TGG Podcast #41 - Steven Reid: The person as well as the player
Written by Simon Austin — August 11, 2022
STEVEN REID played in the Premier League for Blackburn Rovers, West Brom and Burnley as well as winning 23 caps for the Republic of Ireland.
He started his coaching career with Reading and has gone on to have first-team roles with Crystal Palace, Scotland, West Brom and, most recently, Nottingham Forest. Last month the 41-year-old announced he was leaving newly-promoted Forest to become a confidence, wellbeing and leadership coach and revealed his own challenges with anxiety and mental health.
Reid was our guest on Episode #41 of the TGG Podcast and told us what his new role involves, why it's needed and gave insights into his playing and coaching career to date. You can listen via the player below and read an edited transcript after that.
WHY DID YOU LEAVE FOREST AND SET UP ON YOUR OWN?
Steven Reid: It’s probably quite an unusual step for someone with my coaching career so far to make this move, given that we had just been promoted to the Premier League. But it's what I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I felt this (confidence, wellbeing and leadership) was becoming more of a passion for me than the other side (coaching).
Three, four days after the play-off final I’m thinking, 'How can you walk away from another season in the Premier League?' But I went with my heart and this is hopefully a well-planned transition into something that might give me that little bit of purpose and fulfilment.
I’d been having chats with Steve Cooper about my plans going forward for most of this year. He’s a top guy - really emotionally intelligent, excellent at what he does and he completely gets it. My contract was up in the summer and I was just open and honest - that I think it could be time for me to step away.
It wasn’t just thrown on him and at the club end of season. I'd enjoyed my conversations with the senior players, like Grabs (Lewis Grabban) and those conversations - the bits on wellbeing, leadership and confidence - were the discussions I enjoyed the most.
The main focus (of his consultancy role) will be helping players to develop and achieve and hopefully manage their own thought processes and patterns, but my experiences over the last seven years show me this is an issue in the coaching world too. Staff in general are often the ones that are at the forefront of time spent at the training ground and dealing with the pressures elite football can pose.
Often it’s the staff and coaches who are struggling. They’ve taken on so much responsibility, often the pay isn’t great, often you’re worried about losing your job, the security, your family situation. Often it’s the staff that get overlooked.
On top of that it’s living away from home. We can’t move, because we don’t know whether we’re going to be around three months, six months or long term. You don’t want to disrupt your family if they’re settled in an area.
I got to a point where I thought, 'You know what, am I loving this enough to be sticking with it, living away from the family?' I was enjoying a different side of it that I could maybe see a path down.
Now I’ve done my opening counselling course with the PFA and am on an LMA mentorship course. There will be some work with organisations - the PFA, FA, Premier League - just to give my advice and thinking of what’s needed. A couple of big agencies have been in touch as well about potentially doing some work with their players.
I can also see me going into clubs and presenting what I’ve put together on my own experiences. If there are three or four players who might connect with the issues I’ve had and who want to delve into it a little bit more then that's great.
Also what I’ve found is that what I've said has made people feel it’s ok for them to be feeling the same. For some, that might be enough, to let them know they’re not alone in this and that they can achieve and get through it with the right support.
WHAT ISSUES DID YOU EXPERIENCE AS A PLAYER?
Probably my stand-out season was when we finished sixth in the Premier League with Blackburn. That was a difficult first 18 months at the club, with anxiety, imposter syndrome, beating myself up.
Then I scored that wonder goal against Wigan and the next season we went from strength to strength. We finished sixth and I started 33 league games and everything clicked.
Looking back, I didn’t enjoy the playing side anywhere near enough though. When I signed for West Brom after Blackburn it was almost survival mode for the last five years. In my own mind, I was going out onto the pitch to survive and to do a job, rather than thinking, 'Make a real impact in the game and enjoy it.'
I got to a point where I started to question the enjoyment and actual fun of the game. As kids, you get into it because you love it. For me, once it became professional and about results, appearances, pressure, expectations, that almost took away something in me, that love and enjoyment of the game.
AND WHAT ABOUT AS A COACH?
The imposter syndrome manifested itself into the coaching and was on an almost daily basis. Is my part of the session right? Is the area size right? Are the players going to have it? Is it right for the manager? Was the session good enough?
I’d beat myself up permanently, even if it was a 10-minute block of possession I was leading. It was perfectionism, but to an unhealthy level. When you’re doing that day after day from middle of June to the following May it can be a real tough season.
Steve Clarke is very methodical. When I’d go out and set his sessions up he’d come and move a cone two inches. We laugh about it now, but at the start the imposter syndrome kicks in. 'I’m useless, he’s not happy'.
By the end, with Scotland, I used to tell him to stay out of the way and go and have a cup of tea with (assistant) John Carver.
It seems to me that the majority of high achievers have a little bit of imposter syndrome and it can almost be a super strength, because it pushes you on and builds that resilience to go again and prove you are good enough.
It’s just when it gets to a level that it is affecting your mental health and you burn out that it becomes an issue. I used to feel when it was coming: all the anxiety and stress was building, I had a counsellor I would check in with, and a couple of trusted mentors, just to take me out of that bubble and give a different point of view.
At Palace I just needed to get out, I was burnt out (the club announced Reid was leaving "for personal reasons" in September 2018). I just couldn’t go in that pre-season because of how I was feeling emotionally.
It was a flight back from holiday and I had this overwhelming feeling of, 'I just can’t go back in.' I was low, riddled with anxiety, and thought, 'I have to step away from this.'
Roy Hodgson was great. He was fully supportive but surprised, because you almost become a master of putting on the mask and people weren’t aware of how I was feeling and what I was going through.
I did some real work on myself but a few months down the line it was almost, 'What am I going to do? Is this all I am?' And the phone goes and you’re back in. This time I’ve planned a little bit more, spoken to people, done more courses and now I feel it really is time to pursue this one.
IS TECH AND DATA TAKING THE PLACE OF RELATIONSHIPS?
I remember I did a conference in London and sat on a panel with Strudders (Tony Strudwick). There was a young practitioner in the audience and his question was, ‘What processes and systems do you put in place to check on a player’s wellbeing?’ And Strudders said, ‘I just ask him.’
It cut through. Nothing beats asking one of the players or staff, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’
Just getting that conversation and dialogue and building that relationship. It’s not just, 'iPad, click that, one to 10 score.' It’s looking someone in the eye. They’re the ways you build the relationship.
A big thing in the second half of my playing career was when Prozone came in and that was a massive part of our success under Mark Hughes at Blackburn. That was the start of it.
It's full-on now and we do need to be careful, because when you’re monitored constantly it can suck some of the enjoyment out of it, a bit of the fun of actually going to play football. Sometimes it’s about the feel, it’s not about the numbers. We need to go back to a bit more feel than just ticking boxes all the time, because it’s about having fun as well.
There's also the pressure of social media. At the beginning of my career you would play the game and that would be it. Now the top players can pick up their phones and it can be a 24-hour cycle of messages and communication.
You need to be a certain way to be able to deal with that, to deal with some of the abuse and comments they’re getting on a regular basis. You need to be able to switch off from the game, you need something else in your life.
As a coach you’re never completely switching off from it either. After a game we'd have a beer maybe with the opposition manager in his office, but within an hour we’re sending messages to each other - what does the session look like, onto Tuesday night's game, thinking about set plays.
You’re getting home and looking at the reports that the analyst has put on your laptop already. If it’s a defeat you’re questioning the process of the week. It’s non-stop.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD FIRST-TEAM COACH?
Some assistants will lead the tactical side, plan all the training sessions; some first-team coaches might be literally balls, bibs and cones. Myself and Alan Tate last season would often share the session and Steve (Cooper) would observe, have a couple of chats with players on the sideline, and as we got closer to the game he would take the tactical session.
What is crucial is that roles and responsibilities are clear from the outset. A lot of it you learn on the job, plugging little gaps and you develop the self awareness to recognise what mood a manager is in, whether to back off or give support.
If the manager is out there with the assistant, do you need to be out there as well? I never think it looks good when there are too many people on the touchline shouting orders.
When I got my first first team coach’s role at Reading with Steve Clarke I didn’t really know what I was doing. You can be the best player in the world or the best talker, but no-one can prepare you for delivering a meeting in front of 25 senior players or that first session, when you have to deliver with authority and knowledge.
If your sessions are poor and you’re not delivering the right information and you’re not organised, it can very quickly unravel. The badges, although it is a long process, are crucial in your knowledge of how practices flow, how to structure sessions and the leadership stuff.
It's also learning on the job, getting that experience, getting that practice in, having the right manner with the players, because there does come that point where you have to draw that line in the sand.
You have to be prepared to start at the bottom again, to get your practice in in the evenings, and work your way up. The pay is a problem, especially at Academy level and below. If you’re married and have kids it can be difficult. It can be a young man or young woman’s job.
I always say to players, 'Get your first job in coaching now.' Can you show that interest in training sessions? Can you ask good questions? Can you be a good person around the training ground? You can’t be a certain type of character as a player, in a negative way, and then expect to get a job as a coach.
Ultimately that’s how I got my first couple of coaching roles. Steve Clarke took me straight from playing into coaching at Reading that summer. Then it was straight in with Roy Hodgson at Palace.
I’ve also been lucky to work with top top operators. If it wasn’t those type of people I wouldn’t have gone into those type of roles. Steve Clarke, I had massive respect for him as a coach and person. I liked the way he worked and enjoyed his company.
Roy, I was 30 when he came in at West Brom and carried on learning and again enjoyed his company. He's a good person and I really wanted to work with him.
After Palace, a few months down the line, I went and helped my mate Simon Bassey at AFC Wimbledon and that was really refreshing, to see everyone mucking in, all the staff doing two or three jobs around the training ground, young players asking good questions and wanting work.
After that Chris Hughton rang and I've always got on great with him and respect him as a person and for his coaching career. For me, it has to be the right people I’m working with and feeling valued.