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Dave Kitson On Reading, Stoke City And The Joy Of Running An Academy

Dave Kitson On Reading, Stoke City And The Joy Of Running An Academy

An interview with Dave Kitson, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

Since retiring from playing, you have set up your own football academy – and an innovative online coaching and mentoring programme for aspiring footballers and sportspeople around the world. Can you tell me more about that?

“There are so many ways to coach and while getting out onto the pitch is obviously the most common way to work on specific sessions and drills, I believe that there are a huge amount of possibilities to improve players. After each session, we provide an updated coaching report specifically tailored to each player.

“We’re setting up an online area where videos will demonstrate coaching drills and patterns of play and player movements, all the intricacies of the game in one place and specific to each player we coach.

“It is my core belief that elite coaching should be made available to anybody that wants it and that while a finite number of players go on to have professional playing careers, there is now an explosion of opportunities to work in football from research and data analytics in recruitment and even running the game at board level.

“We want to encourage players to pursue careers in football and elite coaching can help anybody to understand what they will end up working with if they move into a career in the professional game.”

Your journey to the top flight of English football was unique as you went from playing pub league football with friends to non-league to Cambridge United before joining Reading. What are your standout memories from your formative years in football?

“I think the thing to say about that is that with each step up I was ready. I would play and become comfortable, then I’d step up and repeat the process again.

“That method carried me all the way to the Premier League. I didn’t come through the academy system, so I had to work the game out largely on my own. But I lived and breathed the game, in fact, my earliest memories are of playing with a red spotty ball in the family living room.

“I have lots of memories of my professional career, good and bad, but it’s not about me. What I would say to any young player out there, is don’t be phased, be confident and work hard on the things you are already good at.

“I strongly believe that practising weaknesses will only get you so far. It’s much better to be better than everybody else at one or two things, that’s enough to carry you a long, long way.”

You joined Reading in 2003 and you were the club’s top scorer as they broke the record for most points in a Championship promotion-winning campaign under Steve Coppell. What was the key to that level of success under Steve? 

“Two things. Round pegs in round holes and having a squad that was largely similar in age and hungry to succeed.  I’d also go so far as to say it was relatively underpaid compared to the teams we were playing against – that turned out to be a tremendous motivator for a few players.

“If you look at the structure of the club back then we had everybody in the right place, talented people. The Chairman, CEO, Director of Football, Chief Scout, manager, assistant manager, coaches, and even the players – two for every position.

“Everybody was a specialist in their position, very, very rarely would we have to play a player out of position. Off the pitch the team worked closely together, they understood their roles and were trusted to carry them out.”

Your team followed up that remarkable promotion-winning campaign with an 8th-place finish in your first Premier League campaign. Does that achievement mean even more as time goes on?

“It didn’t mean anything to me. Winning has been drilled into me ever since I can remember, but with,in that there are levels of success.

“I understand Reading were not ever going to win the Premier League that year, but we were certainly good enough to qualify for Europe (we missed out on the last day of the season).

“It might be too strong to call it a failure, but it was definitely a missed opportunity. European football would have been a success for Reading. As it is, 8 is just a number.

“Eighth remains the highest position the club has ever finished in English football, but if that is still the case when I’m preparing to shuffle off this planet I’ll be livid.”

You also played in the Premier League with Stoke City. How did your time there compare with Reading from a personal perspective?

“I think I see that time as a wasted two years in terms of my football education, although I did learn how to defend for 90 minutes.

“I met some fantastic people there; it was an incredibly friendly place with genuine warm-hearted people working at the club. But the football was painful, a complete culture shock compared to the expansive style we played at Reading.

“I remember taking a bag of balls out before training to practice my finishing, something that being a striker I’ve done my whole career, before I even got the bag open the coach came running out and told me I wasn’t allowed to.

“I have never been at a club where practising finishing is banned. I was never told the reason why, just that it wasn’t allowed. Bizarre.”

Given your experiences within football, what advice would you give to a young player trying to make the grade as a professional?

“You must immerse yourself in the game. There are many ways to watch football.

“The way it was explained to me by a fantastic Dutch coach is that you have your casual fan perhaps watching the game in 2D, only interested in their team scoring and enjoying the atmosphere, which is fine.

“Then you have people watching the game in 3D where they’re a little more interested in the formations and shape.  Then it goes into 4D and 4DHD and ultimately Pep Guardiola who’s watching the game in 8K ULTRA HD, sees everything, misses nothing, understands every part of it and ultimately changes the fundamentals of the game based on what he sees.

“I tell every young player to try to watch the game in these terms. Start at 3D and go from there, see if you can identify patterns, every attack provokes a defensive reaction, try to educate yourself, and understand what is going on in front of you, it will help hugely when you’re on the pitch.

“Then, start forming your own ideas about the game, ask questions, why this sub, why that formation, why that set piece, why that run?

“That’s what we help with at The Dave Kitson Academy. We help you to understand the game in a whole new way and we expose the players to facets of the game that just simply aren’t available to them outside of the professional game.”

If you are interested in booking Dave Kitson for online coaching or one of his online talks, visit http://www.davekitsonacademy.com and get in touch via the contact form on the website. Alternatively, you can contact Dave by email: info@davekitsonacademy.com