I decided to invite an entrepreneur who has gone through so much but has kept on fighting. For the second time, I invite Gerard onto YHP to share his stories and recent developments. Gérard talks about his latest startup, Premier Skills Yorkshire.
Hi Gérard, Long time. It’s great to have you back on YHP again. How are you doing today?
Yea I’m fine thanks, just been busy as always with coaching, university and business work, absolutely love it!
So tell me, what have you been up to since the last we spoke?
Mixture of things, last time we spoke my company Gerard School of Football was working in partnership with Arsenal FC running Arsenal Soccer Schools programmes in Yorkshire but my mum was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and as a result we winded up all our business operations and eventually closed the business after she died. I went a while just focusing on my Master’s degree which I study at Stirling University and basically trying to get myself back on my feet, which lead to creating my new business Premier Skills Yorkshire, among other things.
I run this company alongside coaching at Huddersfield University where I work with the Men’s Football Teams and Wakefield College where I coach the Women’s Football.
What is Premier Skills Yorkshire? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We’re a Coach Education and Player Development Company in a nutshell. The experience I learnt from my previous companies (GSF & Arsenal Soccer Schools) was that the coaching provision at grassroots level is relatively poor, with lots of volunteers with great enthusiasm but not always the right knowledge or values really needed to produce better players. School teachers, junior football managers and coaches throughout the country are using ‘traditional’ methods of coaching which don’t’ develop game-understanding and skill levels, and as a result many young players have been found to be without the basic levels of knowledge and skill needed to play the game.
In order to change this, John Cartwright former Arsenal first team coach and one of England’s most successful youth coaches, alongside Roger Wilkinson former New Zealand FA Technical Director, recognised a need to improve the quality of coaching provision available to children and young players which comes from offering a better ‘Coach Education’ and ‘Player Development’ learning opportunities.
As such, I met Roger at an LMA/PFCA clinic at West Brom Albion FC in early 2012 who was interested in my entrepreneurial background as well as my coaching experience to drive the business forward, so together we launched Premier Skills Yorkshire which covers the whole of Yorkshire delivering ‘innovative’ independent Football CPD coach education courses for both grassroots coaches and parents alongside running ‘Advanced Skills Centres’ for players aged 8-12 years old where they receive specialist coaching which they can use to become a better player and improve their local team.
We’re tackling the problem across two issues by providing better opportunities for players to learn and develop their skill and game-understanding and offering courses which teach coaches and parent’s how to coach and parents how to be a better parent. With this we’re improving the quality of coaching provision and developing better ‘modern’ and ‘innovative’ coaches and players.
In England there’s a massive gap in the development of coaches and players and we’re currently the market leader in independent coach education and player development, with Premier Skills working with a number of professional clubs and local grassroots teams.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
It’s always hard to market yourself with no budget, everything has to be done without spending any money, so we created interesting ways of marketing our services to clubs such as holding Seminars and Workshops too good old-fashioned ‘Word-of-Mouth’ which has seen us work with a number of coaches and players.
Our mission isn’t to make pots of money, it’s too "Develop excellent coaches that inspire and enthuse young players to love and enjoy football, learn and progress".
We are committed to developing the knowledge of coaches and players and will go leaps and bounds to help develop coaches with our expertise on higher levels.
How have you been able to fund it?
Everything has been entirely self-funded like most start-ups with no loans, just savings and earnings from projects.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
I was excited as I am still now, the business has been a huge success, we’ve worked with a number of local grassroots clubs in development both their volunteer coaches and parents to developing their players and it can only get bigger as we grow. Premier Skills in first month ran a course for coaches at Ossett Albion JFC and established a Development Centre for boys in Hull which is booming with talent, and have since grown the Centre to having more kids and have delivered a repeat course to more coaches at Ossett Albion JFC.
Last year Premier Skills ran a Coaching Seminar at Birmingham City FC Academy as part of the Academy CPD programme for all Academy staff using their U14s players as runners which John Cartwright delivered which received fantastic ratings.
From my own experience of going on FA coaching courses, the numbers I’ve had on my recent course I delivered were bigger than on the majority of FA courses I’ve been on in the past which speaks volumes!
How did you initially get traction?
I used my contacts and reputation from my Arsenal SS & GSF days to speak to parents and players who attended courses before to see if they’d be interested in coming back again with Premier Skills which they were, and again I used my experience to generate interest with a number of grassroots teams to run a CPD course which has since been repeated.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow the business?
Besides from putting in and still putting in a lot of sleepless nights of work in, ie staying up till early hours of the morning sending emails, designing material etc…just simply picking up the phone, contacting people and letting them know about what we do and building from there.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There’s been many highlights which I’m proud of, but I thinking starting my first company at 19 with no experience of running a company before was the best thing I’ve ever done as that single action has lead me onto every other amazing achievement I’ve done and had in my life and has introduced me to people that had I not started my own company, would never have met.
What should we be expecting from yourself and Premier Skills Yorkshire for 2013?
More courses for parents, coaches and players which will mean Premier Skills Yorkshire will become the biggest thing going for football in the region. It will take time but we’re launching more Skills Centres for players in other Counties and more and more clubs are coming on board with our ways of thinking so it certainly looks promising.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Have experience, knowledge and a passion for whatever it is you are wanting to do firstly, I didn’t just decide to go into football coaching, I have been involved in football as a player, student and a coach since childhood, always loved it and always wanted to have a career in football as a coach or a player, mainly a coach.
Don’t just say, I’m going to start a business in recruitment if you don’t know anything about recruitment, you’ve not worked in recruitment before etc
Secondly, do your homework and learn everything there is to learn about what it is you’re wanting to do, for me that meant going on courses, studying at university, meeting/discussing/observing other companies/clubs/people work, researching about all issues, new developments…the works, that way you can be sure that you’re up to date on everything that is going on in your field and can communicate this clearly to others, which tells them that you know your stuff!
Finally, never give up! Even today I will still get some idiots trying to put me down, ridicule me, belittle me, and basically make me think that I don’t know what I’m doing or I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, I’m not good enough, it work won’t etc THEY ARE WRONG!!! People will tell you that you can’t do something because they don’t believe they can, don’t let them, never give up on your dreams and everything you do, do it because you love it, it will help you become a better person and will help others improve as well
You can do anything if you believe you can, things will go wrong, money will dry up, problems will arise but as long as you see this as an opportunity to learn and grow, and basically just get on with it, you’ll keep moving forward!!!