The name Tottenham Hotspur is largely unknown in the United States, but any true football (soccer) fan has likely heard of this English football club in the Premier League. Established over 100 years ago, Hotspur gained popularity in its early days but has recently drawn even more attention with its rising star, Harry Kane.
Head of coach and player development for the United Kingdom’s Tottenham Hotspur Football Club Academy, John McDermott has trained many of Hotspur’s players, including Kane, over his past 10 years at the academy. His talk “Teaching in an Elite Environment” at Pomona College this Tuesday, Mar. 22, attracted many students as well as young soccer players from the community. McDermott discussed his experience working with one of the most popular football clubs in England.
He started the talk by commenting on the environment of elite sports. Compared to the pure enjoyment and ease of watching world-class games, elite sports can actually be brutal workplaces. Many players fail, become injured, or quit—only those who are persistent and lucky succeed. He then emphasized the education side of football, specifically the academies, which help prepare generations of students and make sure the sport continues to thrive.
“Ultimately, the success is up to the students,” he said, “but we can get the environment right, and we have to care for everyone, not just the top players.”
The importance of education is obvious, yet rarely highlighted, according to many of the students in the audience.
“I think it was very interesting that the coach mentioned a lot about individual focus, which is something I am not really used to hearing,” Jose Ruiz PO ’16 said. “I am used to hearing head coaches already coaching in the Premier League or the top leagues in the world talking about players working as a team and how to perform the best. I think it is almost as important as having a good coach to have a good development team.”
The talk then shifted into other career options within the football industry—one of the main reasons students were drawn to the talk. “I wanted to see what a coach had to say about professional football, especially the development of young kids from 13 and upwards since I wasn’t able to follow the path that I wanted to,” Jesus Tapia PO ’19 said.
A graduate of the University of Liverpool with an economics degree, McDermott began his career as a community development officer before working his way up to become the manager of the academy.
Not many people would immediately draw a correlation between economics and football.
“I was interested in how he majored in economics but ended up being a coach. Sometimes it catches my attention because I wasn’t able to follow the footballer’s lifestyle. Maybe I can get myself involved with the world not necessarily by being a player, but like coach, development, and management,” Tapia said.
When discussing his career as the academy manager of Hotspur, McDermott did not merely list his experiences. Instead, he presented charts of various important people he had worked with and the influences they each had on his career, which audience members appreciated.
“I like how he mentioned his career path. It was based on his experiences and knowledge he gained from other coaches he worked with. He didn’t mention any stats or achievements; he mentioned exactly what the coach was teaching him and how he learned from and interacted with them,” Tapia said.
While the highly competitive environments of elite sports are widely understood, the intruding influence of money is a lesser discussed phenomenon. Even as a self-identified football purist, McDermott admitted to having to think more frequently about the business aspect of football recently. Wages, contracts, sponsorships, children being traded with price labels—McDermott said football developers constantly have to fight against those mercenary attitudes while balancing the club’s needs.
'Killing them with kindness' is the phrase he used to describe the influence of modern society on the development of young players. The reality that young players are exposed to is becoming more materialistic, and the stakes are higher than ever.