The role of a Technical Director is a relatively new role with organisations deploying the role in many different formats. At club level some would be more leant towards recruitment and some have more commercial duties such as contract and commercial negotiation. At a Member Association (the football association in charge of the countries football provision) the Technical Director is responsible for the technical aspects of the countries football strategy. The role for instance differs from the head coach role who would be responsible for winning the next game the TD would be responsible for the medium and long term football strategy as set out by the president and executive committee.

My role as a TD entails overseeing National teams (male and female) women’s football, coach education, grass roots and elite youth. 

I am extremely fortunate to have an outstanding team around me of 6 full time staff and 10 part time staff who mange their individual programs. 

The role is challenging yet rewarding and so far my highlights being the start of a new Women’s National League, a brand new Academy Youth League which links youth teams to senior national league clubs, Talent BVI a program for identifying and cultivating national team players of the future and reintroducing national team training at U15s/17/20 and senior. The program inceptions are very much a cumulative effort from all staff, volunteers and various stakeholders. 

 

“the head coach role who would be responsible for winning the next game. The TD would be responsible for the medium and long term football strategy”

How I ended up in the role 

I started playing football relatively late at the age of 13 for Hamworthy Utd. I actually played a year above my age because the team at my age group had enough players. This as a someone new to the sport took me well out of my comfort zone! From there I played for Oakdale and laterally Bournemouth Electric. Whilst playing for Electric I was invited into AFC Bournemouth’s centre of excellence. I was released when I was 16 after not being offered an apprenticeship. From there I played for several non league clubs including Poole Town, Bashley, Brockenhurst and Bournemouth FC. I began my coaching career working with my then manager at Bournemouth FC Shaun Brooks at his coaching academy before accepting a role as head coach of the under 11s at AFC Bournemouth Centre of Excellence. This again took my out of my comfort zone as I actually interviewed for the role of u10 assistant (and I was nervous about that role!) it turned out to be a great opportunity for me and I improved greatly over the course of the year with the support of Derek Old, Andy Marsh and Mike Davis. Whilst on my UEFA B licence I was tutored by Joe Roach (our centre of excellence manager)  and Dean May (head coach under 15s)and Dean offered me the opportunity to work with the under 15s at AFC Bournemouth. I spent 6 years working in the centre of excellence working with some fantastic players and staff. From there I also held positions of player coach and then joint manager of Bournemouth FC. 

I rejoined AFC Bournemouth and became head of the Talent ID centre program. During my role there I began setting up a link with the British Virgin Islands FA. We agreed to run a camp on the island so we could assess the islands young talent. I subsequently left my role to focus on my coaching organising Champion but still liaised with the club and BVI so the camp still happened. Due to a change in academy manager the club could not commit to the camp I ended up travelling out and running the camp. 

The camp went well and I stayed in regular contact before accepting the role of assistant national team coach in 2018. It was a role I was both delighted and honoured to accept and held this position until 2020 when I transitioned into the role of TD. 

Understanding the football landscape in another country 

One of my first tasks was growing the participation of football in the Islands. This was an interesting challenge as I needed to understand why people wanted to play, geographical challenges and more importantly understanding the culture itself. Thankfully our coaching team have many years experience on the islands and have a deep understanding of the culture, thankfully as I was previously national team coach I had a reasonable understanding of the people and the culture so this gave me a head start when changing roles. Religion is much more prevalent than in the UK so it is important we are as inclusive as we can possibly be, a good starting point for this is ensuring we put multiple sessions in so everybody has access to the game despite their location and religion. 

In terms of the understanding the “why” people would take up the sport. In the UK football is the national sport and footballers are household names and revered with football available to play and watch every day and night. where as in the islands football sits alongside athletics, basket ball and the countries national sport – softball. Football is available (actually all Saturday 3pm games are live!) to view but is on at times when people would be out participating in sport. Also whereas the UK football can be generational and the person is introduced at an early age by a family member if the sport is relatively new in a country there is not that early push hence the need to create a buzz for the sport. 

There was already a well established and successful youth program prior to my arrival but since the hurricane of 2017 it was still in the process of begin reintroduced. To help create a buzz we introduced a Women’s National League and Academy Youth League. Regular competition is vital to development but also a great hook for building and retaining participation. We also devised a playing and coaching pathway clearly laying out what can be achieved if you regularly attend and show a desire to improve. We devised a new program called Talent BVI where we would identify and nurture the best island talent with the aim of producing national team players of the future. We also reintroduced national team training for the U15s/17/20 and senior men’s teams and women’s teams. Our men’s team are involved in qualification for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022 which again has provided a huge boost for football on the islands.  

“UK football can be generational and the person is introduced at an early age by a family member if the sport is relatively new in a country there is not that early push hence the need to create a buzz for the sport”

Turning covid 19 challenges into opportunities 

As with everyone we’ve had our fair share of challenges due to the situation arising from the Covid19 pandemic. 

We had a two week total shut down then partial shut down from March 2020. Since then have been operating on a curfew basis, live football was stopped for 6 months before resuming gradually upto where we are now being fully operational. 

During the 6 month shut down period we tried to turn the challenge into an opportunity and engage with players in a different way. We set daily challenges and released a leaderboard every Saturday evening, players love competition and this really benefitted participation. We also ran several webinars engaging coaches on the islands with several coach education events from guest football leaders including a Talent Identification workshop with Carl Robson of AFC Bournemouth, coaching in the foundation phase with Connor Marlin head of coaching at Oldham Athletic, an introduction to strength and conditioning with Luke Burbidge of Champion Football Academy, managing growth related injuries with Ben Hayes of Proformance, also with the support of the English Football Association we ran two workshops for our national team staff on match analysis with Ben Futcher and Les Howie and workshop on managing the game with Tony McCallum and Les Howie. 

This period has proven to be massively beneficial for staff, players and parents alike and the opportunities to engage in a different way to how we would ordinarily run events have been an eye opener for us as well. 

That said we are looking forward to returning to total normality armed with the knowledge we’ve gained over lockdown. 

“During the 6 month shutdown period we tried to turn the challenge into an opportunity and engage with players in a different way”

Lastly thank you to Gary Drake and the Portas Group for the opportunity to share my experiences so far. I would urge anyone involved in football to be open to travelling and working abroad. The experiences and opportunities available are there, all you have to do is get out of the comfort zone and make the jump!

Dan Neville

Technical Director

British Virgin Islands Football Association

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