John Morling Brighton & Hove Albion Academy Manager

Coaches Corner: John Morling

Brighton’s Academy Manager talks coaching from a young age, passion for developing players and more…

In this month’s Coaches Corner, we spoke to Brighton & Hove Albion’s academy manager, John Morling on his fascinating journey in the game.

“I think the more times you adapt, and the more times you get put under pressure to adapt, the better you're going to get. Whatever problem comes your way, no different to a player, you can make the right decisions at the right time to get over that hurdle or whatever is in your way.” 

John speaks with a lot of passion for the work he does, and he’s the kind of person you could listen to talking about coaching for hours on end with the array of interesting past experiences that he has. 

For a lot of aspiring footballers, a life away from playing can be extremely daunting, but for John, if he wasn’t going to make it professionally, there were no qualms about transitioning to the side-line.

“I grew up in East London, playing for Barking Colts, Dagenham United, County football with Essex, then later on I played for Norwich City from under-11s to under-16s. It was a little bit different to what it is now! We'd train in East London during the week at a centre in East Ham and then go to Norwich at the weekends to play.

“Whilst at Norwich City they used to get us to coach in the community programme. So, from about 13 or 14 I actually started coaching. Then aged 17 I did The FA Preliminary Badge with John Sitton who was the former Leyton Orient manager.

“I got my first coaching job at 19, following my release as a player at Norwich at 16 and then spending a year at Scarborough at 17. My first job was at was at Peterborough United, I started within their community programme, similar to Brighton's AITC (Albion in the Community). 

“I took their under-9s on and then by 21, I had done my full coaching badge. I believe I was one of the youngest ones to complete that at that point. Then I became the director of the centre of excellence shortly after.”

It’s an incredible mindset that John had to follow a coaching career once he was let go by Norwich, which he didn’t get the better of him. Leading and developing was built in him from a young age. 

“It was tough at first [being released]. But I was always interested in coaching, I was always a captain of my teams all the way through, because I was fascinated in the tactical side of the game. The preliminary badge was basically an introductory course before you did a UEFA B. Then the full badge was basically what today's A License is. 

“I did my pro licence at a young age, so I'd got all my qualifications quite early, and by the time I got to 21, I probably would have had thousands of hours on the grass experience behind me, compared to probably most people my age.

“I think the more sessions you do, the more hours you gain on the grass, obviously, the more experience you get. If you're a young coach get as much as you can, for as many teams as you can. I think that's how you get better, that's where you get to try things and learn from others.” 

“Working with lots of different age groups and a variety of players, I think it tests you as a coach, whether you're planning your session right, whether the size of your pitches is right, have you got the dimensions right, and so on.

John Morling Profile
“I think the more sessions you do, the more hours you gain on the grass, obviously, the more experience you get."

To progress to the point he did by 21, it was only natural that John would continue from there, making his way rapidly through the ranks. 

“I just progressed through the ages really at Peterborough from nines, up to sixteens, seventeens, nineteens as it was at the time, reserve team manager, first team coach but I was lucky to work with great people as well.

“I was running a community programme that had to generate money, as well as recruiting players for the centre of excellence. So, managing people, running a business early on, making sure that the CEO was happy with the income generation it had its challenges.

“I was also working in the recruitment side of things, so it was a challenge to get the right players. We were trying to come up with innovative ideas, obviously get the best players but also generate money to fund the youth policy as well. 

“Barry Fry was the manager at the time, at Peterborough United, and I was the first team coach, but always the number three behind the assistant manager. 

“I think during my time there, Peter Taylor had done a little bit , Wayne Turner was a really good assistant manager, Bobby Gould was there for a bit, Jimmy Quinn, so worked I with really good people, and learned a lot from quite a young age. 

“It was really interesting [working with Barry]. I got quite a lot of free reign to plan the sessions and coach the first team at that point, which was great. You might not get that if you're a number three and being so young for other clubs. Obviously, when it comes to match-day that's Barry's time and I understood that. 

“I learned so much in terms of players, details, contracts, he knew every player in every league, when a contract is up, he knew everything. He was on the phone 24/7 and recruitment wise, he was always very good and to be in the game as long as he has is commendable.”

John left Peterborough to become player development manager for Ireland with the football association of Ireland, setting up 12 regional talent centres across the country. Then, in 2008, he became manager of Ireland under-16s, where he’d previously done work experience as a coach alongside Brian Kerr, and further became manager of the under-17s side that competed well in the European championships.

That brings us to 2012 when John took on the huge task of academy manager at Brighton & Hove Albion, who were in a big transitioning stage at the time. It meant taking on a role slightly away from coaching, but one he warmed to right away.

“It was a little bit different because I'd always been out coaching. But, because the job got so big, so quickly, I found myself being less and less on the grass. I still do bits, but nowhere near what I would have done in the past, and it became more of a management role than an actual coach on the grass. 

“It was fast paced at the time though, so it was fine, because you could see that we were trying to build something, and it was going to flourish over time. You wouldn't think at the time I came in, that the training ground would look like it does now. 

“We're lucky, we work in a nigh on perfect facility, and environment, which takes a lot of time and you create that environment over years and the people in it. We're also lucky that we've got some excellent staff, very innovative, very conscientious, good developers, in all departments. 

“We've got a really good working environment. As a coach, you always want the players to enjoy it and come back next session. It’s exactly the same what we want for the staff, in that they enjoy coming into work every day. If they enjoy coming into work every day, I'm sure the players enjoy coming in too.

“It’s my job to make the staff have the tools to be the best they can be to develop their departments year on year to ultimately deliver a high quality programme for the players.”

It's a huge responsibility that John has, but it’s pressure he thrives off.

“It's a good pressure because Graham [Potter] and his first team staff will play players if they're good enough. So, there is pressure on us as academy staff and it's a great pressure, we've got to keep producing players, because we know they'll get an opportunity. 

“But I reiterate, we're lucky to have resources where we are able to recruit staff and players. We are also lucky to be able to get the best out of those players that we've got in the building from a very young age, and do the best we can with them in order to try and get as many of them as possible ready to play in the Premier League. 

“If they don't play in the Premier League, hopefully it is just as many as we can to go on to play professional football. If they don't play professional football, be successful in life, whether that's higher education or employment. So, that's our aim, and it has been quite successful. We've got to keep going with that. It's come a long way in a number of years, and it’s a very exciting time to be at the club.”

Furthermore, John gives us an insight into the role he plays and how to get the best out of not just the players, but the coaches too.

“Alongside the head of coaching, Ian Buckman, we want to promote good decision makers. That's part of what we try and do, but as a coach, you need to be the same. From my point of view, we don't say to all the coaches, 'you've got to play the same system,' they've all got to play with the same principles, but not the same system.

“The reason for that would be, if you've got two good forwards then play two good forwards, if you’ve only got one, then you might only play one, if you've got three good centre-halves, then play three good centre-halves.

“But also, I would encourage the coaches that if they're losing 4-0, 5-0, then you might want to change something. But then I'd like to know the reasoning after why they've changed it. 

“It might have worked, it might not have worked, but again, you want to promote good decision making. Likewise, if you're winning 6-0 or 7-0, you want to try and change something and change the challenge so the players benefits. 

“You have to keep adapting to making sure that the challenge is right for all the players. We also have different programmes which pose different challenges. For instance, we might play in the Sussex Senior Cup which gives us something different for the under-18s, where they play against club’s first team's, which is brilliant. We play PL 2 (Premier League 2) games, and we play EFL Trophy games, which again, you play against league first team opposition, as well foreign opposition in the internal cup.”

John Morling Coaching
"If they don't play professional football, be successful in life, whether that's higher education or employment. So, that's our aim, and it has been quite successful."

An amazing thing to see this summer, has been the call-ups of Ben White and Robert Sanchez to England and Spain respectively, for Euro 2020. In 2017, the pair played in the young Seagulls side that won the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup, and John has been delighted to see them progress onto the international stage. 

“It's brilliant to see them go on to gain international experience and play for their countries. First step is obviously to try and get in our first team, and when someone makes that debut, it's a really unbelievable feeling for the player and staff, especially those staff that have been working with the player from under-9s upwards all the way through. 

“Then for the player, they’ve got to sustain that and try and become a regular in the first team. If they can play for their country at senior level after that then fantastic! 

“I think the Qatar World Cup will be interesting to see whether Robert and/or Ben will be playing. But, I'm sure by the USA World Cup, I think both of them will have been mainstays on the international scene and there'll probably be a few more.”

To talk to John, with all the experience he has, provides an intriguing insight in the elite level of the game. The experience he gained from such a young age as a coach should prove that a life away from playing isn’t the end of the road. 

Lastly, he offered further valuable advice for aspiring coaches: “Learn as much as you can, with the internet, you can learn so much. You can see people's sessions; you don't have to go to Holland to see someone work, or to Spain, although it's great if you can! 

“But my biggest thing is do as many sessions as you can with as much of a variety of different players as possible. You learn so much, whether it's a youth group, senior group, a disability group,  all of varying levels of ability as much as you can, that variety will test you as a coach, and that's what you want. 

“I think a real good thing for a coach is finding 20 minutes to design your own sessions. It's alright looking at other sessions, and you might take bits and pieces from other people, but sometimes the best sessions are where you can sit down and just plan something completely different.

“Planning and designing your own sessions and coming up with something different helps keep the players interested. Never do things that you've always done before, it becomes monotonous and boring. I think the ultimate thing is if the players go away happy, inspired, and they want to come back again next session then you’ve done a good job. 

“The more you know someone, the more chance you have of fulfilling their potential, what they like, what they don’t like etc. Spend time to get to know them as a person. If you remember back to your own childhood and pick the best teacher or the best coach it will probably be the person that gave you the most time and made you feel valued.” 

For more information on coaching in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 766855

Related Interview

View All