By Luca Parrish
Mr Andy Ritchie has been coaching football at Hampton for some time, and recently, I spoke to him about various footballing topics. These stretched from his experiences working in the School to his own path into coaching, and what has influenced and inspired him to choose that particular career path. It was an interesting insight to a very unique role, one that is far more complicated and multi-faceted than most realise.
I first inquired about Mr Ritchie’s own experiences in getting into coaching, and it became clear that football was an ever present in his life, as he explained that he had been playing ‘since I could walk’, and that having played football for many years, ‘coaching seemed to be a natural progression’.
Still playing non-league football for teams such as Wokingham Town and Maidenhead United until university, Mr Ritchie was also the captain of his university’s first team, and as such ‘you got to become the coach’. This led on to him taking further coaching badges in his third year at university, then going to the USA, ‘and just continued with and just loved it’. Mr Ritchie then took on a role as an FA regional coach with East Berkshire.
He cited several people who he worked with in the FA at the time as big inspirations for him from a coaching point of view. Les Reed, for instance, who has worked in the FA for many years as well as at Fulham and Southampton, was a key figure at the start of Mr Ritchie’s time working for the FA. Mr Ritchie also worked for a coach called Ted Dale, who he was the assistant for, working at Chelsea, and Dale was ‘also the one who took me on my level 2 [FA level 2 coaching badge] at university’. When working at Southampton, Mr Ritchie ‘met a guy called Georges Prost, who had come from Marseille and Lyon’, and together they created an extremely successful youth policy working with the U16 and U18 age groups. Prost was an ‘extremely inspirational’ figure.
Next we spoke about how new ideas can be found from other sports, in particular in the context of his role as an FA tutor, and Mr Ritchie described how, ‘as an FA tutor, you would encourage that for young coaches’. FA tutors mentor and guide young coaches, effectively teaching young aspiring coaches the proper practices, and Mr Ritchie stressed the importance FA tutors place on ‘developing a player holistically’, adding that ‘if you can motivate people using different examples, then I think that’s a really positive thing to do’.
We then moved onto the topic of Mr Ritchie’s work at Hampton, and how his role became enlarged after Mr Mills asked him to help out with the First XI. Mr Ritchie enjoyed the experience of being back with his ‘specialist age group’, of 15 to 19, explaining how ‘you sort of have a specialist age group as a coach’, and it became clear to him that many of the methods he had been using with professional clubs were easily transferable, due to the high standards at the School. There have been many changes to the way football at Hampton works during Mr Ritchie’s years here, including more recent changes like the introduction of vests to monitor work rate and fitness, and he explains how these small changes simply represent ‘adding to the product’, and trying to find small advantages in whatever way you can.
Another aspect of Mr Ritchie’s coaching at Hampton is his work with younger year groups and teams who are not necessarily A or B sides, and while he says that doesn’t have a direct impact on his work with the First XI, ‘it gives you perspective, if you’re working with an U13 let’s say C or D team, you have to use different skills’. Working with these different ability levels and age groups helps to ‘keep you honest’, and Mr Ritchie also stressed the importance of the ability of teachers, as well as coaches, to be able to adapt and work with different scenarios. He clarified how his teaching degree along with his UEFA A license was helpful in this as he was able to see football from a different, more recreational point of view. In addition to this Mr Ritchie also works as a mentor, guiding less qualified coaches at various levels, and he mentioned his work within the school with a multitude of age groups as very helpful to that.
We then discussed broader topics within the sport, in particular the ideas of a distinctive identity or culture within a footballing institution, and the potential importance of that. Mr Ritchie spoke about the All Blacks as an example of a sporting institution to be admired looking at ‘the standards they set, the attention to detail’, and he spoke about his interest in fostering an extremely focused environment, but one where positivity, along with a willingness to learn, would be crucial. While he admitted the difficulty of this, Mr Ritchie said that the ‘balance the school has is fantastic’, and one of the most important aspects of this is the enjoyment the boys take from playing football, especially since that football is played in an expansive way.
Another interesting aspect of our discussion was individualism, an interesting concept not just within football but within all team sports. While he accepted the clear challenges of having ‘someone swimming against the tide’, Mr Ritchie said this had to be balanced with giving players freedom to find what is best for them and keeping them content. Speaking from his own personal experience, having made the move from central midfield to centre back, Mr Ritchie spoke about how this experience, instead of hindering him, gave him an edge over others in his position as he was ‘far more technical’ as a result of his many years spent in the middle of the pitch.
Overall, not only did I find it very interesting to talk to someone who has coached at a high level and glean an insight into the role of the football coach, it was also fascinating to have a conversation about the sport with someone who so clearly has such a passion for and investment in it.