George Parris HERO

Coaches Corner: George Parris

The UEFA A Licence coach talks leading Brighton Women to glory, guiding Whitehawk to promotion and his advice for the next generation…

In the latest of our Coaches Corner series, we spoke to former West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion legend, and UEFA A licence coach, George Parris.

The decision to move into coaching after a playing career spanning over 16 years was an easy one for George: “During my time at West Ham, I’d already had my first taste of coaching, when me and some of the other lads would help run the sessions for the kids during the school holidays.

“Thankfully, with us being professional footballers, the kids were so in awe of us that we got away with loads of mistakes and they didn’t seem to notice!

“Playing for West Ham when I did, I’d had managers like John Lyall and Tony Carr to look up to and learn from, and as I’d also come through the schoolboy ranks and with the academy, I’d had that kind of football knowledge instilled already.

“So coaching had always been something I’d considered doing, but it was one of those things you don’t properly think about until you start to finish up your playing career.

Parris, the player, started his journey at West Ham as a full-back, capable of doing a job on both flanks.

Thanks to this versatility, he went onto make just under 300 appearances for the Hammers, picking up over 20 goals along the way.

Spells at Birmingham City and then Bristol City followed, before he found himself playing for Brighton, where he made a further 56 appearances.

This was the start of Parris’ love affair with Sussex, as it was with us [Sussex County FA] that he went on to do his first coaching badges in 1998 and continued to do so, all the way up to his UEFA A.

“I was lucky to be able to do my Level 2 down here in the county,” said Parris, “and you are mixed in with so many other coaches, and I learnt a lot from that experience and from them, and hopefully they learnt something from me too, even in that early part of my journey.

“Once I’d completed my Level 2, it was a case of going out into the footballing world and starting to gain that experience.”

That experience for Parris first came in the form of a role with Fulham, as a coach with their Development Centre.

“That was an important stepping-stone for me,” said Parris, “at that time I was traveling there and working with them, alongside also starting to work more with the Sussex County FA doing some educational work.

“So, I was just starting to build up an experience of coaching in different environments.”

Indeed, Parris next role, as the Manager of the University of Sussex football team, saw him add yet another age-group to his repertoire. But, with a new age group came new challenges…

“For me the challenge I faced early on was pitching my sessions at the right level,” said Parris.

“It took time to work out the group I had, as it depended on the age group first of all, but there were different talent levels there, so it was about trying to find a blend, and maybe not giving them too much information, and letting them find out for themselves, especially if it’s a younger age group.”

“But I like to think my manner helped me out with that, as I’m quite an outgoing character, and a bit of a laugh, and I hope I was able to bring that into each session I was doing.”

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Parris during his time as the Manager of Brighton & Hove Albion Women

Moving into coaching that older age group also brought with it new opportunities for Parris to put into practice a more tactical element to his coaching.  

“It was great that, with them being that older age group I was able to bring in that side of things and start to give them that tactical information.

“But yet again it was about finding a balance and making sure that I don’t blind them with science, but still giving them some input.

“The first thing to get right though was finding the right number of players and dealing with that influx.

“Once that was in place, we were then able to concentrate more on the tactical side of things and work out how we’d like to play.

“And we went on to win the National Plate in our first year, which was certainly a nice way to start things off!”

For Parris though, aside from bringing that tactical element to their game, he was also able to bring a unique perspective to those young players.

“At the end of the day, I like football to be fun,” said Parris, “even when I played professionally there were plenty of occasions where we did have fun.

“Of course, the higher up you go, it does become more of a dog-eat-dog-world, and it becomes one that’s based on results.

“But there were still plenty of fun times, even in that environment, and that was what I was keen to get across to them; just enjoy the game of football.”

After a few years in the Sussex University setup, it was time for a new challenge for Parris, and it came in the form of Whitehawk.

“At that time, I was still doing some coaching work with Sussex County, and then along came the chance to work over with Whitehawk, and it was definitely the case of the right job at the right time.

“I’d got some experience of the non-league setup, once my career had wrapped up, playing for St Leonards, and then as a player/manager for Shoreham, so I knew the environment I’d be going into.”

Yet whilst this was Parris’ first managerial job, he wasn’t daunted by it.

“It was the sort of job that really did come at the right time for me professionally,” said Parris.

“And because of my manner, I like to think that the lads there were able to take me at face value.

“Of course, with my background in the game, that added another level to it, because if you know of someone, then rightly or wrongly you’re going to have a perception of them.

“But we had some great years together there, and the lads bought into the philosophy and what we wanted to do really quickly.”

And ten years into his coaching journey, how would Parris describe that philosophy?

“Well having been brought up through West Ham, I was always taught at a young age to try and play at the best of your ability, try and play it forward when you can, and if not, keep the ball.

“For me that’s always been something I’ve kept with me and looked to pass on at all the teams I’ve coached.”

“And that first year we made some great progress and it all paid off with that Sussex County Division 1 title in our second season.”

“Again, in my coaching, I was always keen to get across to the players that, no matter what the game, it’s never life or death.

“Of course, it was important, but at that level, if you’re not in the starting 11, it doesn’t have an impact on your home life or personal life, and for me, I wanted to instil that into players, which possibly helped some of them.”

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Parris calling the shots from the touchline

Following his success at Whitehawk, the next step in Parris coaching journey was a homecoming that had been nearly 20 years in the making.

“With Brighton I’d been doing some matchday ambassador work with them for a few years, and then the invite came through to do some coaching work for them, which turned out to be the start of a great eight years with the club.

“My first official title was the Technical Director of the RTC [Regional Talent Club] with the women’s setup, which saw me coaching girls from the under-11s all the way up to the under-17s, which was a great experience as we had lots of really talented girls in the centre.

“Then the club found themselves needing someone to take over the Women’s first-team ahead of the play-off final, so I put my hand up and took charge in 2016.”

What followed was a four-week period of Parris working with the team to get them ready for the biggest game of the season.

“Thankfully a fair few of the team knew of me already from working with me at the RTC, which certainly helped the situation,” said Parris.

“Then it was simply a case of preparing them for a game, which for me meant just instilling that confidence in them and reminding them that they’ve won the league, and if they play like they did during the season, they have what it takes to win.

“And seeing as they went on to win the game, I like to think some of that got through!”

“At that point I still thought it would just be a short-term gig, and then over a year later I was still there - I must have been one of the longest interim managers of all time!”

“Looking back now I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and to see where the team is now, and the level they’re playing at, it fills me with great pride.”

Since handing over the reins to Hope Powell in the Brighton dugout, Parris has retrained as a therapeutic counsellor.

“With my work as a councillor,” said Parris, “It’s actually helped me in the coaching work I’ve been doing, as it’s all about being able to empathise as much as possible with the players you’re working with.

“So, it’s been great to have that added as another string to my bow.”

And as for the next generation of coaches, what advice would Parris impart to them?

“The main thing I’d say to young coaches would be to try and get as varied a set of experience as possible,” said Parris.

“I’ve been lucky to have worked with a range of ages and genders, and in doing so that’s really helped me.

“Ask questions, and don’t stop asking questions because we’re all learning, and we can all learn from each other.

“And finally, if you’ve got a philosophy, stick with it and try to keep it throughout your career and pass it on, so you’ve got something to take with you and pass on wherever you go.”

It’s clear that, with the broad experience Parris has accumulated over his career, there are many playing in Sussex today embodying the football teachings of East London.

For more information on coaching in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 766855

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