Norwich City is committed to supporting its players both on and off the pitch to give them the best opportunities in football.
Canaries.co.uk recently caught up with the Club’s Professional Development Phase Player Care Manager, Clive Cook, who works with Norwich’s Under-23s and Under-18s to support their development as young men.
Here he speaks about his background working at Liverpool Football Club, what his day-to-day role entails and the challenges our Academy players face.
Thanks for chatting with us Clive, could you start off by telling us about your background and how you got the job here at Norwich City?
I previously worked at Liverpool Football Club as their education and welfare officer and then I went from there to work for the England FA with the women’s youth teams in a similar kind of role. I’m a qualified teacher and an accredited sports psychologist.
I came to work at Norwich through Stuart Webber. I knew him through Liverpool when he worked there as head of recruitment and we built a good working relationship and kept in touch. He asked me in the summer if I would be interested in a role and I knew I would enjoy it, so I agreed.
Could you talk to us about what your job involves?
My job is to look after the players as people to understand them emotionally, psychologically and socially. It’s then about developing those three key areas and linking in with all the support staff including the coaches to put a plan in place for each player that we all agree with.
If you summarise the role in player care it is looking after players off the pitch, but apart from just seeing how they are day-to-day mentally and their wellbeing, it’s about having an understanding of what they are doing in terms of their lifestyle. It’s then about implementing the appropriate lifestyle programme for them and also a personal development plan. The lifestyle programme would cover things like gambling awareness, sexual health, social media and financial planning.
I also do personal development with the players, so I do one-to-one reviews regularly to find out what is going on in their lives, their strengths and their development areas. I do apartment checks for the lads that are in apartments and I do checks in the rooms of the lads who live with house parents. It helps me get a good grasp of what kind of person they are and then support them through the appropriate support.
It’s also managing the players that come here on trial to make sure they are in the most appropriate accommodation or with the most appropriate host family. And managing the players during their exit from the Club too which is just as important as recruiting because we’ve got a duty of care whatever length of time the players have been with the Club. We look after them, make sure we explore their options with them and support them, because it’s a difficult time when you leave the Club.
Over the years, have you seen the demands on the players increase?
Yes, and I think social media has developed that, as whether they use it in the right way or not, the negative side of it can affect them. The demands don’t go away and in some aspects there is a negative perception of young footballers - people think they have got it easy and get paid loads of money and in reality it’s not that straight forward. It’s very demanding and young footballers are getting assessed every single day and having to show they are making progress.
It’s part of my role to make sure I understand their demands and help to support them and shape their future. We need tough players to get through because it’s a tough environment, but you can’t be tough on players going through a tough time. So I’ve got to make sure I understand the players completely because there might be underlying causes for poor performance and we need to give them more time and support for their development.
Norwich recently held a seminar for parents of the Academy players with a panel of industry experts and there was a lot of praise for the Club for talking about some pretty tricky issues, is this something you would like to see more of?
Yes absolutely. Player care is a big thing at the moment and it’s a new thing in football because I think people recognise that it has been neglected over the last 10 or 15 years. When I first started working in football, just the word psychology was a taboo subject because you are in a masculine environment. It’s that culture that the players won’t come to ask for help, they would just say ‘I’m ok’ even when they might not be. So, it’s down to me having that skill and understanding to ask them another question. It could take me 10 questions to get to the answer.
The seminar was really good and the key thing from that night for me was the honesty. The parents need to understand that when their sons come to Norwich City they are cared for as people. I work with the person, and if that person ends up being a better, more rounded, knowledgeable and skilled person which aids him in his development as a player then I have done my job. But if football turns out not to be for him, we still want him to leave with the feeling that he has developed holistically in his time here.
You said one of the things you have pushed for since joining is to tell the players early if they don’t have a future at the Club. Do they appreciate that honesty from you?
Yes definitely. The coaches know more or less at the start of the season whether they are going to be with us one year later and I believe it is really important that they get told honestly and early instead of brutally honest late. Brutally honest is us saying to a player in April ‘you haven’t got a contract next season’, but then they are devastated, and I can’t do my job because it usually takes the player two or three weeks to get over it and by then the season has ended and you’ve gone. But if we tell players their future lies elsewhere next season before we reach the end of the year, then those players are prepared mentally because the support is in place.
You must have to have some difficult conversations with people sometimes, is that challenging?
Through my experience and background in psychology, I’m quite good at picking up on behaviour queues and the words people use. I can quickly gauge if someone is telling the truth or not and sometimes you do have to challenge them and say ‘I don’t think you are telling the truth.’
The most challenging part of my job at the moment is getting to know the players. I have only been in six months and it usually takes about a year to really build those relationships with all of the players. Some players may be quite guarded or private or don’t feel they know me well enough, but eventually they will start to feel more comfortable. I’ve got to know about 85% of the players quite quickly, but there will always be some you can’t quite get to that place with straight away.
Can you talk me through some of the workshops and activities you have already organised for the players?
We have linked in with the Soul Church which is a fantastic organisation and every Friday they serve a community lunch for people who are going through a tough time, so we have taken the players down there. First of all, it’s just the right thing to do to help others and it takes the players out of the bubble of being a footballer. It also helps them develop core life skills. We had a player who said he couldn’t do it, he said he couldn’t go and collect the plates off tables and speak to people. But I told him he could do it and he would feel better after it, and just pushing him out of his comfort zone a little bit but helping him get through it is personal development. But also the more grateful we are, the more level-headed and humble we are, so those boys came away from there knowing they had done something of real value and helped others in need.
Then on matchdays with the mascots, two of the Under-23 players go in and they chaperone the mascots. They go straight into a mock press conference where the kids will ask them some questions which is really good for getting them used to this exposure and helps develop their communication/media skills. They also sign autographs so it’s a really good thing for our young fans. Players don’t ask to be role models but by the very nature of it they are, so we’ve got a duty to them.
All of these things help the lads develop core life skills like teamwork, leadership, problem solving social skills and communication skills – all things that we need as people to be successful. I’ve always worked on the philosophy that better people make better players. I’ve got 15 years’ experience in working with athletes at all different levels, and it’s really important to be humble and level-headed to be able to progress, because if you are not you can quickly lose focus.
It must be a really lovely part of your job when you start to see the benefits of all these programmes?
Yes, it’s great and especially for the players who needed more support and you’ve spent a lot of time with, it’s lovely to see them reap the rewards.