Today we are talking to Jack Pitchford.
SYACL: We started by asking him to tell us a little about himself; including anything that might surprise some people, and what he is doing now.
JP: I’m currently working at an SEN school in Rotherham where I have been since I left RUCST in 2018. It’s an amazing school which puts the kids first; and also helps in building relationships with young people who haven’t had a fair start at life, which is very rewarding.
SYACL: How long have you been involved with football in general (RUCST included) and with Disability football in particular?
JP: I’ve always been involved in football from as young as I can remember, my brother and I spent hours of our childhood kicking a ball on our local park with our mates. As a kid I played in goal for my local Sunday league team, however due to my hearing loss I was eligible to play disability football in the Junior Disability League. From the age of 11 I went to Steve Adam’s session every Sunday afternoon (usually running off the pitch to my dad’s car straight after my Sunday league game to get to training on time) where Steve and his amazing team Dawn Wood, Russ Ingram and Gibbo made me enjoy football and opened many doors for me in the sport. When I turned 16 I played a season for the Derek Dooley team who were in the top league of the Ability Counts League and we had a very strong, young group who loved playing for Steve and Dawn.
Steve Adams made me love coaching; seeing how much he enjoyed it, and how much he made me enjoy his sessions. It inspired me to do the same when I was in my last few years of Comp. During year 11 I decided I wanted to become a football coach so I applied to be an apprentice at RUCST where I gained my level 2 qualification in coaching football when I was 17 and had my first experience of working in SEN schools.
One week I was asked by a coach at RUCST to help out at their disability football session at Wickersley School on the Saturday morning. I started coaching the younger players, but I remember feeling very annoyed that we only had 5 or 6 players there. This gave me the drive to improve the amount of kids we had accessing our session in Rotherham as I wanted to set up a specific pathway from under 12’s to under 16s and adults football at RUCST.
After a few years at Rotherham we had successfully grown the club, having two under 12 teams, an under 16s team and two adults teams playing in the SYACL.
I was also very fortunate to meet Claire Hobson during my time at Rotherham, we’d met during her days at Oaks Days Centre and she got in touch about setting up a football team at Social Eyes. We worked with Sam Firth at SHCFA where we managed to secure some funding for me to coach the team for 6 weeks and prepare them for their first ever season at SYACL. Again, one of the many rewarding times of being involved in disability football.
SYCAL: How long have you been involved in coaching?
JP: I first started when I was about 15, I went and volunteered at RUCST’s summer holiday camps, just to gain experience and see what it was all about. I then started coaching an U8’s team called Valley Juniors with a coach called Scott, as I needed experience whilst taking my level 2 qualification, so Scott said he’d like someone to help him out at training. Fortunately I’m still involved with this team who are now under 13’s and playing some beautiful football in the A division. I also had a great experience coaching in California for three months in 2017.
SYACL: What are the major differences to coaching disability footballers, and are there any special techniques or routines that you use?
JP: I don’t think there are many major differences apart from understanding everyone’s needs. My main aim for the ability counts teams that I coached was that they enjoyed training on a Saturday morning, as competitive as they were, I wanted them to grow as individuals who were confident playing and had a smile on their face.
A lot of the kids who started coming had no other team to go to simply because they had different needs, so it was building a team from individuals who were low in confidence, had never played before and just wanted to feel part of something.
I think patience and understanding them is key, giving them time to collect their thoughts and making sure everyone is included no matter their ability.
SYACL: What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming involved in disability football?
JP: I’d tell them to get involved or they will regret it! It opens your eyes and you see the world in a different way. The sense of belonging and seeing the pride in their faces when they turn up to training every week in their kit is the most rewarding thing you can see. Even to this day, some of the kids who I used to coach are still close friends and to see them and their families outside of football together makes everything worthwhile.
SYACL: What are your own ambitions in the years ahead.
I’m currently studying a degree at the Open University alongside my work, as my aspirations are to become a teacher in the future at an SEN school.