Chris Berry is a sport for development mastermind, long-serving Reading FC supporter and an enormous advocate for the grassroots game. This interview sees the Primary Stars Mentor share invaluable advice on how to excel your coaching career, ways to overcome the challenges progressing up the playing ladder and the benefits that transferable skills serve for a successful sports career.
Q1) Chris, it’s fantastic to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Could you share with the readers how your sports career began?
So my career in sport began whilst in the sixth form – a local coaching company offered myself and other A-level PE students the chance to complete our FA Level 1 qualification and then work at after school clubs in the area. I thoroughly enjoyed the qualification, my experience working in schools and delivering football helped shape my application to the University of Gloucestershire to study Sports Coaching. I then spent the next few years completing my degree, my FA Level 2 (as well as a broad array of other sporting qualifications) and gaining experience in a wide variety of settings within football and sports coaching. In 2016 I began working for the Community Trust, becoming full time later that year with the Primary Stars Programme and working within our Elite Centres in the evenings, which I continue to this day.
Q2) I understand you’re the club secretary at the Harchester Hawks FC while performing as the Primary Stars Mentor at the Reading FC Community Trust. How beneficial is it for your career to have two different perspectives at two unique organisations in the football industry?
I think it is vital for anybody to appreciate, experience and understand different perspectives and football is no different. Initially, my role at Harchester was to provide playing opportunities with a few friends, but it was a gateway for me to understand the local grassroots men’s game. My experiences with the Thames Valley Premier League as part of their Management Committee gave me an insight into the different issues faced by many clubs. I also learnt about the local FA’s (Berks and Bucks FA) role in developing local football as well as forging useful contacts.
In community sport, many different aspects create success. Therefore, having an appreciation of the various settings and the challenges community sport brings is vital.
Q3) You’re certainly no newbie to sports coaching, on that note, seeing how your career has progressed at the Trust, what were the fundamental factors to advance your career to where it is today?
I think a willingness and openness to get involved in a large variety of settings can only be a benefit. The lessons that you can learn from one environment can usually be applied elsewhere, so the fact that I have worked in so many different settings with such an array of people is invaluable. I have worked with children in nurseries, through to old age pensioners with Age UK and I have worked with voluntary grassroots clubs and individuals and global organisations such as the Premier League. You learn different lessons which help you develop.
I also think that it is essential to continue the learning process and gain further qualifications. Some people argue that ‘Badge Collecting’ doesn’t make you a better coach, and I agree to a certain extent. Merely completing a qualification doesn’t make you better, but using that learning to continually reflect on and reflect my practice has made me a much better coach. I would also recommend current and aspiring coaches to broaden their skills in several sports in a similar vein. I want to focus and work within football, but lessons can be learned and skills transferred from the other sports I have qualifications in and experience.
Q4) How does it feel working at a football club’s charitable arm and how vital is the Trust’s foundation towards Reading FC?
I am a lifelong Reading FC fan, a fourth-generation supporter and have lived in Reading my entire life (bar 3 years at University). To work for my club and help contribute to my home town community is a source of great pride. The football club has had a difficult period in the last decade, with financial worries off the pitch and performance issues on the pitch, but the Community Trust has continued to grow. I really believe that we have a hugely positive influence in hundreds, probably thousands of peoples lives across all of our programmes. Having a strong community can only help support the football itself, and hopefully, create some more families of clubs supporters for as long as my family have!
Q5) I know too well the Trust are the backbone of making life-changing impacts through sport in multiple communities. However, what further support do you believe the Trust can benefit from to continue developing communities through football?
I believe that we are already branched out and are continuing to extend our reach in the area across our programmes and this is something we will continue to do. The COVID situation has clearly created enormous challenges for ourselves, our partners, the people of Reading, and the country. One positive to come out of this pandemic in my experience is people’s ability to come together and support one another. This is something that we need to continue when life returns to normal. The Trust is always looking to develop new and existing partnerships, and so finding new ways that this can happen will be a priority.
Q6) What have been some of the toughest challenges you’ve faced throughout your sports career? Plus, how have these adversities supported your sports career development?
One frustration I have is that within many different settings, whether working with schools, elite footballers or even other coaches, is the short-termism. Everyone wants to either solve a short term issue with a short term solution – for example, get someone into a school for a single term, rather than look at PE in the long term. Players and coaches want to play/coach at the highest level. Parents are so desperate to move their children through from development centres to academies very quickly. Instead, they should let them develop at their own pace, enjoy the game, enjoy other sports, let them make friends and they will move up when they are ready! Same with coaches – Take your time, learn your craft, gain experience and don’t look down on those who work aren’t as ‘Elite’ as you! This perspective is something I come across a lot, and it remains tough to challenge organisations and individuals, but I am transparent in my philosophies and beliefs.
Another challenge that I think most coaches will face as their career develops is how much you actually coach. I have found myself ‘coaching’ a lot less in the past few years, with extra administration duties and doing more mentoring and educating other practitioners. The challenge is to embrace the opportunities you do have to coach and cherish them, put your all into every session and really enjoy it! This mindset has helped me get the best out of myself in all the areas I work in as really I see all the ‘coaching’ hours as fun rather than work.
Q7) Chris, reflecting on this discussion and your career, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting a career in sport?
I’m going to sound like a broken record here – I really cannot stress enough how important I believe getting a broad range of experiences is. Work with every age you can and learn from every participant, practitioner and environment. Even if you want to go into non-league football working in the PDP/Adult phase, there are lessons to learn from working with u5’s. Working with people with disabilities or additional needs will challenge you, but the rewards and the impact it can have on your practice are massive. Coach in another country, the different languages and different perspectives will be invaluable. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and challenging yourself!
Wow, it was an honour speaking with Chris. There are so many insights to take away from this chat, not only does taking your time work when coaching or playing football; it’s an essential lesson for pursuing any sports industry career path. The industry is based on patience, hard work and consistency. That’s how the best opportunities come across, and Chris has proven that.