Interview – Bristol Academy Coach David Edmondson

In life in general, some people wait for situations to happen, and then react. Others seem to be following a plan ready when unforeseen situations occur.

Bristol Academy Manager David Edmondson falls in the latter camp.

We are sat in an open plan area within the Bristol Academy of Sport, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, formerly Filton College, which oozes youth, fitness and future opportunities.

 

Edmondson was appointed Bristol Academy Head Coach following the departure of Mark Sampson who took up the role of England Women’s Team Manager in December 2013.

Sampson coached “The Vixens” to losing finalists in The FA Cup losing out to Arsenal. They were runners up in the Women’s Super League, also securing Champions League qualification.

Although Bristol doesn’t have the financial resources of Manchester City or Chelsea, the benchmark of success has been set by Edmondson’s predecessor.

Edmondson tells me he applied for the Bristol Academy job as it had all the components which covered his experience, qualifications and skills.

“It’s not only about working with a very talented squad at senior level; it’s the opportunity to develop up and coming talent from our junior teams,” he says.

Most of his coaching credentials have been gained by various management, coaching and Director posts in the USA, to New Zealand and Australia, although his Mancunian accent and northern roots are still as strong as ever.

Edmondson was born in Manchester with what he describes as “a hard working family background.”

“Academically I was ok, not brilliant, too much time spent playing football,” he recalls.

“My Dad expected me to go into some type of manual profession; he worked as a Chemical Engineering Foreman in one Manchester’s largest chemical sites.

“He took pride in the dirt and grease on his hands, manual work was real work he always believed. My family have always been incredibly supportive; I grew up with a work ethic instilled in me throughout my early years.

“If you want something go out and work for it my parents used to say. Yes they were different times, but when I was growing up nothing came easy everything had to be worked for, everything.”

Instead of taking the manual route into working life, Edmondson gained a place at Leeds Beckett University embarking on his sports education.

He gained a BA (Hons) in Human Movement Studies. I ask for a summary of the syllabus and topics covered.

“Where to begin?” he asks himself. “It’s a sports science degree covering physiology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and biomechanics.

“It covers any practical sport, athletics, gymnastics, football etc. to dance and outdoor education. The course is diverse and wide ranging as you can imagine, fit for anyone who wants to work in a sports environment.”

Was this the start of his sports plan?

“No, I enjoyed sport. I played football for the University, weekends I played with my mates at Chadderton Town,” he says.

“That’s a decent standard of football,” I interject.

“Yeh, it wasn’t bad I enjoyed it. I could play centre half or midfield, I was young then” he recalls with a laugh.

In fact he was watched by various clubs resulting in a few trials, a contract wasn’t forthcoming. Throughout his late teens and mid-twenties he played for numerous semi-professional teams – Ossett Town, Winsford United, Chadderton Town, Hyde United, Farsley Celtic.

He even managed to slip in the role of assistant coach whilst still playing at Bacup Borough. The writing was on the wall you could say.

 

Next on his educational journey was a P.G.C.E. (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) in his final year of university.

In between studies he began his coaching qualifications; by the age of 20 he had completed his F.A. preliminary coaching badge.

On leaving University he took up his first salaried position, working alongside the current England Rugby Union coach Stuart Lancaster as a Physical Education (P.E.) teacher at Kettlethorpe High School in West Yorkshire.

“Here I began coaching on a regular basis, nothing too serious, kids at junior level,” he says.

“I stayed with the role for four years, enjoyed it learned a lot as a teacher and sports coach.”

Edmondson’s first overseas coaching role was with NOGA, on the outskirts of New York, USA.

“It was one of those opportunities I’d have been crazy not to take. Working with experienced coaches over the summer months, getting to work with different age groups was a perfect induction for me.

“I guess I was serving my apprenticeship. During the UK summer holidays I became immersed in football, still combining it with my P.E. duties.”

In 2003 Edmondson was on the move again, only this time it was permanent. His destination was New Zealand, taking on the role Head of Physical Education and Sport at Wanganui City College.

He also played and coached Wanganui Athletic during his three years at the College.

“It (the school) reminded me of my own school days and those early teaching years in West Yorkshire,” he says.

“The kids would be a challenge mentally and physically. I came through as there working class background was mine as well. It was just the years which separated us from my early school days.”

From all accounts you still hadn’t hung up your boots when you were at Wanganui?

“Well my knees and back kept asking me hang up those boots, until I finally got the message” he says with a grin.

It wasn’t long before his next assignment became available as Director of Coaching in Wellington with Lower Hutt City FC.

Why the change of job and country?

“I was ready for a more challenging role. The role was coaching the senior men’s team as Head Coach/Manager, but my overall responsibility was that of Technical Director of the club,” he explains.

The job was my first step into a management role with responsibility and accountability. Staff would be working for me, I would be dealing with finances and constraints required to run a department.

“Learning man management skills in sport and business environment was very important for my progression in management.”

Edmondson was now coaching most days with a whole range of ages, sizes and skills to work with. I’m curious to know if he can define his coaching style.

At this point he clears a space on the table. Salt sellers become holding midfield players, vinegar bottles wing backs, knives and forks battling away for supremacy in the eighteen yard box. In some detail he explains his style of play and general formation he likes to work with.

“As I began to work with the older groups I became more demanding,” he says.

“I wanted them to be the best they could be. I would tell them one on one how they could improve, enjoy it even more.

“This supportive, educational approach or style came naturally and it worked. Within a year I was working incredibly hard, but loving the responsibility and involvement with coaching and college matters.”

 

In 2006 Edmondson took on the position of Head Coach at Waikato FC in the New Zealand National Men’s Football League.

Edmondson set about making changes at the club. He raised standards, better fitness; more discipline a game plan and a desire to be successful.

As with any new manager he brought in new players and released, or they released themselves the ones which didn’t fit into his ideas and philosophies.

It didn’t work out. He was sacked within one season.

From my previous articles (and those yet to be published), you will see that failure is always a defining moment in people’s lives, or careers. That moment of rejection.

Some will find the inner strength to carry on, learn, and change their methods or attitude. Others will have their confidence crushed, never to return.

Hundreds upon hundreds of trainee footballers are released by professional clubs each year.

How many bounce back and fulfil their potential? Very few. Football managers seem to get second and third chances. How many learn from their mistakes? Very few.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated at a business seminar in 1997: “There isn’t a huge gap between success and failure. It’s simply the ones who persevere who succeed.”

Gary Neville former England and Manchester United full back summed up his own path to success: “I was no better than a lot of players who came to United as a kid. But I turned up at every training session again and again, working hard each time. If I wasn’t quick enough I got quicker. If I wasn’t strong enough I got stronger. I persevered, I never gave up. Others did.”

So what did Edmondson do after he was sacked?

“To be honest I was completely shell shocked. I didn’t expect it, didn’t see it coming,” he says.

“When I was told, it was hard to accept. Probably like a lot of people I went away felt sorry for myself, blamed others, and said I wasn’t given a fair chance. I was kidding myself.

Once I had cleared my head I went through my time at Waikato and analysed what I’d done wrong. I knew unless I could work this out I would carry the same mistakes into my next football post (If there was one). It would just be a cycle of recurring errors.”

I tell him I hear the words but where does this self analytical strategy come from?

“Well I read and still do read biographies / autobiographies of people who have been successful in business and sport,” he says with some determination.

“I try and learn, pick out the bits which relate to me and adapt accordingly. A lot of these guys have failed, but came back stronger. I believe I could do the same.”

I ask for reading material examples. Not everyone can relate to motivational scenarios or examples from those who have tasted success and failure.

The books of John Wooden’s, (US Collegiate Basketball Coach) are a source of inspiration, as are the likes of Michael Jordan,

“I cannot accept not trying,” he says. “I pass on their stories and examples to my teams, sometimes a squad; other times one on one with players”

A new opportunity soon came calling when Ngaruawahia United of the Northern Premier league approached Edmondson to become Head Coach.

Did he have any reservations as this would be your first senior position after your Waikato dismissal?

“I wanted to get back and prove to myself I could learn from whatever mistakes I’d made,” he says.

“A little nervous but clear in my own ability to be a better coach.”

 

The winning formula was soon back on track as he coached Ngaruawahia to Premier League promotion in 2009.

Whilst still retaining his coaching responsibilities at Ngaruawahia with the men’s team, he did something with an eye to the future.

He became Head Coach of Claudelands Rovers Women’s Northern League team. Men played on a Saturday, women on a Sunday.

Edmondson was doing well in the men’s game, so why the change to dual gender management?

“In 2007/08 New Zealand hosted the women’s under 17s World Cup,” he says.

“I was considered for the position of NZ coach to lead the under 17s. They thought I didn’t have the experience. So when the opportunity arose to manage a women’s team I took it.

Besides challenging and developing my management skills I hoped the experience would be invaluable if an opportunity ever came up again to manage at a higher level of women’s football.”

They say never go back in business or sport, but Edmondson did just that when taking over a second spell at Waikato FC. His tenure was short lived, a World Cup was calling.

The club progressed on and off the field, developing a young squad which included the talented Marco Rojas, currently playing in the German Bundesliga.

Edmondson became a World Cup Coach in 2010 taking New Zealand fewer than 17s to the World Cup Finals in Trinidad and Tobago.

Not many managers can say they took a team to the World Cup and I ask about his experience.

“It was a huge learning curve. Some of the girls not surprisingly hadn’t travelled outside of New Zealand,” he explains.

“The planning and arrangements required by the support team is vast just to get the squad on flights and into hotels. Training schedules, nutrition, change in sleep patterns, being away from home. It was a fantastic experience, so many hours put in by so many people.

Some of the girls matured and developed through their World Cup experience, making them ready for senior football when the next season began. For me it was an opportunity to see how other coaches, prepared, set out their tactics, managing where the pressure and stakes were high.”

Edmondson’s pride is clear to see.

I ask what he learned about himself.

“Basically that I was on the right track. It was an injection of confidence; I could compete with the best coaches,” he says.

“The routine of watching the opposition, building a game plan, exploiting weaknesses, being clear on my expectation of players. What I was doing seemed to be working.

When I brought the squad together I told them they will be better players and athletes if they don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses.

“I’ve tried to keep this discipline in place with all of my teams, especially the last one – don’t make excuses; in other words take responsibility for your actions.”

His reputation was growing by the season, not only was he winning trophies but young talent was progressing junior to senior ranks under his guidance.

His training methods and planning on and off the field were being sought and replicated by others teams.

When the FFSA said they wanted Edmondson on board, offering him the positions of Head of Women’s Football and Head Coach of the Adelaide United Westfield W-League team. He had no hesitation in making the move.

As Head of Women’s Football he would become responsible for coaching education, strategic planning to develop the Women’s game, plus development of the National training Centre.

It was a standing joke at the time, but factual the Adelaide W-League was often quoted as the worst sporting team in Australia. They played three seasons without a win before Edmondson’s arrival.

“My years in New Zealand had been fantastic. I had grown and developed as a coach, so when the opportunity of a full time position in Australia was on offer I knew it was the right time to take up the challenge,” he says.

I suggest he was “fast tracking himself”. Was he sure he could handle it?

“The days of it just being me with some passion and determination were long gone. To make sure I delivered what was required took a focused team,” he explains.

“I recruited staff that had the same beliefs as I did, set out the strategy and collectively we put in the hours to make all the different components work. This was the next stage of my development, and yes I was sure I could handle it,” he says definitively.

 

During the next two years Edmondson would take on more responsibility as his reputation became synonymous with meeting the requirements of sporting and business objectives.

He once again held dual roles with the Football Federation of Victoria (FFV). Initially as Head of the National Talent Centre for the State of Victoria and Melbourne Victory Women’s League Head Coach. Whilst at FFV he became Technical Director for the whole state across men and women’s football.

Edmondson held positions of some standing within the men’s and women’s game in Australia. Reporting directly to the much respected Dutch coach Hans Berger. Everything he had worked towards was in place.

What did he do? Decided to go home.

“I had it in my mind for a while to go home. My parents were getting older; I’d been away for over 10 years. It felt right to build a personal and professional career plan back in England. I’m a great believer in timing, the timing was right to close off my antipodean ties” he explains.

“Some call it a plan, strategy or pathway where they want to be. I knew back in 2005 when I took my UEFA B Licence what I wanted to achieved, the coaching route I wanted to take.

“I had a similar plan when I gained my UEFA A Licence in 2010 with the Welsh FA. Currently I’m around 70% complete on my Pro License. All being well I’d like to have it completed by the end of 2015”

When Edmondson applied for the vacant manager role at Bristol Academy president Kevin Hamblin said the club had received over 100 applications. The board of Directors wanted someone who could win games in WSL1 and develop players at youth level to make the senior grade. Edmondson was their man.

He’s one year into the role of Bristol Academy Coach, I ask him for a summary of the last year.

“Well the highlight has to be the beating of Barcelona over home and away ties in the European Cup last 16. I think it was around 55 games since Barcelona hadn’t won at home. We beat them away 1-0 and held them 1-1 at home,” he says.

“The team’s performance over the two ties in terms of discipline, concentration and technical ability was outstanding. Now we get a crack at Frankfurt in the quarter final in March, fully deserved and the whole club is looking forward to the game” he says with a real level of eagerness.

“Whilst I need to make this my squad with new signings and players ready for WSL1 from the development teams, it’s hard to accept some of the talent we’ve lost. Women’s football is moving so fast, mostly its finance driven. Suddenly we have teams who can pay salaries unknown in the game before.

“We (Bristol) can’t compete with the wage structures available at other clubs, so we lose players.

It’s more important than ever to build a squad, coaching staff, training methods, game plan to adapt. It’s a real challenge, exciting and character building. We are the underdogs.”

I guess this is the “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses” ethos being adhered to.

Edmondson has delivered trophies, titles and player development during his career to date. Both he and the board of directors know the ever changing landscape of Women’s football will make trophies and titles a tough call.

Instead of going with the short term question I ask him about his personal long term objectives. Before he can answer he has to stop laughing. I think he sees a trap door to the question.

“First and foremost I will be judged on what is deemed to be success,” he says.

“This season has the introduction of promotion and relegation between WSL1 and 2. We want to consolidate our position as a quality WSL1 team and club.

“Once I’ve completed all the signings and know the strength and depth of my squad, then I can tell you our realistic goals.”

You’ve told me about the team and club here, but what about you how do you become a better coach? At what level do aspire to coach in say five years?

He pauses so long I not sure if he’s thinking or offended.

“There is no doubt I can get better. As I said this coming season will be a real challenge,” he says.

“I believe I’m self-critical; analysis is a key component in my coaching style with players and me. I see my Pro-Licence being a very good external tool for honesty and appraisal of my strengths and weaknesses.

“Sport as in business, if you don’t move forward, learn and adapt you will either get swallowed up or disappear. Currently I’d say [Jose] Mourinho (Chelsea), [Brendan] Rodgers (Liverpool), [Jurgen] Klopp (Borussia Dortmund) and [Marcelo] Bielsa (Olympique de Marseille) are the most open minded, skilful coaches in Europe, they are ahead of the game.

“Look at some of the Premier teams who are plagued with injuries. Is it training schedules, recovery times, or nutrition? To be successful at that level these days, your knowledge base has to be so wide and diverse. Good coaches manage problems quickly.

Two things, I believe I’m on board and have been for some years regarding components which make up improvement to teams and athletes.

“What you see in the men’s game is on its way to the women’s game. Squads and coaches will need to deal with constant changes season after season. If you can’t manage change you won’t survive.”

When I ask about a future role for him in the men’s game he won’t engage on the possibilities, referring only to his job description as we speak, Coach of Bristol Academy.

“This is my focus. I will be measured and assessed on my achievements here (Bristol) over the coming seasons, anything else is an unwanted distraction” making it sound like a statement of intent.

Earlier in the interview we discussed a poem he shares with his team and backroom staff: “The Man in the Glass” by Peter Dale Winbrows Sr. Its message: There is no glory or reward if you have cheated the man in the glass.

Whatever the seasons ahead hold in store for Edmondson he’ll be reminding himself and his players of that mantra – “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses”.

Author Details

Owen Peters

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