Greg Miller: Helping 'young people with a dream' at Barnsley
Written by Alastair Sievewright — October 24, 2019
GREG MILLER has been the Head of Academy Coaching at Barnsley since December 2017.
He also graduated with a distinction from the Master of Sport Directorship course at Manchester Metropolitan University earlier this year. Miller told us about his coaching journey and philosophy and gave some tips to other aspiring coaches.
1. What is your coaching background?
I was a pro player for 12 seasons, mostly in Scotland and also for a brief stint in Sweden. In the latter part of my playing career I was part-time in the professional leagues in Scotland and found the training very mundane, so I decided to stop playing at the age of 30, to concentrate on coaching.
I worked for a year with Hibernian in their Academy on a part-time basis and then for Rangers' Academy, once again in the evenings and weekends, which was great as I was working with some really high-potential talent.
My first full-time coaching role was as a first-team coach with JEF United in the Japanese Premier League, in 2009. That experience really helped refine my coaching skills as I was delivering most of the content via an interpreter and it taught me to make my coaching points short and concise.
After Japan, I actually took a short break from coaching to really evaluate what aspects motivated me most and realised that player development was one of the most important things for me personally.
I took a role as Head of Coaching at Stirling Albion Academy and then at the end of 201, I was approached by the Scottish FA to work in their new flagship player development programme ‘The Scottish FA Performance Schools’. It was one of the first of its kind in Europe and saw seven schools set up nationally for players aged 12, who were given a four-year coaching commitment.
I was appointed as lead coach for the school based in Edinburgh. After a couple of seasons, I decided to try my hand in England, which brought about my current role, at Barnsley. I have the responsibility of leading the Academy coaching and playing programme for the U9 to U23 teams. Additionally, I play a leading role in developing all the full and part-time coaching staff members.
2. What is your coaching philosophy?
I don’t have a set coaching philosophy. I think coaching has to be well planned, adaptable to the environment and offer the right level of challenge in line with the players capabilities. You create a culture that staff and players love being part of.
If the coach puts energy, enthusiasm and planning into their session delivery and has defined goals, then players will respond attentively and offer their maximum focus and work rate. I want any teams I coach to maximise their in-possession time and this means high work-rate and ball pressure to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
3. Why is the Academy so important at Barnsley?
We are a club that relies on complimenting first-team squads with young players. Hopefully these come from homegrown Academy players and it is our job to help sustain this.
Barnsley as a town is very supportive of its football club and most of our Academy players live in and around the town. I believe fans love nothing more than witnessing one of their local players make the transition to the first team. It gives them something to really be supportive of.
Our club first-team model is to produce or sign young players and develop them. This model offers our Academy players and staff a good deal of motivation as we know we can all help pull together to support players in their development and there is then a good chance they may be given an opportunity at a young age to work with the first-team squad.
Our success cannot solely be measured by players progressing to the first team from the Academy though. The goals of myself and the staff also have to be to support the human development of a young person. We have to help support and guide them to ensure they all develop on a human level.
Obviously our first-team goals are to be successful and play in as high a league as a club our size realistically can.
4. Who is the best coach you've worked with and why?
This is hard, as I’ve learned from every coach I have played under and worked with in a coaching capacity. Not all these experiences have been fruitful, but seeing poor practice or working with a coach who only has one style can teach you about how you don’t want to coach.
In terms of tactical depth, my father, Alex (pictured), has been the most influential for me, as he had a fantastic coaching career and would often watch games with me and discuss the pros and cons of a particular formation.
I worked with Scotland U17 national team for a couple of seasons, whilst I was at the Scottish FA, and Scot Gemmill was the lead coach. He was excellent at having a close handle on the players' club performances, which enabled him to pick the players not everyone else would have.
Some of the young players were not playing at as high a level as those omitted, but Scot’s record in qualifying for three U17 Uefa European Championship Finals was unique and taught me the importance of basing your squad selection on your observations, without being influenced by what level a player was competing at for his club.
5. How did you successfully transition to a new organisation?
I have always been driven to develop myself first and foremost and believe that is why I am so passionate about helping others develop. I graduated earlier this year with a Master of Sport Directorship (MSd) from Manchester Metropolitan University.
This course was the first of its kind when it launched and I was in the third cohort. I am proud to say I am one of only 70 people worldwide with this bespoke Masters degree. I want to transition in the future into a leadership role in a club as a Sporting Director and believe this course has provided new and appropriate learning to help best place me for this.
In terms of the transition to my present role, I had played in Sweden and coached in Japan, so moving to my current role in England wasn’t daunting. Of course I had to make sure the move was right for my personal development and my family, but I was careful in identifying that the people and club would offer the right blend of support and challenge to help me develop.
Planning short and mid-range goals for any role transition can offer you structure and clear areas to focus your efforts on. Often in a new role there is so much to learn and you can get pulled between a lot of people who want some of your time, so this goal-setting really helps.
6. What has been your most important accomplishment as a coach?
I have never believed I have been responsible for any young person going on to become a professional footballer, I have merely helped facilitate their development.
I am always proud when a player I have coached for a short or long period makes the first milestone of securing a pro contract though - and ecstatic for them when they make their competitive first-team debut.
We all start our participation in this beautiful game as a young person with a dream and when I see players I’ve coached fulfil that dream, it makes me very happy.
7. You have completed the Uefa Pro Licence - what did you learn?
I was really proud to achieve my Pro Licence in 2012. At the time, I was one of the youngest coaches in Scotland to obtain it. I wanted to broaden my learning beyond European football, so I actually did my Study Visit to the MLS, at DC United.
The league interested me because of its rapid growth, the somewhat level playing field you get with a salary cap and the commitment to support young player development with the ‘Generation Adidas’ contracts to support young homegrown talent in the first-team environment.
The course offered me the chance to learn more about the leadership side of coaching, because a lot of the content and guest speakers offered insight into this. What had worked for them at one club had not necessarily gone so well at another, so I learned that you have to be flexible and can’t necessarily apply the same methods or approaches at each club.
However, what I also realised was that you must always apply the values you believe in to truly put your own personal touch on coaching.
8. Tell us more about the Premier League Elite Head of Coaching (EHOC) course - what are your expectations?
The Premier League has really got behind the development of the Academy system since EPPP was launched in 2012. I joined their EHOC programme 18 months ago and it has offered me further development in mentoring staff and delivering feedback in a way that ensures they have absolute clarity.
One recent workshop centred around learning to act as a number two in an organisation. Head of Coaching is seen as the second-most senior figure in the Academy. How I establish the right blend of challenge and support with the Academy Manager is crucial in developing a strong working relationship.
Every few months I attend a session with 20 other Heads of Coaching and hear how they approach things and establish specific working practices in their clubs. This is an invaluable source of information and helps inform me when I propose alterations to existing working practices at Barnsley's Academy.
9. Any advice for up-and-coming coaches?
Be yourself. Don’t try and copy some of the styles of the world’s best as, more often than not, they are dealing with professional players and ones who are among the world’s elite. That is unlikely to represent the environment you are coaching in.
For sure, learn aspects from them and other more experienced coaches, but establish your own way of coaching.
I also believe that too many coaches are taking the approach, 'I have an A licence, so I don't need to develop any more'.
For me, the A Licence is another meaningful element of you as a coach, but it doesn't make you the complete coach.
Pitch delivery is the best teacher of the game. It lets you affirm what areas work best if the session is based on physical outputs, for example. It lets you establish what overloads stress the players' tactical discipline and, most importantly, it gives you valuable experience for developing your understanding of the game.
10. What’s next?
I want to continue to drive our culture at Barnsley Academy. We support players and staff in their learning and everything we do is driven by what is best for the development of the young people we are working with.
I hope that with this approach - and the continued support from the first-team manager and club hierarchy - we can continue to let our U18 and U23 players have the opportunity to train regularly with the first team. Then, when they move to playing with the first team, they are at the standard that will enable them to succeed in that environment.
I don’t put a timeframe on things, but I would like to experience the Sporting Director position in the future and make the most of the rounded development I’ve had in my life with attaining my master’s degree, Pro licence and also the business awareness gained from working in the corporate office of a large European bank.
You can read the full version of this interview by Alastair Sievewright HERE.