Coaches Corner: Nathan Bowen
In this month’s Coaches Corner, we spoke to Worthing’s Nathan Bowen, who gives us a great insight into the demanding, but rewarding life of a full-time coach.
“Up until I was 23 I'd have probably earned the same money working in a supermarket! A lot easier, far less stress, perhaps more progression, but if you stick with coaching you do eventually get your rewards.”
It was a captivating conversation with Nathan, who gives us a very honest account into his career so far as a coach and the hardships he’s had to go through to obtain the rewards.
Nathan was born in London but at a young age him and his family moved to Barbados where his mum is originally from, and football in the Caribbean was hard to come by.
It was when the family moved back to England, specifically Brighton, that Nathan found his love for the game, attending Brighton’s community football sessions. It proved to be an influential experience for Nathan, who despite his young age, already saw a life beyond playing.
“It wasn't long before I realised I wanted to be a coach! I was coached by Darren Teague and Dave Jupp at the Brighton community sessions and they were just great role models for me.
“They coached for Albion in the Community, in the Academy and they did a course at BHASVIC (Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College).
“You obviously want to play for as long and as high as you can but you also have to be realistic and I knew there were players with more talent than me, but I also knew I was good at motivating and talking to people, was always captain of my teams, and that was a side of it I really enjoyed.”
At just 15, Nathan did a course called ‘Junior Team Managers’, then by the age of 18, he was an FA Level 2 qualified coach, a course he did in Brighton under Henry Millington.
Many coaches tell us that coaching is a great qualification to get at a young age, and Nathan tells us how he found the transition.
“Football is a weird sport because as much as it's a team sport, to be successful, you sometimes have to think about yourself. As a player you have to think about what's going to make you better and how you can train to do that.
“As a coach it's completely different because how well you're doing is reflected by how your players are doing. So, you’re thinking immediately shifts to the mentality of how you're going to help your players.
“Your first sessions as a coach are often working with young players. Different abilities, different backgrounds, some are there because their parents want them to be, and some are there because they want to be pros. Coaching those two players in the same session, can be very difficult.
“It's just about creating an environment that benefits everyone and not necessarily one that benefits you, whereas when you're a player, it's the complete opposite.”
Nathan decided to follow in the footsteps of the coaches that influenced him and joined Albion in the Community as a Football Development Officer. This was a role that came with its challenges, but challenges that he took in his stride.
“They were some tough roles I did to start off with, very challenging. It started by working with disadvantaged kids, bad behaved kids, but very talented kids, some of which are still playing now at a high level.
“The environment they were in, however, was really difficult and that was the first role I had, going into schools, working on summer camps, then quite quickly I progressed, working with all types of football.
“From the age of 16-21, there wasn't much football that I hadn't done. Whether that be girls' football, disability football, general inclusive football, and the more elite levels of football as well.
“I started off as a Football Development Officer, working with groups that couldn't access football in the normal way, for example, they couldn't go and pay to be part of a club. I went to these groups trying to find talented players and just help them with their pathway.”
Coaching really started to pick up for Nathan at this point and his role kept progressing.
“In the end I was running development centres where we bring in players that have been identified as having talent and get them in structured sessions. We were also working with talented players that had been let go from the academy, and trying to get them back in.
“The biggest example of that would be Haydon Roberts (Brighton & Hove Albion defender). My job was to give him as close to an elite academy experience as I could, which we'd try and do by using the same syllabus, some of the same coaches, and that was all overseen by me.
“In my early twenties, the hours started picking up, but right from being in college I was doing a lot of volunteering, so I was used to the long hours. I’d go into the Academy with 'Juppy' and just shadow him.
“It's not all about the money, I loved learning, so to be around them guys all the time, Martin Hinshelwood being another one, watching them train players, in quite tough circumstances back then, was always interesting to watch.”
He speaks of Darren Teague, Dave Jupp and other influences very highly, adding: “I don't tend to be a very emotional or open person, but Teague managed to work that out and that was massive for me. He probably regrets it because after that I wouldn't stop bugging him! Asking what are you doing there, why are you doing that, if coaching isn't just turning up with a bag of balls, then what does it look like.
“I used to literally just follow him around for about three years! But Juppy as well was incredible and I think at the time, he was the youngest A License coach in the country. I believe he was only 24.
“No matter what Juppy was doing in his own role, he would always find time to include us with his A License sessions. Just seeing that level of detail as a 17/18-year-old, the thought-process that went in, was amazing for me.
“More recently, working with Adam Hinshelwood, again the level of detail is incredible to see and learn from. These are guys that have been at the highest level, but they will never look down on anyone.”
It seemed like a tough environment to be in at the young age he was. However, he’s a coach that was clearly passionate about that area. Nathan left home at the age of 16 and could easily have headed down the wrong path. After captaining England at the Homeless World Cup in 2007, he later managed the side, in what is a remarkable story to say the least.
“I have been in some tough environments but looking into my journey as a person, I've always had that! I've had to live in hostels at a young age and one of the reasons football was so appealing to me, was because it was a place that I was far more at home than anywhere else.
“You can imagine what some hostels are like, and I didn't want to continue being in those environments. So, any tough situation I found myself in within football, it never compared to the tough times I had in my life outside of it.
“Plus, some of these kids I was coaching, are coming from equally, really tough backgrounds. But the interesting thing is, any issues go away once you step onto a football pitch.
“Football is very therapeutic and even when you're in a relegation battle, there's still things you can do about it. Some of the kids we worked with, there's nothing they can do about their situation, but with football, there's always something they can do.”
Nathan spent over 10 years at the Albion gaining invaluable experience in all sorts of scenarios and categories of football. Now in his thirties, it was time for a new challenge.
“I'm still very young as a coach and to be well known in the area and have a fairly positive reputation, I'm quite lucky. Whereas if I was to move out of the area it would be quite difficult for me to get the experience I need.
“I did branch out when I left the Albion, through a friend of mine, I started working with the football agency, Volenti, who also had a youth academy. It was positive to be working with people who had been around the game a long time and it was great for the next stage of my development.
“Also, it was a good opportunity to find out how football worked in different areas such as the agency side of things. Managing players, talent and that kind of thing, whilst it wasn't my role, I still went to try and learn that business.”
With it being Black History Month, we wanted to gage Nathan’s thoughts on the month as a whole, and what black history means to him.
“It's an interesting topic and I think black history is important, just like all history is. If I relate it to me, especially growing up in Brighton, there wasn't a lot of black people around then.
“Just in general, it's an important thing to talk about. That's ultimately how change happens. There has been a lot of negative stereotypes over the years and that's what we need to change. We should be celebrating and exploring the positive history of all cultures.
“In another aspect, we need to make sure we do not just show interest in one month. Black History Month to me, symbolises something much bigger, that we should strive to recognise and celebrate different cultures all the time.
“It's important to me to recognise all the great things my culture and my ancestors have done, but it needs to be more significant than that, and if months like this can be the driver for it, then great.”
After a short period working for Volenti, Nathan was provided with a fantastic opportunity to join one of Sussex’s most growing clubs.
“We worked with Tommy Elphick at Volenti and his brother, Gary, was at Worthing and it was at a time Worthing were going through a bit of an overhaul.
“George [Dowell] had just come in and he had this vision for Worthing to be a community club and have sessions for everyone. They approached us and asked if we'd help setup their academy and how they can grow it.
“They were doing well and had already sorted new facilities, but they just needed a bit of support running the youth sessions. Because I was local and working with Volenti, it just made sense for me to come in and help them out.
“Over time they wanted to start looking at an education programme which I'd already done at AITC, so it was natural for me to apply that knowledge.”
Nathan is still at Worthing where he is now full-time, involved in all aspects of coaching and implementing the club’s vision.
“The club kept growing, ‘Hinsh’ was doing an outstanding job with the first team, getting them promoted. George didn't want the club to stand still and we all had the same thing in common which was to drive youth football.
“My role started to become bigger, and I was offered the role of Football Director and most recently, the role of General Manager. We've now gone from a men's team with a couple of youth teams, to a men's, women's, 14s, 15s, 16s, 18s, 19s, a development centre, and an inclusive team.
“That's all happened in the 6 or so years George has been here, and the more it's grown it's given me the opportunity to come here full-time.
“My dream is to get into a professional environment, where the men's team, the women's team etc. are all training full-time. I'd love to be able to do that with Worthing.
“If it got to that level, my specific role within that I'm not too sure, whether it be an academy manager, a director of football, technical director, you know I'm basically doing all of that at the moment! The higher you go, the less hats you can wear, you can't do it all.”
Nathan, as he said, is involved with all kinds of different roles at the club and gives us an insight in what professional role he would like to do.
“My passion is developing players, but my experience also lies in what happens in the background of all that, any of those roles in a professional full-time environment is the dream. It's definitely doable with the expertise we have at Worthing.
“I enjoy seeing players progress and further their careers. We had a young lad recently, Ricky Aguiar, who I've known since he was a really young lad, has just signed for Swindon. We also had Fin Stevens go to Brentford, so it's seeing these lads get big moves, it's really rewarding.
“These lads still message me and keep in touch, so it shows you've had an impact on their career. It's not a 9-5, it's not an easy job, but the reward is, you get these lads into senior football. But that's why for me, it's beyond just the coaching, it's the whole environment and the process of helping players develop.”
One of the ways Nathan has been able to oversee the development of these young players is through our Sussex Senior Challenge Cup.
“The Sussex Senior Cup is great for our young players, I remember Fin Stevens, playing as a 16-year-old against Brighton's top young talent and he just took it in his stride.
“You want to win every competition you play in, but some are more difficult than others! Our aim is to be recognised as the best in Sussex after Brighton and Crawley. There's no reason why we can't do that.
“The Senior Cup gives local players the chance to showcase themselves. As a smaller side if you win a couple of games it's really exciting and you can be in with a big draw.”
It’s fair to say Nathan has been on quite the journey. An inspiring one at that. From a young age he had a dream to work in football, and he is lucky enough to be living that dream. He’s lived in hostels, he’s been in some tough environments, but he’s stuck with it and got the rewards.
Lastly, he offered advice to aspiring coaches in Sussex: “Coaching is difficult at the beginning, but you just have to stick with it. Just get as much experience and learn as much as you can, there's no bad knowledge.
“I might look at some coaches and think I'd maybe do that differently, but it's still knowledge and it's still valuable. Always try and experience different football, women's football, youth football, disability, men's, academy. It will help you understand every type of player and prepare you for any situation.
“Always adapt yourself and never think you’re the finished article. I don't coach the way I did when I first started because the game has evolved, and I've evolved, the best coaches in the world are always evolving.”
For more information on coaching in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 766855