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Club Ambassador Michael Johnson joins Degree Students for Insightful Q&A

Zoom with Michael Johnson

Derby County ambassador and member of promotion winning side, Michael Johnson, joined a Q&A with our Community Coaching and Development degree students today.

The hour-long session covered aspects of his playing and coaching career, from his youth teams at Nottingham side Clifton, senior debut at 18 against Arsenal in the then First Division, his lengthy stint at Birmingham City including four play-off finals before joining Derby County in 2003.

His coaching career has been varied, starting in the youth teams at Notts County before moving on to Cardiff, taking the national job at Guyana and his current role with the England U21 setup.

The Q&A covered his wide-ranging career and centred around his beliefs in the individual and the importance of instilling values from the youngest possible age.

“If I was running a club, my best coaches would be at U8, U9 and U10 level. I think the game has it wrong. There needs to be more support at the younger age groups to instil values and mould the players into who you want them to be. By the time they’re 12 or 13 they’ll have a firm understanding of the club, the coaches, the DNA.”

He also went on to talk about his experience of coaching at national level.

“I had a chance to make a difference to a country with high levels of poverty, no football structure, no finance going into the game. No pitches. The real tangible thing I could do was to leave a legacy where football could continue forever. After the Gold Cup there has been more investment into facilities, football fields, a national team pitch. More boys and girls are playing football, there’s more sponsorship. We qualified for a major tournament which means more games, more TV coverage. Players are travelling more and playing in other countries. It’s been a fantastic achievement over the last few years from everybody involved.”

On his current role in the England U21 setup, he spoke about how different the youth game was to when his career began under Neil Warnock at Notts County.

“It’s a different kind of coaching now. You’re coaching people, you’re not always on the grass. The balance between the individual and the team needs to meet each other. In my opinion, the team performance will sort itself if the people you have are the right ones. If you pull back the tag of ‘football player’ you have a human being with feelings and emotions. If you can get the relationship right with the person, everything else will follow.”

“The landscape of football has completely changed. You throw into the mix social media and that’s another ball game. The mental health issues that can cause, that wasn’t around when I was starting my career. We need to show empathy, the way we interact with young players is so important, because there’s a lot of problems out there. It’s become part of coaching because criticism and negativity has become an ever-present and it can affect a player. It’s so important to deal with this new side of the game to ensure they player can have a great career and isn’t affected by things beyond their control. Players need to have the confidence to come to coaches with issues, which is massively different to how it used to be.”

The afternoon was gave a fantastic look into the playing and coaching career of the Derby County ambassador and will kickstart a series of sessions with other coaches from across the game.

Our degree students will gain the opportunity to hear more about playing. coaching and managing from those who have experienced it first hand.

For more information on our Community Coaching and Development degree course, please click below