By Sam Jenkins
MY F.C. recently sat down with Kane Wintersgill to talk tactics, philosophies and his goal of one day coaching in the Champions League.
Occasionally you see a player and within a minute you know they’re special! I remember vividly Ryan Thomas when he was barely 4 foot tall and playing for Melville in the Northern Premier League at Kiwitea Street and within 60 seconds I had that innate sense he was destined for big things. The first time I sat down with Kane Wintersgill I had that same feeling about him being a special coaching talent! For someone so young, the way he carried himself from his firm handshake, looking me directly in the eye, to his coaching intellect which was far beyond his tender 19 years, it dawned on me that perhaps one day Kane will be fronting the wolves of the English football media and not myself in the comforts of a cafe in Kohimarama.
Only a select group of New Zealanders have ever played in the Premier League. Among that group is Danny Hay who also happens to be Kane’s mentor and boss which makes him a fairly good authority when it comes to Kane’s potential and he agrees that he has the ambition, desire and work ethic to make it all the way to the top one day! “Kane is a very driven young man who I genuinely believe can go as far as he wants to in the future, as long as he maintains his thirst for knowledge and opens himself to challenging experiences. Being the youngest person in the country to hold a B Licence signifies his willingness for personal development, which he is eager to add to at all times. His knowledge of the game is remarkable for someone so young. I am constantly blown away by his tactical awareness, as he more often than not can recognise a footballing problem occurring in the heat of a game and has the capability of fixing it — which is one of the hardest skills to master for a young coach.”
In the football world we tend to focus most of our attention on up and coming star players but I thought this was just as interesting story about an up and coming star coach! Considering there are roughly 25 professional players for every 1 professional coach, the scarcity of coaching roles at the highest echelons of the game is immense and the competition even stiffer than that of players. Having spent my life immersed in football at every level I’ve been lucky to see some of the best tacticians and motivators first hand and can attest to the importance of their role in the success of a team and individual development. The very best have a magical way of nurturing talent, the tactical genius, and the ability to get their entire team to go to war every match in search of 3 points. I firmly believe Kane will one day himself find that perfect harmony between the three.
Having already achieved some incredible feats for a coach so young, including being the youngest ever staff member to hold a technical position at a FIFA event, which is an incredible achievement and something I’m surprised NZ Football has not publicised and celebrated. After becoming the youngest coach in NZ and Oceania to gain his B Licence his sights are now firmly set on his A Licence which he was hoping to complete this year through NZF/OFC. Unfortunately he was declined a spot due to the course being full. Again another mystifying decision by the national governing body who surely want to nurture and support a rare up and coming coaching talent? When I spoke with Danny he agreed with those sentiments although said NZ Football are doing a good job in ensuring more coaches are becoming qualified. “Look, without question we need to be producing more young coaches capable of working at the top level. It is the only way that the game is going to develop in our country and the only way we are going to produce more players at the top professional level of the game i.e. Winston Reid, Ryan Thomas, Chris Wood. NZF are doing a great job on this front, ensuring more and more coaches are getting qualified. We just need to ensure that the Kane’s of the game are encouraged to continue developing and have opportunities open up for them.”
The lack of support hasn’t perturbed Kane one bit and has acted as added motivation in his journey to become a world class coach. There is no doubting his lofty ambitions as a coach, yet with his meticulous planning, positive philosophies, and a huge emphasis on building great teams through collectively accountability and culture, it is only a matter of time before we witness his ascent to the big time. After being lucky enough to spend some time with this fascinating young man, getting to understand what motivates him and chatting football philosophies, I can’t wait to follow his journey to the big leagues. Kane Wintersgill…remember the name.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the interview below:
What attracted you towards coaching from such an early age?
I was around 15 years old and started to venture into the coaching space. I initially saw it as something that could aid my understanding whilst I was still playing and to give me a different perspective on Football. However from the minute I started , I became transfixed with coaching and it soon dawned upon me after a year or so whilst going through my coaching badges, that I was never going to be able to do both, especially If I wanted to try and become successful as a coach. I decided that I was going to invest all my time and effort into trying to become the best coach I can be, which meant playing had to go onto the back burner. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing, but I know now that I will be a lot closer to making it as a professional coach as opposed to making it as a professional player.
Who’s had the biggest influence on your coaching career so far?
Without a doubt it has to be Danny Hay. Danny has been an unbelievable mentor both on a personal level and on the Football side of things over the last 4 years or so. He has been a key influence in my progression and development, not only a coach, but as a person who has helped shape my mind-set and ability both in a coaching and an analysis capacity and even more so in personal capacity.
Having worked closely with Danny, describe the relationship and what’s it like to work with him and some of the key lessons and experiences he’s shared with you?
I started working with Danny in 2014 as the opposition scout for the 1st XI Football team. This entailed scouting upcoming opposition and producing comprehensive dossiers on each team in the league, detailing set pieces, strengths, weaknesses and observations within the oppositions style of play etc. (something we still do to this date). I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was great to see the team go on to win all trophies available in schoolboy football that year. I also assisted Danny with the Sports Institute lessons at Sacred Heart as part of my early development as a coach which helped me being on the grass most days coaching and regularly receiving honest and constructive feedback.
Proceeding my work with the team in 2014, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to come on board as Assistant Coach with the 1st XI for the following season whilst taking on the duties of doing our Team video analysis as well as continuing my responsibilities of Opposition Analysis. The amount I learnt in this campaign was quite remarkable as a young coach. For example, how to create a winning culture and mentality, the amount of detail put into team meetings, preparing the team for each individual game, developing and implementing a style of play holistically across both a 1st and reserve team and delivering sessions that are specific around the school’s style of play, detailing clear roles and responsibilities for each player.
During that year I was fortunate to start working with the New Zealand U17 mens side in their preparation for the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile. Again working with Danny in this environment, another huge step up from domestic level of football in NZ, helped me get a taste and appreciation for football at the elite level. I continue to learn and develop under his guidance and there is always things I am picking up on how I can be better and what I need to be doing better in order to keep pushing myself.
For me to be able to learn from somebody who has vast experience within professional football, and to know what it takes to succeed at the top level, such as Danny, has been invaluable. To be able to take on the professional standards he sets every day has allowed me to progress enormously as a coach. I think it is difficult as a young coach and trying to be successful, especially in New Zealand, where tall poppy syndrome is ever present in the footballing spectrum and to have somebody who was willing to give me a chance and still continues to be extremely supportive and constantly forces me to be better has been what has allowed me to be at the stage I am at today. If I could give any piece of advice to young coaches who are looking to pursue a career in football, it is to find someone who is willing to help you and will be hard on you to make you better, who knows what it really takes to be successful.
It was only fair I asked Danny what he had in turn learned from Kane. This was his response:
I have learnt an inordinate amount off Kane. His thirst for self-improvement and taking himself out of his comfort zone has been a huge motivator for me to constantly challenge my own thinking around coaching. He constantly studies the game, new trends and different approaches that can be brought back into the environment at Sacred Heart. Another massive thing that I have gained from working with Kane is around the level of detail he puts into analysis, both on opposition sides and our own team.
What would you describe as some of your key coaching philosophies/mantras?
To produce teams that are organised and precise, where players know their jobs in every aspect of my style of play. I was to produce teams that play an attacking, attractive brand of football, through structured build up play, with penetrative and incisive passing to create goal scoring opportunities.
I guess best surmised into wanting to be positive where I want to get my creative/influential players on the ball in good areas of the pitch.
I put a real emphasis on aggressive coordinated pressing to win the ball back as close to the oppositions goal as possible and as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining good defensive structure and organisation.
I believe it is imperative to place real scrutiny on the transitional moments of the game, with transition from both attack to defence and defence to attack being underlined as pivotal.
The key for me is that my playing style is supported by a comprehensive understanding of individual’s roles and responsibilities within the team unit. They have to know what to do in every moment of the game within my style of play, there can be no grey area it MUST be Black and White. I am a firm believer that accountability for performance is essential to this.
Can you give us a little insight into your role as Director of Football at Sacred Heart?
As Director of Football, I am responsible for ensuring that Sacred Heart College remains as the leading football school in the country, through implementing strategic plans/programmes for our elite youth teams as well as our Sports Institute program. My main duties include looking after the 20+ teams we have currently at the College across all year levels from 9–13 ensuring they have coaches/managers, training facilities and fixtures arranged for all their matches as well as supporting them in their coaching needs through training sessions and coach development opportunities
What does 2017 have in store for you?
I am still very young in terms of my coaching career and I am very much still learning and trying to better myself at every opportunity. I am lucky to be surrounded with a few very supportive people who I trust within the footballing space in NZ who offer me some very valuable advice with my next steps on my journey. I am not in any rush to jump into something that’s not the right fit, but if an opportunity was to arise that was the right fit, I would have 100% confidence in my ability to succeed and do a professional job in the process. Hopefully an opportunity arises for me to further my development in the near future, however I am very comfortable with where I am at and the journey I am on. I know that it is a ‘Marathon’, not a ‘Sprint’. It has to be right for me.
I had hoped to start the A Licence this year which would have been a significant part of my development, however, despite being the youngest coach to obtain the B Licence in New Zealand and to my knowledge the continent, I was declined a place on the NZF/OFC A Licence this year. This has only further motivated me to prove the people out there that age is just number and I deserve my place on merit. I am hoping to take the A Licence through the AFC Confederation or in Europe at the earliest possible chance in 2018.
You’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with the NZ Under 17 as a technical analyst. Tell us a little more about this role and how video analysis can benefit coaches and players?
I started working with the team in 2015, and I was part of the staff that attended the FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile, as an 18 year old. Most recently I travelled with the team to Tahiti for the 2017 Oceania U17 World Cup Qualifiers, where the team successfully qualified for the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup in India, beating New Caledonia 7–0 in the final.
My role is to provide comprehensive video analysis of training sessions and games, producing footage for the coaching staff and players to aid with preparation for upcoming games and tournaments, as well as compiling detailed analysis and dossiers on opposition teams through both with written reports and video evidence. I think in the modern game it is vital to use resources that can help improve performance, which I think video analysis does. It provides an objective viewpoint which I think is extremely beneficial, especially for feedback to the players both individually and as a team.
In terms of player development, what does NZ have to do more of/change/alter in order to produce more top level professional players?
Personally, I think we need to be ‘tougher on talent’. There are too many players told they are the ‘next best thing’ when they are really not. I think too many players get compared to the best players in New Zealand, as opposed what they are competing with globally and sheltered from the harsh realities of a ruthless profession.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is some great work being done around the country regarding the technical and tactical side of the game, however for me, it’s not good enough to just develop technically good players, or players that only excel within the ‘pretty’ side of the game
Anthony Hudson has talked a lot about accountability, and for me it is an element that is severely overlooked. I think the mindset of players isn’t focused on enough and we forget what real football is about: The ugly side of the game, the hard work out of possession, the gut busting recovery runs, the work rate and work ethic needed to succeed at the top level.
There is a quote that I love from Iceland’s Director of Football, Arnar Bill which for me best sums up where the shift in mind-set needs to occur.
“The style of play is number one. The work rate has to be high the entire time. If a player cannot work for us, they do not play. Some players can be the top scorers in Holland or Norway but can’t make the starting XI for Iceland. It’s about having a fantastic work rate. We can’t have any relaxed players on the team that don’t want to run.”
How important is team culture and accountability when it comes to developing and shaping a successful team? What are some of the ways you like to work on harnessing this outside of just on the training fields?
With the 1st XI we spend a lot of time on the team culture. Most of the work is done through the type of school we are and the values that are instilled in the boys as they go through their college life, however with an array of year levels, we do invest a lot of time ensuring we are all pulling in the same direction, with a shared vision and some really clear goals of how we achieve what we set out to do.
Who do you consider the best football coach in the World and New Zealand?
For me the coaches I admire the most are Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte. The way they set their teams up, how hard they work for each other, how defensively organised and hard to break down they are, but how they manage to still pose a real attacking threat is something I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for.
In terms of a New Zealand landscape, I have been lucky enough to observe Anthony Hudson recently down in Wellington and learnt an enormous amount during the 4 days I was down there. His meticulous preparation and detail is something I have taken on board and look to continually implement in my coaching, as well as how he delivers his messages and coaching points. I have been fortunate enough to have his help and advice around my coaching pathway and journey and Anthony has always been extremely supportive with this which has definitely helped me immensely with my development as a coach through all the learnings I have taken from him.
We‘re starting to see more and more top level coaches that haven’t necessarily been top level players! What are your thoughts on this paradigm shift?
I think we are starting to see more and more coaches come onto the scene, especially in the professional game, that haven’t played professionally as players, a category which I fall into. I don’t think it is a MUST to have played professional football to be a successful coach, as we have seen so many examples of this not being the case, however I think it is imperative to get into an environment where you can learn what it takes to succeed at a professional level from someone who has been there and tasted it and knows what it is all about. I was once told an analogy that sums it up well for me.
“It’s like trying to tell somebody what chocolate tastes like when you have never tasted chocolate before”
For me having not played professionally, this is something I have worked hard and continue to work hard at to ensure I have a good grasp of what is takes and what it means so I can ensure this gives me the best possible chance of being successful.
What’s next for Kane Wintersgill? What are your coaching ambitions mid to long term?
I am an extremely ambitious person, and I want to be working at the top level of the game. For me that is working with a club that is competing in the Champions League or with a country that is competing at the FIFA World Cup.
Now is that going to happen in the next 3–5 years? Of course not, it is a longer term goal, many years down the line. But a big thing I have learnt from Anthony Hudson is that I need to set my bar high. Why should I settle for coaching in the A-League? I am focusing my time and energy into ensuring I am putting action plans in place to make sure that I give myself the best possible chance of achieving this, knowing what I need to improve on and what I need to be doing to improve my flaws and improve my attributes. There are many boxes I need to tick within the next 3–5 years in order to make sure I have a chance of getting there but I am very confident in my ability and being able to get there.
One of those boxes is ensuring I get fully qualified as a Pro Licence Coach. The youngest coach in the world at the time of writing this is 30 years old, I want to beat that. And again, why not?
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself, and whatever I step into, I have to be clear that is the right move and beneficial for my career. I have a clear vision of where I want to be and how I am going to get there, but I also know that to expect it to play out as I have it on paper is naive. I look forward to what the future brings and the challenges I am going to face.
Kane Wintersgill Quick Facts
FAVOURITE CLUB: Newcastle United
FAVOURITE COACHES: Diego Simeone, Antonio Conte, Massimiliano Allegri
ROLES: Director of Football — Sacred Heart College, Assistant Coach — Sacred Heart College 1st XI, Technical Analyst — NZ Under 17’s (2015–2017)
COACHING BADGES: OFC B Licence 2016
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