iCanCoach: Darren Arnott

Tell us about how and why you got involved in coaching?

As a lover of football and someone who enjoys teaching, coaching was always a career that I would look to pursue. I used to coach part time when I was in college and University – where I studied a degree in Coaching, Sport and Exercise Science – and it was only once I left University that I really got my teeth into developing myself as a coach and pursuing that pathway as a career. I moved to the United States where I lived and worked, coaching full time for 5 years. That was an exceptional foundation for me as I was on the grass upwards of 40 hours most weeks. Whilst in America I completed the NSCAA pathway, achieving the NSCAA Premier Diploma and began working as a Coach Educator. I also studied on the USSF courses working my way up to their B license before coming home.

After arriving back in England, I coached part-time in multiple roles in academy football and the women’s game, as well as running a University football and futsal programme. Along with actively coaching I also took on the role of Coach Educator for the FA. Since returning from America I’ve been fortunate enough to achieve the UEFA A license, UEFA B Futsal and the FA Advanced Youth Award (PDP) which have been excellent sources of learning.

During my time working these multiple roles an opportunity presented itself to go and work as an Assistant Manager in Spain for a team in the Spanish Third Division. They were fighting for promotion to Segunda B, so without hesitation I moved to León and continued my journey to try and develop myself further. It was an incredible experience. Once that season ended (with last minute play-off disappointment I might add), I came back to Leeds United in a full-time capacity coaching the U23s. My return couldn’t have aligned more perfectly for me with regards to this happening at the same time Marcelo Bielsa joined the club and I guess, as they say, the rest is history.


What do you enjoy about coaching football?

The main thing for me is that I really enjoy helping the players I work with improve. Some days this is harder than others but ultimately it boils down to developing the individuals I work with and helping them progress along their journey. As a coach I don’t think there is a much better feeling than seeing someone you have worked with overcome a challenge that they have faced or achieve a goal that has been put in front of them – whichever corner of the development model that challenge may have been sitting in.

On a more personal level I really enjoy problem solving and find the tactical side of the game fascinating. I could talk for hours about football, tactics, systems and methodologies. When you strip it all back, however, it all comes back to creating a platform and environment that the players can work from to achieve and be successful.


What does your job entail at Leeds United and what do you like about it?

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the role of the U23s coach under the current manager may differ to that of other clubs. As has been well documented the integration of the U23s to the 1st team since Marcelo Bielsa arrived has been a very successful one. The players in the U23s have the opportunity to train and play with the 1st team on a daily basis and as a consequence we operate to the philosophy and methodology of the manager – which for me has been a great learning experience. We all train at the same time and work on the same areas of development to ensure that there is a clear and logical pathway for the younger players to work to.

In addition to the on-field coaching there is a high level of analysis that takes place. Everyone is classed as an analyst, as well as a coach. The 1st team staff are relentless with their work ethic and detail and we, again, follow this model. The hours are long and there is a lot of work to get through but the amount of analysis, video work and meetings are all used to improve the individual and collective performance of the players. I’m very grateful for the position I’m in and the opportunity I have to learn from those around me.


What did you gain from coaching in Spain?

I think I could write a book to answer this question! I learned so much about language and culture and methods that I’m still deciphering it all now. I think from a coaching point of view there were some key points that I took away and that have helped to change my understanding of the game and coaching in a positive way. I worked with a manager who had a clear idea of how he wanted to play and how he wanted to deliver his messages to the players. I learned a lot about ‘positional play’ and models associated with this style of football and more importantly how to ensure that my practice design was perfectly aligned with my own concepts and methodology.

When I initially arrived, I had no control of the language. So, to coach at a 1st team level and be unable to speak to the players presented a very big challenge. It forced me to develop other skills of communication I may have previously neglected, and this was an eye opener in terms of how I can deliver information to players using different methods and formats. As I began to pick up the language I could communicate with the players and life became a little easier on the grass, but I have to admit that in the early stages I was digging deep into that coaching toolbox!

Overall, the experience gave me some clear ideas around how I want to see the game played and how I want to deliver to and inform the players in my care.


What are your greatest achievements in coaching and why?

It’s hard to look beyond the success had at U23 level with Leeds United in my first season back at the club. To win the League Title and then the National Title and to reach the Semi-Finals of the Premier League Cup – all of which had never been previously done before – and to see the the players progress to work with the 1st team and make their debuts/get game time was a really rewarding experience. It was such an intense season but all the hard work from everyone involved paid off in the best way possible, individual and collective success.

That being said, for me the biggest achievements actually come in much smaller moments. Relating to the answer before, to see individuals achieve what they have set out to, and for me to be able to support them along that journey, feels like a really big achievement. The ‘small wins’ actually feel much more significant to me.


What is your best memory of coaching?

I couldn’t pick just one. Coaching makes me feel alive. I’m happiest when I’m coaching. To build relationships with the players and interact on a daily basis in the pursuit of a common goal is a great feeling. It’s the same when working with other coaches who share the same passion you have. Football is an emotional game and I would argue that coaching is an emotional profession. It appears a lot more scientific in the modern era, but I can’t image there is a coach out there who doesn’t feel some form of positive emotion from the work they do.


What are your goals in the sport?

 My goal is to keep on progressing. I’m very ‘process’ driven. So, for me, it is to try and get better each day. To try and operate at a ‘world class level’ each and every day. That’s the aim. Where that takes me, who knows? All I know is that if I can continue to improve myself then I’ll be in a better position to aid and guide the players that I work with.

Along my journey I have been fortunate to achieve a lot of qualifications and I have a desire to continue to the next one. I’m hungry to learn. However, qualifications are only a small part of developing as a coach and practical experiences are where the true ‘on-the-job’ learning comes from. That’s why I think it is important to continue to try and push boundaries and put myself in situations where I will gain as many practical experiences as possible.

Ultimately, I want to coach at the highest level possible and one day hopefully have the opportunity to work for my National Team. That would be a dream come true.


What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in football?

To get to where I am currently has been quite a complicated pathway. I imagine getting to where I want to go will be the same. That’s been a great opportunity for me to learn and develop along the way, so I’m grateful for my journey. I’ve always tried to be open minded. Not having played the game at the highest-level means there are areas that I have not been exposed to. As a consequence, I have always tried to gather as much information as possible and put myself in environments where I can learn. I’ve seen it as a challenge to be more informed and to search for as much information as possible. On top of this is obviously refining my ability to transfer this knowledge in the best way possible – which is something I am still learning to do and will continue to learn to do throughout my career. Having a ‘process driven’ mentality has helped me to overcome the challenges I have faced as I see them as another step along the journey and as an opportunity to learn something new.


Who’s had the biggest influence in your coaching career and why?

That’s a tough question to answer. When I began as a young coach, I worked with someone the same age as me and we developed at a similar rate, both bouncing ideas off each other and relatively having a lot of success. That created a real sense of belief in my own methods and ideas.

I never really had a mentor and when I reflect on it, it’s probably something I wish I had. However, now I’m a little bit older I have met some wonderfully gifted, intelligent and experienced people along the way who have been fantastic sounding boards for me.

I would say that overall the biggest influence on my coaching career has been the experiences I have gathered from being brave and putting myself in situations that whilst difficult, allowed a lot of learning. I’ve always tried to remain open minded and to gather as much information as possible – so whether it be a coach educator or colleague I’ve always tried to take the best bits that fit for me and, with the utmost respect, disregard the rest that didn’t quite fit.


What advice would you give to people wishing to get involved in coaching football?

Get on the grass! Get out there and do it. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. There is no better way to learn than actually doing it. If you’re really interested in pursuing coaching as a career then there is so much information readily available now thanks to the internet and social media. Watch, read, listen and ask questions. I would certainly advise trying to find a mentor and trying to observe as many sessions as possible and watching as much football as possible at all levels.

The biggest key for me though is to be inquisitive and open minded. If you have the ability to constantly ask ‘Why?’ you are going to learn a lot. Ask coaches about their rationale and reasoning and you’ll start to develop a greater understanding. Reflect and ask yourself the same question and you’ll start to have the ability to refine your own ideas. Never take anything at face value, dig a little deeper. That’s where the real gold is.


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