Sunderland Academy coach and former Barclays Premier League footballer, Kevin Ball - For more information, visit www.digicelfootball.com

Thirty-seven aspiring young footballers are today busily preparing for a week of first class coaching at the Digicel Academy in Trinidad. Sunderland Academy coach and former Barclays Premier League footballer, Kevin Ball, spoke exclusively to www.digicelfootball.com about pre-match superstitions and the joy of developing young players.

I was very fortunate to have a long career in the game and I never stopped learning. But when my professional career came to an end, I wanted to keep learning. Looking back at all my experiences, coming from an apprentice right through to playing at senior level, I figured coaching was the next step – I thought I had a knack and I saw a niche. I’m really glad I did make the move, as I love every minute of it.

  • How did you find the transition from Premier League football to coaching?

My professional footballing career came to an end at 38. I loved the competitive side of football but once it has come to end, you have to accept it. I thought to myself, ‘Now you have to help players and inspire them to reach your target and if they are lucky, to go beyond it’.

Even though coaching was always something I had an interest in, when I look back now, I would have structured my learning better. I spent the last two years of my career away from home so I really didn’t have the time and now I wish I had worked on getting my coaching badges a little earlier. If I would advise anyone now, I would say get your badges earlier rather than later, as it gives you a much better understanding of the game and why we do things.

  • You also had a spell in caretaker charge of the Sunderland AFC senior team in 2006 following the departure of Mick McCarthy. How did you find that?

To be honest, I had previously worked with the coaching staff and as a result, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Albeit they were difficult circumstances, I would have loved my time with the first team to have been longer.”

  • Any major superstitions before a match?

When I was playing, I had a routine more than superstitions – it made me feel better. For example, putting my boots on would be; left sock and left boot then right and so on. I would have a certain pre-match meal, I liked to be at home, go for a walk, have a good shower and a good stretch – things that prepare me mentally. They weren’t superstitions, but more a routine that made me feel ready.”

  • In terms of training, what will you be looking for in the boys selected to go through to the Academy?

The first thing is attitude – their willingness to listen and learn and try what we will be asking of them. They should understand it’s not messing about time. Next I will be looking for technical and tactical ability – and seeing if they are putting into practice what we have discussed.

We are also looking for enthusiasm. These boys are very fortunate to have been given a place on the Digicel Academy and they should be 100% on point in terms of enthusiasm. A lot of work has gone into getting them here, so we are expecting to see a lot of great stuff from them.”

  • What are the key attributes for any aspiring young footballer in terms of making it a career?

The first thing is technical ability – and being pleasing to the eye. The tactical stuff you can learn as you get older. I also think you need to have a strong mental resilience – being able to take the good with the bad and stay level-headed. A great attitude is a must. There is no use in having a great technical ability and not being able to apply it – and for that you need to stay open-minded.”

  • What advice do you have for young Caribbean footballers who have dreams of making it big?

Well I would say the opportunity that they have this week, at the Digicel Academy, is a big one – and I for one am looking to be impressed. Other advice I would give is to have a good attitude and apply themselves 100% – 100% of the time. Practice makes perfect, but doing their best every time is very important.”

The Digicel Academy is a week-long elite training camp which takes place in Trinidad from November 1st to 7th under the leadership of top Barclays Premier League coaches, Kevin Ball and Carlton Fairweather, from the Sunderland Academy, assisted by John Barnes. The Digicel Academy will also host a ‘coach the coaches’ seminar in which coaches from across the region will get expert training from Sunderland AFC’s finest teachers.

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