Paul Barry

Meet: Paul Barry

Role: Arsenal FC Academy U10’s Head Coach

1. Can you give us a bit of background information on yourself?

My name is Paul Barry and I am an A Licence and FA Advanced Youth Award accredited professional who has been coaching for over 20 years since completing my first qualification at the tender age of 17. I played at a reasonable standard, experiencing the academy environment in my young teens before venturing into University 1st team football and non-league around the same time as undertaking my FA Coaching Certificate (now called the FA Level 2). My experiences in coaching have been extremely varied and seen me travel across America as well as working for several different organisations in England including Football in the Community schemes, Brazilian soccer schools and from 2007 to 2010, the Football Association as an FA Skills Coach in Essex. The CPD programme at the FA was second to none and I completed many different courses during my time working for the organisation including the full FA Youth Award as well as the UEFA B Licence.

Upon leaving the FA, I joined Dagenham & Redbridge’s Centre of Excellence programme as a Technical Skills Coach. My remit there was to devise a technical curriculum which was used across the U10’s to U16’s age groups to enhance their skill acquisition abilities. At the start of the 2010-11 season, I joined Southend United as their U9’s Head Coach. After nearly 3 years of working part-time and moving between the Foundation and Youth Development Phases, I was offered a full-time role as Lead Foundation Phase Coach. My responsibilities within this position involved managing the whole phase from U6-U11’s including staff, players and building relationships with parents. I left Southend at the start of the 2017-18 season to join Arsenal in a full-time position as U10’s Head Coach. I now work alongside a large team of highly talented and knowledgeable individuals  including recruitment, analysis, strength and conditioning, medical, welfare and travel as well as leading the U10’s group for their training and games programme.

2. How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports?

Parents play a hugely important and significant role within youth sports programmes. They are the main influencers in terms of child development and can spend hours and hours ferrying their sons and daughters to training sessions, games and tournaments. In my experience, some of the most positive parent behaviour I have seen has allowed their child maximum enjoyment and significant development within their overall progression as a performer and young person. Parents who observe their child’s development and allow the coach to fulfil their duties are greatly appreciated within youth sporting environments. By recognising when to engage in sport related conversations with their son or daughter compared to spending time with them simply as children, parents can learn to compartmentalise and allow their child to spend time playing, being creative, having other interests and also participating in different sports to enhance their holistic development.

3.  What are the benefits of being a positive youth sports parents?

Being a positive youth sports parent is paramount to a child’s long-term participation, engagement and enjoyment of their chosen sport(s). Parents are the primary carer and influencer for a young person and the way that they act is usually role modelled by their son or daughter. Learning the importance of communication as a two-way process and respecting other people’s ideas and opinions can allow a child to learn, experiment and earn trust within a sporting environment. Being consistent and providing unconditional love can result in a parent developing a fantastic bond with their child and again, most likely mean that their son or daughter cannot wait to go to training or matches. By seeing the result of a match as simply part of the learning process and never changing their manner regardless of win, loss or draw, a positive youth sports parent can greatly influence how their child sees their own development. Smiles and encouragement from the side-lines, positive body language and praising their child for their efforts before ability can produce excellent results in character development and the way in which they perceive sport and interact with team-mates and coaches.

4. Tell us a bit about how your parents supported you through the journey into becoming a player/coach/teacher?

My parents were always very relaxed when it came to my participation in sport growing up. They were encouraging and knew when to push me on the occasions that I lost confidence for any reason in particular. My Mum was responsible for my first coaching course having spotted an advert for it in the local paper so I have a lot to thank her for! As a young person, they allowed me to be independent at the right time and take risks so that I could make mistakes and create solutions to any problems I may have had. They always offered guidance before giving the answer to something straight away. This is the approach I now adopt to teaching and coaching to this day. Let the children try to work things out for themselves and only step in to guide or prompt when they really need a helping hand.

5. What advice would you give any youth sports parents, with a talented son/daughter and ambition also drive to reach the highest level?

Advice to the player

  • Listen to your coach, but don’t rely on them. Over time, development and progression is ultimately the responsibility of the child themselves, not their coach
  • Always try your hardest
  • Respect other people’s (including team-mate’s) opinions
  • Expect to make mistakes and plenty of them! These are opportunities to learn
  • Learn to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable
  • Place importance on the process rather than the outcome
  • Focus on all the things that you can control (i.e yourself) rather than the uncontrollables (i.e the situation – opponents, referees, weather conditions)
  • Have fun!

 – Advice to the parents

  • Allow your child independence within their learning journey (step back from time to time)
  • Treat the coach with respect and consider how you ask questions of them
  • Help your child to embrace the importance of making mistakes – acknowledge them, correct them and learn from them
  • Spend time with your son/daughter away from the sport they participate in – this has been even more relevant with how things have developed with lockdown etc over the course of this year. Engage and express interest in other social activities that your child enjoys.
  • Prioritise school and education over sport
  • Allow your child to engage in a variety of different sports and encourage healthy eating and nutrition – being at home more over the last few months has certainly allowed parents to think of creative ways to interact with their children. Garnering a young person’s interest in a healthy lifestyle is so vital to positive long-term development.
  • Always aim to praise effort over ability
  • Positive body language and encouragement at all times
  • Try to recognise when to give them a little push at the right time
  • Appreciate and understand that there will likely be more times in which your son or daughter will struggle compared to them striving. This is how they (and you as a parent) will breed resilience to overcome advertisy as and when it arises

6. In your experience as a coach, how can uneducated and unsupported parents, effect player(s)(short & long term)?

– Short Term:

  • Make child think that the result is more important than anything else
  • Prevent their son/daughter from listening to others and gaining knowledge through being inquisitive learners
  • Negatively affect their confidence through applying too much pressure
  • If parent applies extrinsic rewards (e.g presents, money), player will focus too much on this external factor and start to neglect what is more important (i.e holistic learning – physical, technical, psychological)

– Long Term:

  • Could make their child believe that respecting the coach/organisation is not important and that only the parent’s opinion and knowledge is necessary (can lead to inappropriate behaviour)
  • According to Achievement Goal Theory, if the athlete becomes more concerned with others perception of them, this can lead to egotistical behaviours
  • Applying too much pressure can long-term, affect a young person’s love for their sport and potentially lead to early drop out
  • Parents that seek perfection in their child’s sporting prowess and achievements will negatively affect their love of the game they play
  • Social confidence and the ability to converse positively with peers and adults can be affected. This has a longer term effect on making decisions and being a self-aware independent thinker
  • Try and foster independent thinking within your child and don’t do for them, what they can do for themselves. A child is who is dependent can long-term become demanding.

7.  What advice would you give coaches/clubs regarding youth sports parents?

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I would offer any youth sport organisation is to make the parents feel part of the process by engaging with them early on and educating them on how the programme operates. This may involve an induction day at the start of the season where they have a chance to meet all the other parents and staff from the different departments. Information offered may include how to communicate with the coaching staff (e-mail, text, phone call) and in which type of situations, a parent-coach meeting may need to be arranged. Expectations need to be established early on and this involves required conduct from parents, players as well as from the coaches themselves. A really simple but effective idea was that when the  match- kit team photos were being taken at my club, we also did a photo with all the families as well. This gave them a sense of being part of the journey and enhanced the feeling of togetherness. Always try to connect before you have to correct.

On-going education throughout the course of the season is paramount and this may be in the form of social media workshops, nutrition, general behaviour and conduct as well as how to operate any technical platforms on offer from the organisation (e.g match analysis). By simply making themselves available at certain times, coaches are able to establish valuable working relationships with parents. This may simply be an informal chat every so often enquiring about other members of the family which allows the parent to see that interest is being taken in more than just the athlete themselves. Being empathetic is a vital attribute for any coach to possess as parents do experience a whole range of success and disappointments along the way. Checking in with them at certain times is encouraged and from experience, I know is hugely appreciated. I try and ensure that whenever a parent contacts me with an issue of some kind, for instance, a problem to do with kit or something that needs to be resolved with a team-mate, I make this my priority to resolve as quickly as possible to put the parent’s mind at ease and to reduce any unnecessary feelings of anxiety or concern with the child themselves.

At the start of one season, we staged an induction day for all U9’s-U16’s players and part of this day included a Q&A with a parent from an established 1st team player who had progressed through the academy from the age of 7. This was a fantastic opportunity for other parents to hear from someone who had lived the journey first hand and how they approached dealing with all the highs and lows of a young person trying to progress at one of the biggest football academies in the world. This example of shared experience was invaluable and one that was highly appreciated and worthwhile.

8. What advice would you give youth sports parents for the car journey to and from youth sports practices and/or games?

Try to avoid:

On the way there :

  • Hyping up the match and adding unnecessary stress and pressure (avoid “are you fired up for this today?”)
  • Doing checks on kit etc (“Have you got your boots?”)
  • Providing any technical/tactical detail (this can lead to increased anxiety)
  • Acting out of character (e.g being uncharacteristically loud or quiet)

On the way home:

  • Dwelling on the result
  • Dissecting their son/daughter’s performance
  • Criticising other players, coaches, refereeing decisions (i.e external factors that you cannot control)
  • Using negative language (never, don’t, unacceptable)
  • Comparing your child to others
  • Only talk about mistakes that were made in a negative manner

Try to behave this way:

On the way there :

  • Ask thought provoking questions (e.g what are you going to try and achieve today?, what are you looking forward to today?)
  • Be consistent in terms of character – act as if this is any other car journey, manage your emotions
  • Constant positive role modelling – positive body language and lots of smiling
  • Talk about other non-sport subjects (e.g what are looking forward to at school next week?)

On the way home:

  • Ask questions such as “What did you enjoy most today?”
  • Give positive encouragement around effort and application before performance
  • Let your son/daughter critique their own performance whilst prompting and supporting
  • Ensure that you are there emotionally for your child if they have for some reason struggled at all
  • Limit conversations surrounding outcomes and expectations
  • Praise team-mates, opposition, refereeing
  • Remember that correcting errors and learning from mistakes is not the responsibility of the parent, not even the coach, but the young person themselves

I try and remember 3 things when it comes to engaging with young people about their performance:

  1. Ditch the don’t – try to use positive reinforcement and terminology
  2. Don’t yell and tell – adopt a calm and composed manner
  3. Pull don’t push – guide and prompt them when solving problems

9. What types of behaviours/mannerisms/comments would you encourage parents to demonstrate?

Positive parenting behaviour is all based around role modelling. How you act, interact and engage with your child and with others within their sporting environment will be mirrored by them in other situations.

When watching them train or play, ensure that you make good eye contact and in the event of a mistake or indeed a good piece of play, a simple smile and thumbs up can go a long way to making a child feel empowered and respected. This can breed a great degree of trust and confidence within the parent-child relationship.

Try to avoid spending time on the phone as these types of distractions can mean missing out on a whole range of things such as good individual and team play. Also, try to imagine what a child would think if they looked over after scoring an amazing goal and their mum/dad was looking at their phone!

Loud and enthusiastic encouragement can fill a child with confidence and excitement and make them try their hardest whilst at the same time, having fun. Engaging with other parents and their children is also important as this can breed a sense of togetherness and help the children to feel part of something special.

10. What is next for you as a coach / club / organisation?

I have been very fortunate to enjoy a wide range of experiences within my coaching journey to this point. I hugely enjoy and embrace the concept of teaching and coaching and watching young people strive to fulfil their potential. Long term, I hope to progress into a Head of Coaching role which would allow me to help and support coaches as well as players and teams. Until then, I am always focused on learning and educating myself to ensure that I am forever in the best place to support a young person on their journey.

Thank you for taking the time to complete the following interview questions.

You can find more about Paul on these social media outlets:

Twitter: Paul Barry 

LinkedIn: Paul Barry

Thank you Paul for taking the time to complete the following interview questions.

The Sporting Influencer



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