When opportunities arise to coach full-time within the academy system, they are always incredibly in-demand.
Callum Martin knows how challenging it can be to break into that set-up.
Ever since his non-league playing days ended in his early 20s, Martin had built up a wealth of valuable experience working as an FA skills coach, a coach educator, and as a part-time academy coach with various age groups at Watford, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton.
Well respected by his peers, the 35-year-old yearned to take the next step on his career path by applying for several full-time posts. Yet due to a lack of experience in that domain, his big break failed to materialise.
That is until Martin enrolled to be part of the Premier League's Coach Inclusion and Diversity Scheme, a decision which has turned out to be a game changer for the talented A-license holder.
Now thriving on a two-year placement at Fulham's highly regarded Category One Academy, following a successful interview process, Martin is currently head coach of the Under-15's team and couldn't be happier.
"Having the responsibility to help develop these talented young players is a privilege," Martin says. "But it's also the conversations you have when you're not on the grass, in the office, in the corridor, in the lunchroom, all those chats around players are just huge for your own personal development, too.
"When you fully immerse yourself and embrace this role there is so much learning you can take from it"
"When I was part-time in an academy I'd get changed into my kit in the evening, help to put on a session and then go home. Now I am having conversations about developing programmes for the team and for individual players, planning what we are going to be doing in two months' time, or on tour, and these are things I never got involved in before.
"When you fully immerse yourself and embrace this role there is so much learning you can take from it."
Coaches who earn placements via CIDS are required to get a broad range of experiences across different age groups and disciplines within the club.
Martin's previous work had mainly been centred around coaching children in the 10-14 age brackets. So he was delighted to be offered the chance to spend his first year as an assistant coach for Fulham’s Under-16s, followed by a season as head coach of the Under-15s.
At Fulham's academy there is no set syllabus or curriculum to follow. Instead, it is the responsibility of each head coach to design a season plan based on what the individual players in their care require most.
Each week the coaches sit down with senior members of staff to evaluate those bespoke programmes, ensuring their sessions continue to link in with what they had outlined.
"Making these plans means I have been given a lot more responsibility, and with that you have to prepare to be challenged, and ready to defend what you are working on, and why you are doing it," says Martin.
"That is new to me, but I honestly love having those conversations around player development. Aside from the actual coaching, it's one of the most enjoyable parts of the job when I get to talk about what I am intending to deliver for them, and why."
Martin's new brief also means he's had to develop another new skillset, managing parents.
In that regard it's a case of "so far, so good" according to the ambitious young coach.
"I wanted to have individual meetings with all the parents of the age group prior to the season, introducing myself and informing them about our plans for their son," he says.
"I also made a point of trying to find out as much as I could about their lives away from football and the feedback I received from parents was fantastic. They seemed to appreciate the way I took time to understand their children on a different level. I had never done this kind of thing before but I enjoyed it.
"I have to say the parents have been great with me but having those conversations at the beginning of the season has really helped."
When Martin joined Fulham in the summer of 2021, he was also offered an opportunity to learn and support the club's work with loan players.
As a coach who harbours ambitions to work in the Professional Development Phase long-term, Martin jumped at the chance to gain knowledge in that department.
"I thought I knew a lot about the loan process but there are so many more intricacies that go along with it that I wouldn't have been aware of had I not done so much research and had so many conversations with loan managers and coaches," he says. "That has given me far better insight.
"I've also learnt that certain players need a certain type of experience. So, we need to make sure we tailor their loan with the right club and manager. For example, if we need a centre forward to work on his back-to-goal play, we will look to put him in a team that might play a little bit more direct.
"We may have a player who would benefit from a manager who is prepared to have a rant and rave on occasion too, so if we believe it will help their development, we may send them that way to give him that experience before he goes into a first-team environment.
"Placing the player in the right setting is crucial."
During 2022/23 Martin will also be charged with the task of analysing the performances of a couple of Fulham's loanees, feeding his assessments back to the players and senior members of the loan team.
This ties in perfectly with his chosen topic on the educational side of his placement.
Part of the two-year course involves him taking a Higher Education Certificate in Elite Coaching at Leeds Beckett University. It is an academic qualification that would give Martin UCAS points so that he could do a Masters degree in the future.
The 35-year-old has opted to base his project around loan player experiences, tying in with the work he is undertaking at Fulham.
"What I chose for my project had to benefit the club, so I approached them to see if that was something they wanted me to do, which it was," he says. "So far I've looked at how young academy players transition into professional football and what resources they need to make that happen successfully. I’ve also studied the support they need when they're making that transition on loan.
"Next, I am going to look at the players' perception, what they are experiencing and how we support them whilst they're on loan.
"And finally, I want to study what happens post-loan and how the information we provide impacts them. It’s a topic I have enjoyed learning about in detail."
Martin, whose twin brother Carl is a first-team coach at Southampton, admits he was a little daunted by the prospect of dividing his time between coaching and taking an academic qualification. However, he confesses the experience has been nothing but uplifting.
"I was never an academic. I went to college but after that I was straight into football and coaching. I now do a lot of reading and I really, really enjoy it. Making plans and thinking about how to provide the right experiences for these loan players is brilliant for me.
"If you fully embrace the educational side of this placement, you can get so much from it. I'm learning a lot and the networking I've done around the loan topic has opened up doors for me to go and watch other coaches and other academies too.
"I wasn't really looking forward to the educational stuff, and was nervous about it if I’m honest, but once I got into it the learning has been immense."
The perfect stage
Martin's thirst for educating himself comes through when he speaks, and he is clear in his own mind that working with Under-15 and Under-16 players is perfect for him at this stage of his development as a coach.
"I have a really big passion for helping players discover what they're really good at, and helping them improve those super-strengths," he says with a smile. "By the age of 15 or 16 we’ve probably identified their best position, but what are they really good at in those positions?
"I love showing them what they do best and helping them get really, really good at it. That’s where I feel I can add the most value and that's why I really enjoy working in this age group at the moment."
While his focus remains on the players, in the background his thoughts are also channelled into ending what he describes as a "23-month interview" with what he hopes will be a contract renewal from the club.
By the end of 2022/23, Fulham will decide on whether to keep Martin in his full-time role on a permanent basis.
"You have to stay on top of so much in order for everything to work, which is why planning and constant evaluating is so important"
"This placement has taught me that I can lead an age group in a full-time capacity," he says. "The work on the grass comes naturally to me, but it is all the other intricacies of being a head coach in this environment that has taught me so much.
"You have to stay on top of so much in order for everything to work, which is why planning and constant evaluating is so important.
"Coming into this role is no guarantee of full-time employment, I know that, but now that I have had a taste of it I can’t see myself doing anything else.
"My steepest learning curve has been at Fulham. I thought I was on a good level when I arrived here, but then working in a Category One Academy with some truly excellent coaches, I was like, 'Wow, there's still so much more that I need to learn.'
"Last season I picked up a lot, and I believe I've kicked on since last year, but I'm never happy or content with where I'm at. I always want to get better.
"On the training pitch and off it my understanding of the game has come on greatly through this placement. I’d love to carry on beyond the end of this season."
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