Elite Candidate Spotlight: Paul Stephenson
- Sport Careers client and former Kilmarnock FC U20 Head Coach Paul Stephenson provides an insight into his coaching career
- Part of the Huddersfield Town AFC coaching during their record breaking unbeaten run
- Experienced 1st team and development coach with a proven record in nurturing young talent
Most recently you were Head Coach of Kilmarnock's U20 squad. In a league like the Scottish Premiership where financial resources can be limited, do you think clubs should be focusing increasingly on the development of young talent?
Mostdefinitely. It was difficult at Kilmarnock as I had no control over thefinances of my U20 squad. There is talent amongst that group, but they have toquickly be good enough to be considered for the 1st team because of finances.
Most clubsdon't place enough emphasis on the importance of a quality youth set up. Forexample, clubs need a good scouting network first and foremost so that you havequality players to work with.
Are there any names we should be looking out for from the Kilmarnock youth system?
The obvious ones are the players that have represented the 1st team this season - Dean Hawkshaw, Adam Frizzell, Iain Wilson, Innes Cameron and Lewis Morrison. Two lads that really impressed me with their training and application in games were Scott McLean and Sam Lidington, who are both the type to develop later given time! Jack Paterson as well was making excellent progress with the help of Watt Nicol.
You worked with a number of clubs before coming up to Scotland, including Norwich City, Huddersfield Town, Blackpool and Accrington Stanley. Most notably, you were part of Lee Clarke's management team at Huddersfield when the club went on a record -breaking run of 43 games unbeaten in the Football League. Can you give some insight into the highs of that journey, and did it put any extra pressure on the team as the run went on?
I think at the back end of the run, there were certain pressures that everyone put on each other to continue it. Don't forget that when you're on a run like that you feel invincible and the confidence and atmosphere it breeds is electric.
There were times when our unbeaten record was under serious threat, but because we had a fantastic morale and belief in each other we found all sorts of ways to dig out results. With a run like that you also incentivise the opposition because everyone is after your scalp.
You've had a number of roles in both 1st team and youth football. What do you see as the biggest differences when working with the teams?
There is a massive difference in your job fulfilment. At 1st team level it is all about winning, full stop! A win on Saturday makes your weekend, otherwise it's a miserable one. The whole family feels the pressure too, as they understand the importance of 'winning at all cost' football.
In development roles, seeing players improve and work their way up the ladder is winning! It's understanding that different players need different time scales, and that they all develop at their own rates. If you're lucky and you have a very good group, they will inspire and chase each other to greater heights. It's also a better opportunity for you as a coach in some respects, as you get to work on the whole team.
Young players you've worked with include Danny Drinkwater, Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Gibbs, Benik Afobe, Jordan Rhodes and Scott Arfield. Do you have any specific priorities or approaches you use when helping to nurture young talent?
Young players are like your own children - if you are prepared to spend the time and effort with them, they will appreciate you!
You have to put the time in with them and show them how much YOU care about them. They quickly realise you're there to help them. hen just make sure the sessions you do with them are progressive and stimulating.
A lot of those players were brought in on loan from Premier League clubs. How do you positively impact a player in that situation,when they know they'll be returning to their parent club?
I believe it's the environment that they come into which is vital. At Huddersfield under Lee Clark we had a terrific atmosphere around the place and we always did extra unit work, especially with the younger players. They are also constantly reminded that this is part of their education, and with modern technology their parent clubs are constantly receiving reports and videos of them performing.
What are the biggest lessons you've learned over the course of your career, and what are your future ambitions in the game?
Never to take anything for granted, this is crucial in football. Huddersfield is a prime example of that - we lost 3 league games in our last 55, were sitting in 3rd place, and then got a phone call to say we were out the door! Years of building from very little, gone in a few minutes. It definitely makes you stronger.
You also need to have the approach that you are learning something from everybody everyday. You have days where it's your players that actually teach YOU something,or show you something on the pitch that you never quite thought of. That's why it's such a fantastic game.
I'm now looking forward to another opportunity at 1st team level or in the player development side, but I was proud of my work at Kilmarnock that's for sure!