TGG Podcast #33: Chris Ramsey - Educating the educators
Written by Josh Schneider-Weiler and Simon Austin — December 6, 2021
CHRIS RAMSEY MBE is one of the most respected coach educators in this country.
Following a playing career that spanned two decades, the 59-year-old qualified as a coach and went on to work with every England age group from Under-16s to U20s. After that he worked for Tottenham for a decade, becoming their Head of Player Development and first-team coach.
Since 2014, Ramsey has been with QPR, where he is now Technical Director and Head of Coaching. In Episode #33 of the TGG Podcast he told us about his role at the club, his career journey, how he develops staff and why the game has lost a generation of black leaders.
You can listen via the player below and also read an edited transcript after that.
1. What my job entails
Chris Ramsey: I deal with the technical programme for all the teams outside the first team. Because the manager changes in football on average every 1.1 years in football - and managers come with different expectations - my job is to make sure the players are versatile enough to be able to play for different managers.
Head of Coaching entails helping to produce players, first and foremost, and helping to produce coaches that are able to produce players. I brought in a non-negotiable development philosophy that I’ve been working on for many years. I try to make sure the coaches follow that plan.
Our senior coaches are very good and have followed the plan to a tee. We discuss different methods of implementing it and try to disseminate it throughout the Academy, from the Under-9s up.
When you first come in somewhere you’re always hands-on, but now I oversee and assist. On a Sunday I might assist the U9s coach or whoever it might be. I also go to the first-team games, so you get the nerve-wracking Saturday afternoons as well.
I’ve probably got the best job in football - I coach and assist when I want.
2. Working on the individual
A lot of coaches are more interested in winning the game than developing the players. Ultimately, what’s the goal? If it’s to become professional footballers, it’s important that the performance supersedes the result.
I always thought I could have become a better player myself if there had been more individualised programmes for me. Each player is a cog in a team and has a job description that allows them to be in the team. If you don’t get those descriptions right, the player fails and so does the team.
3. What outcome do you want?
If you imagine a music teacher that leaves the instruments on the side for the young kids to go along and bash around and explore, that’s one thing. But if you want your son or daughter to go and play in the Philharmonic Orchestra, there is going to have to be some teaching that is structured and allows them to become expert at what they do.
Academies are like schools. At the end of the day, you want your son or daughter to work on something they hope will eventually become their profession.
4. Connecting with the person
We talk about the four corners. Craig Simmons at the FA evolved that and it was innovative. I made it into more of an egg shape. In the middle you have the technical/ physical. On the outside you have the psych/ social.
If you can’t connect with a player, you’re not going to be able to affect their behaviour. At QPR we try and ask the coaches to be aware of things the players watch on TV, or their family - anything of interest. You have to treat the player as a human being first. That’s one of the main things with developing coaches.
With the youngest players you find out what cartoons they’re watching, their favourite player, anything that gives you an ‘in.’ You can pretend to support the worst team, and then you’ve got a discussion.
Sometimes you go on YouTube and see these clean pristine sessions and people think that’s brilliant, but it might have taken six months to achieve. The process isn’t always neat and tidy and each player is an individual.
Bringing out players’ personalities is important, as is realising it’s a coaching team and one baton is passed to another and another, so there needs to be a process to allow the next coach to be successful.
5. What I look for in a coach
First and foremost, do they want to learn how to teach and develop people?
They have to use the coaches who are experienced as libraries. People learn in a variety of ways, so you have to see if you can press the right buttons.
They have to be able to understand that we have a formula that has worked over a period of time. If they can help to polish what we’re doing already then we’re happy.
Generally we look at people who are prepared to be team players and try and understand the philosophy we are trying to put into place. Empathy is very important - and drive as well, because you have to drive the session, drive the players and be driven to want to learn. Without that I don’t think you can take on board what we are trying to teach the players.
There's also the willingness to be open-minded - and empathy. Most of the players are not finished articles. You are not coaching the £20m player, but the player at the beginning of their journey.
6. Ego can be a good thing
Within drive I would put ego. People think ego is a bad thing, but it depends where your ego is focused. If your ego is focused on how many players we can maintain in the building, how many players we can get a contract, then you will be driven to work hard, to be patient, to make yourself better and make the players better.
If your ego is pointing towards wanting to coach the first team then your ego is misdirected in the development arena.
7. Zones of proximal development
When you talk about zones of proximal development (the distance between what a learner is not currently capable of doing unsupported, and what they can do unsupported), you need to find out where the player needs coaching.
Sometimes you don’t have to teach them right from the start. In any skill or movement there is a continuum and the coach has to quickly find out where the player is on that continuum - what they already know and where they can get to with coaching and teaching.
8. Breaking learning down into chunks
I have a Bachelor of Education and what I learnt from some of the theorists - like Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, Tina Bruce, Janet Moyles - was about breaking down topics and helping coaches to chunk and scaffold sessions.
Lots of times coaches try and work on the end product before they’ve gone through the process, but understanding the chunks is easier than the whole. That gives them confidence in how to coach, when to coach, who to coach and what the individual player requires.
A lot of pros get frustrated in coaching, because they can’t understand why people can’t do what they can.
Playing and coaching are two different things.
Playing helps, because it puts libraries in your head, but even controlling the ball, there is a process that has to be broken down.
The more clearly and succinctly you can get that across the more success you will have. A lot of the time we coach too far out of a player’s comfort zone and they will never reach that level.
So we scaffold sessions and break down movements. We look at the mechanics of the movement. If it’s a Cruyff turn, break it down. Can they lift their hip or get the right part of the foot on the ball? Is the execution correct?
Then we look at distractions - someone around you - and then progressive interference, someone trying to stop you trying to do the move. We do that for everything.
Then how do we manipulate that for them to be able to do it in a game? We look at four things in possession, four things out of possession and then what binds them together.
9. My influences
I owe everything to (QPR Director of Football) Les Ferdinand for the last 11 years. He's believed in what I’ve been doing and has given me the autonomy to be able to do it, as well as help and feedback along the way.
Going further back, I've worked with a lot of people who I have used as libraries and taken advice from. Dick Bate was massive for me. Craig Simmons was outstanding - he probably forgot more than I know about development.
Howard Wilkinson, Les Reed, Martin Hunter, Ricky Hill, Perry Suckling. Post development for me was working with Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand at Tottenham. That took my coaching to another level, working with the first-team players.
John Still has been a massive influence on how to implement a philosophy. I worked with him at Barnet and realised everything they did pertained to how they were going to play; the principle of living and breathing your philosophy. A lot of the time people do random training sessions that don’t link to how they play in the match.
I met (FA Technical Director) John McDermott through a friend when I lived in America and we have always stayed in contact. We have completely different personalities but our ideas on football are almost exactly the same and we’ve always had a good relationship.
When we went to Tottenham (where Ramsey became Head of Player Development and McDermott the Head of Coaching and Development), the philosophy we put in place we had been talking about for years - about understanding the players’ individual needs rather than the team’s ways.
We knew what we had to put in place and what types of sessions we needed to do. We brought in Ricardo Moniz, who’s probably the best skills coach in the world, as well as Alex Inglethorpe, Danny Buck and Ose Aibangee, who has been massive in connecting me and guiding me in terms of philosophy.
10. Diverse workforce
Diversity isn’t about employing people because they’re from a minority - it’s about giving everybody the same opportunity. If you have the chance to redress the balance then redress it, but you can’t do that if the person isn’t competent.
I’ve employed more white people than minorities, but it doesn’t get highlighted because it’s such a shock for people to see diversity at the top end.
We’ve got (black coaches) Paul Hall, Micah Hyde, Paul Furlong, Andy Impey and Ade Bankole at QPR. They are not only good coaches but they’ve all played - and not just dipped their toes in, but been proper players over a period of time.
From a playing point of view I don’t think you’re going to get many more experienced staffs. From a coaching point of view they’ve all been coaching for the best part of a decade at least.
What we’ve developed here is the understanding of the individual programmes that are important for the players. I might be biased, but the coaches are as good as you’re going to get; there aren’t better coaches than them in the country. We are very fortunate to have that staff.
The experienced coaches are developing the younger coaches, because they’re doing the CPD and I trust them. All of the coaches here have deserved their spot. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be here.
Most people don’t want to be getting jobs based on their colour, but on their ability. But we know it’s not a level playing field.
11. Lost generation of black coaches
I’m nearly 60 and there are very very few (black) coaches from the era I played in. Over 55, how many black coaches are there? Chris Hughton, Terry Connor, me, Keith Curle. Four from our era in senior positions! There's also only one black Director of Football - Les Ferdinand here at QPR.
I think a lot of people look at the situation and think, 'Why would I try to be a coach?' When I was first at the FA we would go to clubs and black players would say, ‘You’ve got every badge, you’ve worked with all the England teams and you haven’t got a job at a club. Why would we bother taking the badge?’
You have to give it all the cliches - ‘We have to have the badges or it’s easier for people not to employ you’ - and that’s one of the reasons I’ve done qualifications, not only for the learning, but so that when you’re sat in the interview room it can’t be held against you.
People used to say, ‘The black players haven’t got their badges.’ That was a massive excuse. Now they have got their badges, there are many many black and Asian coaches with qualifications, and there is still the status quo.
They can see people who jump the line, they’re not stupid. Nowadays, financially, players at the top level are so set, do they need to put themselves through that?
We look at someone like Sol Campbell - he won everything, captained England - but had to take the Macclesfield and then the Southend job.
People would say that’s the right way to go, but it's not the right way for everyone, is it? People of colour want the same opportunity. Why can’t they walk into a job in the Premier League or Championship, with the same qualifications and playing background?