In this month’s Coaches Corner, we spoke to UEFA A Licensed coach, and Burgess Hill Town manager, Jay Lovett.
Jay is early on in his managerial career but it’s a coaching journey that goes back a long way. A passion for developing young players has seen Jay coach some of the best young talent in Sussex. From an early age, however, there was a young lad that didn’t envisage football being a serious pathway.
“At first for me, it was just about kicking a ball around a playground and I had no intention of playing properly for a team.
“But then a Dad of a friend of mine from school took over at Hollingbury Hawks. I remember he was at my house having a conversation with my Dad and then my Dad came and told me I’d be playing for Hollingbury Hawks!
“It was actually Reg Freeman, father of Darren Freeman, who was the manager of the team. But next thing I know, my Dad’s come home with a pair of boots and some shin pads and my footballing journey was about to begin.
“Coaching was very different back then, and I suppose it’s similar now at a local level, where it was literally just a group of Dads.
“You know how it goes with local grassroots teams, where a group of parents just set them up. But I do think now there are a lot more development centres, elite centres and camps, stuff like that.
“Back then if you didn’t get picked for Brighton you just played for a club side. When you got a bit older, things like Brighton Boys were introduced but for me growing up it was only the Dads I had a relationship with, coaching wise.”
Jay, to his own admission, wasn’t the most talented in the county in his early years, but at 16 he attracted interest from the pro ranks for the first time when he was taken on an apprenticeship by Plymouth Argyle.
It was the best thing that could have happened to Jay where he was also given the chance to do an FA Preliminary Coaching Badge. From a playing perspective, his time there was to be cut short, following Plymouth’s relegation, but his eyes were about to be opened to a life after playing.
“I was invited to go up to Blackpool where several American Universities were scouting players in a series of games.
“There were literally 100 odd coaches there with clip boards and their traditional University gear on just watching us play games.
“At the end of that, my name was read out saying I was selected. The guy that was interested in me was from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), and it turned out to be my first journey into coaching because he asked me to come coach out there in the summer.
“I went over there, incredible facilities, really enjoyed the coaching, then I was also playing in a series of friendly games. As a result, a couple of guys from the University of Central Florida (UCF) said they’d heard I was doing well with the coaching and asked if I’d go there.
“So, I ended up going over to UCF and they offered me a full scholarship there. The mistake I made was that they offered me the scholarship until I was 23, I was 19 at the time, so I thought I could just go back home and play for a bit and I ended up playing for Crawley, with a few more clubs looking at me.
“What helped me was that I did my FA Preliminary badge whilst at Plymouth, it became outdated in the end, but it was my first experience of structured coaching. I think it was Paul Fairclough (England C Coach) who was my tutor and it was great because when I’m then asked to coach in America I wasn’t going in blind.”
It may be something Jay viewed as a missed opportunity, not going back to America, but the truth was, he was a young footballer who still felt he had a point to prove playing. The important thing was, it opened his eyes to a different world.
“Being 19 at the time, I was a bit shy! Some of the kids I was coaching were 14/15 years old so only a few years younger than me.
“There was a guy in charge there called Bob Winch who would take all us coaches off in the morning and show us various drills that we could take inspiration from.
“When you’re coached by the Dads it’s the standard pass to the Dad and shoot type thing but when you get the education, that’s when you adapt and add overlapping runs and add defenders and things like that, so it opened my eyes up a lot to what you can add to a session.
“It’s easy to set up drills and things like that but what detail are you then giving, are you talking to players about their body shape or their timing.
“As an older coach now, I wish I could go back in time and do my coaching badges earlier especially when I had the time to do it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that’s always the advice I give to young players to get your badges done while you can.”
When Jay returned to England he joined Crawley Town where he attracted interest from Brentford who paid a record sum of £60,000 to Town for Jay.
Whilst at Brentford, Jay was under the stewardship of Ray Lewington, whom he says “I learnt a lot from” but after 75 appearances for the Bees he returned to Sussex linking up with Lewes. Coaching started to take off for Jay at Lewes and he started taking on multiple projects.
“The first time I really thought coaching was something I’d like to do was setting up after-school holiday camps whilst at Lewes.
“I also got involved with Albion in the Community which was massive for me at the time because I got to meet a lot of good coaches, one’s that were better than me.
“I was with Darren Teague, Stuart Christie and Dave Gupp, who were all coaches I learnt loads off, and from there I went to Crawley Town, coaching the 14s to 16s age groups, but they pulled the plug on it which was a shame. I’d just started my FA Level 2 by this point and working towards my UEFA B.”