Anglický trenér pražské Slavie se rozpovídal o trenérské cestě kolem světa
Jonathan “Jiffy” Davies. Rodák z anglického Stoke-on-Trent. Kombinaci červené a bílé má v srdci zarytou od malička. Velký fanoušek anglického Stoke, pražských Raptorů a Slavie. U posledních dvou zmíněných dokonce působí jako hlavní trenér. v Prague Raptors FC působí jako hlavní trenér A-týmu, ve Slavie byl čerstvě jmenován hlavním trenérem kategorie U12.
Stal se tak historicky prvním zahraničním trenérem slávistické mládeže, pomineme-li trenéry ze Slovenska. O trénování na Slavii, fungování pražského celku, o Prague Raptors, o své životní cestě, která byla opravdu rozmanitá a o mnohem dalším jsem měl tu čest si s Jonem popovídat.
Protože byl rozhovor veden v angličtině, přinášíme ho ve dvou verzích. Pokud si chcete procvičit cizí jazyk, níže naleznete originál. V galerii Vám přinášíme přeloženou verzi, obohacenou o tréninkové fotky jak ze Slavie, tak z pražských Raptorů.
Jon, first of all, thanks for making the time.
I often find that these interviews are a great way to reflect so I must first thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Please walk us through your life path.
As for my journey, it actually began in teaching. I graduated as a History teacher at Cardiff University in 2010. I found it hard to find work in the UK (I was only 23 and had no teaching experience) after graduating and I remember that a school in China contacted me and offered me an English teaching position.
Was it a tough choice?
I had always wanted to travel and money was running low (I didn’t want to move back in with my parents!) so I took a risk and accepted the offer. Within a week, I was on a flight to a ‘small’ (10 million people!) city called Weihai on the east coast of China.
How long have you been there?
I lived and taught there for three years until I met a Taiwanese girl while traveling and decided to make the short trip over to live in Taiwan.
When did the idea of becoming a coach first occur? Was it planned, or did you just grab an opportunity?
As a British boy, I was football obsessed and as a kid I’d always wanted to be a football player but I never had the talent and my parents wanted me to go for a more stable profession (they are both teachers too!).
So what changed?
I visited South Africa for the World Cup for a week in 2010 before graduating and I was hooked. I went to watch Netherlands vs Denmark in Johannesburg and the colour, the occasion and the environment inspired me. I decided that I’d like to be a coach at a World Cup one day.
Tell us more about Taiwan.
When I moved to Taiwan, I visited an expat bar owned by a British guy in Taipei and I got talking to him late on my first night. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him that I wanted to be a football coach. He told me that one of his best friends owned the largest football academy on the island! Lucky right?!
Wow, that sounds almost unbelievable. So you went on a trial?
Exactly. I had a trial that weekend, it felt completely natural to me, I loved it and they offered me a part time contract. After one year of teaching and coaching, they offered a full time coaching contract and I gladly accepted.
How long were you a full time coach there?
I worked for 3 years as a full time coach and then I decided that if I wanted to reach my ambitions, I couldn’t stay. I had a great life, many friends and a stable relationship but I was 30 years old and I made the difficult decision to move back to Europe. I still remember crying in the departure lounge as I waited to board the flight out of Taipei but it was one of the best decisions of my life!
Was Czech Republic in your plans? Have you heard about Slavia Prague before?
I had heard great things from my friends about Prague as a city. I did some research online and it was one of my targets. I sent out some emails to various football academies around Europe and an English guy who owns an amateur football academy in Prague got back to me and eventually offered me some work.
I was obviously aware of Slavia Prague before coming to Czech Republic. They are a famous and historical club, with a proud history and they’ve earned respect around the world. I had actually noticed that the owner of the amateur academy had contacts at Slavia while I was doing my research but I had thought that maybe it would take me a few years to build to that level.
How did you get into Slavia?
It all happened much faster than I was expecting. I arrived in Prague a little late (October) and by that time the amateur academy couldn’t provide the hours necessary to coach full time. I asked the owner if he could reach out to his contact at Slavia. After a couple of emails, I was asked to come to the academy for an interview.
How’d it go?
Well, after the interview, I was invited to attend twice per week on a voluntary basis. I would teach at schools and work in restaurants and charity shops when I wasn’t at Slavia to pay my rent. After 6 months, I was offered a part time contract. Last season was my fourth season at Slavia and my first as a full time coach. This season I will be the head coach of the U12s. It’s been a crazy four years!!!
What categories did you went through, what was toughest/easiest/most(least) joyful?
When I started to volunteer at the academy, I worked with the U13s (2005) and they were exceptionally talented. We won a lot of games and tournaments. One of the great things about working with these players as a coach is that they are capable of anything. It gives you such freedom to explore how you coach and how the team and players play.
I have also coached U11 and U12 categories in my time at Slavia so far and all of the players and teams have been excellent, despite having different personalities and presenting different challenges. U11 players are fun because they are still kids. They laugh and joke and they find everything funny! However, their energy can mean that they are difficult to manage. You almost have to be a second father to them!
You have just recently become the head coach for the u12 squad at Slavia. Was it expected? How does it feel, to be the first foreign (SVK excluded) head coach at youth Slavia squad?
Quite frankly, it is an incredible feeling! It came about through unforeseen circumstances and it happened very quickly but I am so pleased that it did. It will be a huge challenge but it’s one that I’m very much looking forward to. When I arrived at Slavia, it was something that I had always wanted to achieve eventually but for it to happen now shows how brave and progressive the club is. It is a privilege to represent Slavia in this role and to show that foreign coaches can also have a positive impact on Czech academy football. Hopefully more Czech clubs will follow this example in the future.
Would you like to eventually proceed even higher at Slavia? What are your ambitions?
I am an ambitious person but I am also a realist. I try to keep my feet on the ground and I try to earn every progression and success that I experience in my career. For me, it’s about development. It’s about the development of players and of the club, it’s about my development as a coach and it’s also about my personal development. If I am learning and growing as a person and as a coach, I am having a positive impact on the club and on those that I coach and I am giving myself a chance to further my career. I hope that it’s at Slavia for now but football is unpredictable at the best of times so we will see what the future holds. For now, I am focused on enjoying the moment and on the season ahead.
I know, that when you’ve been at Slavia only partially, you tought some school lessons as well. Is that still ongoing?
Yes, I am still teaching English to my colleagues in the club. My heart is in coaching but I know that my teaching role is important. It’s helped me to get to know the people at the club and it’s also helped them to understand me and to improve their understanding of English. It can only benefit everyone and it should continue next season.
Have you ever thought about just giving up the job at Slavia? Why?
When I first started, it was extremely difficult. I remember my first day and how I felt inadequate and that I didn’t belong at that professional level. I saw the talent of the players and I thought, ‘how on Earth can I improve these guys?’ The language barrier also made it difficult but now things are easier. My understanding of Czech has improved and now I feel at home with people that I like and respect. I have learned to be comfortably uncomfortable and I relish the challenge. I am very fortunate to be where I am and I try to remember that when things get difficult.
How did you become part of the Prague raptors?
I remember that when I arrived in Prague, I searched for coaching work to supplement the other work that I was doing. I put my credentials on a Facebook group to ask for work and I was contacted by a British guy from Leeds, who was living in Prague. He recommended the academy that his son was attending and that was great but he also mentioned that he had an idea to create a new football club in Prague. I said that I’d be interested in helping out if it ever happened.
A month or two later, he contacted me again and told me that he wanted to start the project. We met with a few other lads in an irish pub and discussed how we would make it happen. After the meeting, I was returning home on the tram and I messaged him. After a brief exchange, he offered me the head coach position and I loved his vision for the club so I accepted. As a young coach, it was a unique opportunity to build a team from scratch. He gave me control of training and everything football related and he handled matters off the pitch. Not many coaches get that opportunity so I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Was there an intention from the very beginning to form three, potentially more, functioning teams? Or were you overflowed by the interest?
Initially we only planned for one men’s team in the first season and we wanted to build it slowly. But we got so much interest from women that we ended up creating a women’s team too. It was extraordinary how quickly it grew. We had 70 players for our first men’s trial and selected around 30 players from that. We ended up getting promoted from the 9th division in our first season which helped us to create a B team to accommodate all of the interest we were getting from players in Prague.
Now we have one men’s team with two teams entered in the 7th and 9th divisions and a strong women’s team who were almost promoted before Covid struck last year. We are really proud of how much we have achieved and how far we have come in such a short time period.
You were just recently promoted to the 7th tier. How far do you think you could get with the team you have / how far would you like to get on a global scale?
Yes, our men’s team had a 100% record when the season was stopped last year so the Czech FA decided to promote us again. That makes it 2 promotions in our first three seasons (one season was completely lost to Covid) and we feel that we are developing nicely.
One attractive aspect of our club for me is that we are hugely ambitious. We know that it won’t be easy, especially as we climb up through the leagues but we have dreams to reach the first division eventually. Some might laugh at this but we believe that the sky is the limit! We are now putting in place the infrastructure necessary to achieve those dreams but I am confident that the club can get there in the future.
You’re not the only foreign team by far, yet it seems there is still a big interest for players in becoming part of the club, despite being formed more than three years ago. Do you reckon you’re doing something better than the rest of the teams?
I think that we shouldn’t use the word ‘better’ in this case because it’s all subjective. We looked at what other clubs were doing and what they were offering and we wanted to go a different way.
We have a women’s team and an academy and with this we have created a family atmosphere. We have a strong sense of social responsibility and we work with charities to use football and our position in society to help people less fortunate.
On the pitch, we try to play a brave, progressive and attacking style of football. We don’t just want to win, we want to be expressive, win in style and win fairly. Our training sessions reflect that and I believe that our approach is professional and a little more serious than some teams around us.
The biggest topic for Raptors nowadays is without a doubt the Fenix Trophy. An international tournament. Could you explain a bit, what’s that all about?
The Fenix Trophy is a new project that was started by an Italian team Brera FC, often called Milan’s third club (after AC Milan and Inter). It is basically a Champions League style tournament for amateur teams around Europe. The message of the tournament is one of inclusivity and integrity and I think that it’s a great idea.
Clubs with an interesting objective and/or history were chosen from countries such as Germany, England, Poland, Spain and Netherlands and we were invited as the Czech representative for the inaugural tournament.
In our group we were drawn against teams from Rome, Hamburg and Valencia. We will play these three teams home and away and then the finals are held in Rimini Italy next May.
For everyone associated with the club, it’s a really exciting venture. We all watch the Champions League so to be able to experience at least a small version of that will be great. It’s also an opportunity for us to promote our club and to attract more interest from further afield as well as giving a platform to raise awareness for the charities and social projects that we support.
An excuse to visit Rome, Hamburg and Valencia is an added bonus for those that have worked hard to get the club to where it is!
Is there gonna be a time, where it’ll have to be either Slavia, or Raptors? Are you ready to make that decision?
I have already been asked this question many times (and it’s a good question!) but for me this is a decision that will be made in the future but not yet. My new role at Slavia next season will obviously consume more of my time but I am still hopeful that I can give my time to the Raptors too.
Being head coach of the Raptors takes a lot of time and energy but it’s an unpaid role and we are still an amateur club so for now it’s possible to do both. As they say, ‘we will cross that bridge when we come to it’ but for now Slavia is my job and I am able to manage both.
If you had to pinpoint pros and cons, one (or more) thing(s), that is (are) significantly better at Slavia than at Raptors and vice versa… Could you?
I don’t see it as being better or worse but each role poses different problems and challenges that I must solve.
Coaching in professional academy football is a privilege because I work with talented players who train four times per week. Hopefully many of them will go on to become professional players but for the Raptors players, we train twice per week and the priorities are different. They have their jobs, their families and their own lives. Football is usually an outlet for them. A way to express and to enjoy themselves.
With kids, management is fairly straightforward. They listen and there is an automatic respect because you are the coach. I have a lot of experience in academy football so it’s not difficult. However, when you coach adults, who have different experiences, are from different backgrounds/cultures, are of different ages etc. it is primarily about earning trust and respect first. They have to respect and trust you in order for them to listen to you and follow instructions. This is difficult because they have their own opinions and ego and changing that is not easy. You have to be smart in how you deliver your message!
Experiencing both types of coaching and management (academy and adult) has been invaluable to my development as a person and as a coach. If you can manage and gain success from both, I believe that you can achieve anything in football!
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