A former basketball player is opening young footballers’ minds in lockdown | Football

Every Tuesday morning during lockdown, dozens of teenage players from Football League clubs are listening to talks given by a former basketball player who works with world class golfers, rugby players and cricketers. Performance coach Jamie Edwards’ clients also include footballers Joe Hart, Luke Shaw, Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Gareth Bale. Despite being just 5ft 6in tall in his high tops, Edwards had a long career in basketball, played for England and now runs Manchester Giants. Since retiring, he has applied his own experiences of overcoming the odds and making the most of his potential to help people in business, sport and education.

Edwards would normally be criss-crossing the country delivering his seminars to EFL apprentices, but during lockdown receptive players from all three divisions are choosing to log in to hear his weekly sessions. “The real skill to developing your mental game is to stop a dip becoming a slump when life happens – which it will,” says Edwards. “What’s going on outside of football, affects your football. There will be family illness, your parents might divorce, your girlfriend dumps you, a parent loses their job, you have to move house. It’s going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s about getting back on track and going to a different level.”

Jamie Edwards with footballer Joe Hart.

Jamie Edwards with footballer Joe Hart. Photograph: Sharon Latham/TrainedBrain

A lot of the players in these seminars are frustrated at their lack of opportunities. Edwards urges them to look at what they can control and think about the reasons why they are not playing for the first team. “They have to stop should-ing all over themselves. So often I hear players saying: ‘I should have done this’, ‘they should have done that’, ‘I should be in the first team’, ‘he shouldn’t be playing’. That has to stop before you can move forward. You are where you are right now for a reason.”

Edwards stresses the need to think neutrally and with clarity, emphasising possibilities rather than probabilities, eliminating the illusion that something good will definitely happen if they do something positive. “The best players deal with the results, they don’t blame others – that’s a loop of insanity!” he says.

Sagacious and exuberant, Edwards fires out such catchy mantras that players will either grasp or let slip through their fingers. “Practise like you want to play, play like you practise,” he says during one webinar before showing ancient clips of cricket legend Don Bradman bouncing a golf ball off a corrugated surface and trying to hit it with a stump. The key message is to make practice more difficult than an actual match. The timing chimes. He hammers home that being in lockdown is an opportunity: use your imagination and devise your own practices; use brothers and sisters, a ball, a wall, a park, whatever.

“Use this time to sharpen your sword, hone your craft, just get better. Ask yourself, what have you done today to make you better at your chosen craft? You need to study the game, be a student of your position. Focus on the non-obvious, look and listen for the secrets.”

Jamie Edwards with young players before lockdown began.

Jamie Edwards with young players before lockdown began. Photograph: Courtesy of Jamie Edwards

Edwards, who hosts the Gloved podcast with Hart, asked the players what they had learned about themselves in lockdown. He is asking the same question of the superstar names he works with in other sports. “The key is effective practice,” says Edwards as he emphasises the importance of repetition. He suggests taking corners or passing into an ever-reducing space, changing weights and timing. He reiterates the need to keep track, to score or time drills so players prove to themselves that they are improving because “confidence is based on fact, not just a feeling”.

It is vital that players give themselves a chance to learn. “When you show up, even when you don’t want to, good things can happen. When you don’t, they can’t. It might not happen immediately but you can’t overestimate showing up when you don’t have to. Players – young and old – are too impatient. They want to see results straight away but they won’t for months or years. They need to plant the seeds and keep watering.

“We talk about players being in different modes. Wait mode, watch mode, shrink mode, blame mode. These young players need to be in learning mode now. It’s about their curiosity: what they want to know about how to improve and succeed in their sport, in life. Use the time in the best way and choose how you react to the situation. I ask them: are you in boy mode or man mode?”

Remember me?

With most of their staff furloughed, some academy managers are covering other roles temporarily. Former Millwall and Wimbledon striker Jon Goodman has been in charge of the MK Dons academy for the last year. He is also overseeing the players’ education at the minute. Goodman spent six seasons in the top flight with Wimbledon before injury forced him into early retirement in 2000, just as the Dons were relegated after an astonishing 14 years at the top. The former Republic of Ireland international liaises with the club’s young players, checking they are completing their fitness programmes and college assignments during lockdown.

Fantasy Football

Those of us who go to Under-23 or reserve team matches will know exactly how watching football behind closed doors feels. Be it Premier League or Central League, competitive games in empty grounds are surreal. You will find out who is a shouter, who is silent, who moans the whole time, which manager bawls at his men and whether the players turn a deaf ear. Without crowd reaction, goal celebrations are less melodramatic and far shorter. There is less time added on at the end for such nonsense. The only difference on TV is you probably won’t hear what players shout at the referee – and they won’t hear you either.

Next Man Up

The EFL Awards have been postponed, but it will be a surprise if Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham does not win the Championship Apprentice of the Year. The 16-year-old has been linked to various top clubs in the Premier League and across Europe.

Intriguingly, half of the 14 League Two Apprentice of the Year winners have gone on to play in the Premier League: former Grimsby apprentice Ryan Bennett (currently on loan at Leicester from Wolves, won it in 2008), ex Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris (Wycombe, 2011), former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell (Crewe, 2012), Norwich defender Ben Godfrey (York, 2016), Watford’s Ben Wilmot (Stevenage, 2018), and future Scotland internationals Ikechi Anya (Watford, 2006) and Matt Phillips (Wycombe, 2009).

It’s no surprise when the best apprentice in the Championship – current holder: Max Bird of Derby; previous winners Lewis Cook, Ademola Lookman and Ryan Sessegnon – reaches the big time, but teenagers who can shine in the fourth division also have many of the attributes required to make it to the top. These are well rounded youngsters, too; the award reflects their application on the pitch and in the classroom.

This week in … 2011

Kadeem Harris was playing on the left wing for Wycombe when they won the Football League Youth Alliance Cup final on penalties after a goalless draw with Darlington at Adams Park. Nothing remarkable about that, you may think. A year later, neither club even had an Under-18 team. Wycombe disbanded their academy having been taken over by their supporters, while Darlington were expelled by the FA and wound up.

Wycombe’s talent was obvious. Harris’s teammates included goalkeeper Matt Ingram, who is now at Hull City; midfielder destroyer Josh Scowen, who has joined Sunderland after 100 games for both Barnsley and QPR; defender Charles Dunne, who is now at Motherwell; and 15-year-old Jordan Ibe was an unused sub.

Youth team manager Richard Dobson was soon promoted to being Gareth Ainsworth’s assistant, the pair having since grown the Chairboys – including 2011 youth team centre-back Anthony Stewart – into shock contenders for a place in the Championship.

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