicated player. She was a huge part of winning SWPL 2 in 2016.
The first player I worked with that made me go “wow” was a girl called Lyndsey Holmes who came into motherwell from celtic. She wasn’t getting any game time and just wanted to play, a big part of her game was that she moved so quickly with the ball and it was like it was glued to her toe. For our first season we finished second in the old Division 2 East and if I’m honest we played to our strengths which was simply to give her the ball. She moved onto Airdrie and them Cumbernauld Colts and one of the first things I did at Glasgow Girls was bring her in. She was a huge part in our success and a brilliant role model for the young players we had at the time.
I really enjoyed working with Lauren Coleman at Glasgow Girls as well. She was never the most technical player but for sheer desire and will to win you wouldn’t want anyone else. She was a centre forward when I first got to the club playing in the 1st Team and Under 17s but she was like a battering ram up front. The first time I saw her she was chucking around players 10 years older than her in a 2nd division game when it really was a bit of a kicking match. Her fearless approach was just incredible. She naturally developed as she got older though and in my opinion an excellent central midfielder, physically strong, good in the air, good range of passing and can score from distance. She worked so hard on her touch and game knowledge. We did lots of work on her passing to improve it and she hardly ever missed a session, an overwhelming desire to to simply improve all the time. She had great confidence in her ability as well, we played Falkirk (who are now stirling) in the Scottish Cup last 16 and she lined one up in the last minute. The score was 1-1 and I’m thinking just stick it in the corner and we will take extra time. Lauren steps up and fires one from about 35 yards that the keeper tips onto the bar and we follow up to score and win 2-1 to play Hibs in the quarter final, It was an amazing moment, Lauren was brilliant all afternoon against Emma Lyons who was the opposition captain at the time. We didn’t always see eye to eye and had some huge arguments but you if you gave her a job to do on the pitch she got on with it. I’m glad to see she is still starting in SWPL 2 and without doubt she has the qualities to play in a higher division. I am hopeful that one day I get to work with her again as she has really matured as a player.
If I had to pick the best though in terms of working with 3 times a week and match then I cant see past Amy Anderson. The growth in her as a player has been unbelievable in the last few years. Not only is she technically gifted but she really understands football. She is still only 20 as well and has a hell of a lot of time to grow and mature as a player. She came through with the generation of players like Erin Cuthbert who is now at Chelsea and picked up a bad knee injury which maybe curtailed her chances at 19s but she has been an incredible player for Accies.
I remember going up to Inverness in 2016 in the SWPL 2 run in and it was a simple must win. We started well but lost a soft goal and while we were a goal ahead at half time, we weren’t really playing well and the manager gave them a bit of a roasting. The second half Amy just took the game by the scruff of the neck and dominated for the full 45 minutes. She was unplayable and for me that was the match I saw a shift in her that year to taking responsibility and driving a performance from her team. One thing I would like her to to add to her game is more goals and get in the box more often but in my opinion she has all the attributes to be a top player if she keeps working hard and making the sacrifices to get there.
Who has been your greatest influence in football?
Player wise my hero as a kid was Andy Goram who, as a Rangers fan, I idolised. The run Rangers had in 92 in the European Cup I’m just old enough to remember where he seemed to have world class performance after world class performance particularly the away match against Leeds. I also remember the 1-0 victory we had against Celtic in 96 where it looked like nothing would beat him saving a very late penalty.
I have a love affair with central midfielders as well.
I loved watching Gheorge Hagi in particular and that wonderful Romania side in the 94 World Cup, he glided around the pitch and never scored simple goals. I think the modern game lacks those kind of maverick, on the edge of madness type players. The best player I ever saw in the flesh was Juan Roman Riquelme who played for Villarreal at Ibrox. It was the best individual performance I’ve ever seen from a player, no one got near him and quite how we came out with a draw that night I will never know.
From a coaching point of view I have great admiration for people like Arrigo Sacchi who never played professional football but is considered one of Italys greatest coaches. He took over Fabio Capello’s magnificent Milan side and took them to new heights including back to back european cups and was one of the first coaches to use things like shadowing for passages of play. Really ahead of his time.
I have a big affinity for Jurgen Klopp as well. I love how he comes across, how passionate he is and how he approaches games with it being about high intensity and playing on the front foot. It really harks back to the 50s and 60s type football.
I appreciate what someone like Guardiola has done obviously but I’m not a huge fan of a playing philosophy fully focused around possession. If I’m totally honest I found it quite slow at times while and undoubted great side. Personally I want to see teams attack quickly, break lines and create 1v1 or 2v1, be brave to try things in the final third, go for the kill. Of course you can’t do that all the time which is where I admire the defensive traits of someone like Mourinho.
I try to pick up things from other sports as well particularly American Football. I find the play books and the how all the different coaches interlink and work together in huge squads really interesting. Accies manager Gary Doctor has got me more and more into that, he loves it.
On that note I would have to say Gary has been the biggest influence in terms of coaches I have worked with. His attention to detail and planning sessions is brilliant. The biggest thing I think I have learned from him is challenging yourself to give a great variety in your session as players can get bored if they see the same features all the time. We have a good working relationship and I love attending training every week with him.
What is your philosophy in terms of player development?
I firmly believe that players must play as much as they can at the highest level they can.
I have to admit it is my bugbear in Womens football in Scotland. There are lots of talented players sitting on a bench getting 10/15 minutes here and there after the team are comfortably winning. What development does that give them? Players are going to get better being put into positions that force them to make decisions in real time and with consequence of winning or losing.
I can understand players being overawed when the badge of a big team is stuck in front of them. I would always challenge those players to ask themselves questions. Will I play regularly? Will I be given opportunity? Would another so called smaller club actually be better for me?
Players want immediate success. Spend time earning your stripes playing then get your move to the big club when you can command a starting position. At the end of the day when a player looks back will they say I sat on a bench or I played the sport I loved at the highest level I could?
From a youth point of view players need training sessions that challenge them and force them to make decisions. Children learn at such a fast rate so the more repetition they do the more they learn and the better they get at it.
I see some training sessions where the coach screaming and shouting at kids and I’m thinking what is that child going to learn? Sending them for a run round the park as punishment just encourages them to hate running. For me its all about preparation, even if it’s two key points you want to get across to the kids that night. The sessions has to be constructive, challenging and you have to be support in a positive manner. Putting fear into children if they make a wrong decision means they will stop making decisions, as a result they will learn nothing.
How are things going on at Accies?
Its been a difficult season so far but I suppose that could be expected after all the success we have had in the last 2 years. We have effectively re-built the 1st Team and Performance section in that time. The challenge for us to establish ourselves back in SWPL 1 but it a very tough league. With only 8 teams there’s not a huge margin for error but outside of Glasgow City, Hibernian and to an extent Celtic there is very little difference between the other five teams.
We haven’t really ever had an out and out centre forward which as a consequence means we don’t score many goals but we are working hard on bringing someone in. We have a wonderful group and you couldn’t ask them to work any harder. Recently we have brought in Kodie Hay, Nina Fitzsimmons and Katie Rice in the close season which adds great quality. We just have to find a way to get our noses in front as I believe we can win games at this level and belong in this division.
Do you have any ambitions beyond your current role?
Personally I would like to get involved at National level either in 17s, 19s or maybe the A Squad. To represent your country is the pinnacle of your sport in my opinion. I am looking forward to starting my UEFA A Licence soon as well and from there if I move on from Accies I would like to manage in the SWPL 1 and as the years progress I would love to get into the Super League in England or even into Sweden or Denmark. I really enjoyed visiting Brondy and FC Rosengard a couple of years ago so that would appeal to me as well. I have ambitions but its about building things the right way, walk before I can run. I have loads to learn and luckily I’m not arrogant enough to sit and pretend I know everything.
Finally, would there be any sort of advice you could offer any aspiring coaches out there that are just beggining journey?
The biggest piece of advice I can give young coaches starting out is volunteer at a club, get experience working with another coach and be prepared to make mistakes and most importantly learn from them.
As much as you want players to learn you also need to learn and develop as well and you wont get that unless you do it through experience. Also get on the SFA coaching badges as quickly as possible. they are a fantastic resource and full of ideas. The 1.1 to 1.3 on both children and youth pathways are fantastic and even if you don’t plan on going any further I would say these are a must as the players you are coaching very well may go further.
Massive thank you to Robert for taking timeout from his busy schedule to share such wonderful detail, as ever we hope that some of what has talked about will serve you well in the future and perhaps be inspirational in whatever role you have in football and player development. Until next time.