Interested in academy football, you’re going to enjoy this one. We had the pleasure of speaking to Lee Wood, Player Care Manager at Wigan Athletic Football Club…
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m Lee Wood and I am entering my 3rd Season with Wigan Athletic Football Club, my 2nd as Player Care Manager for the Academy and my 10th involved in Academy Football.
Previous to Wigan, I was at Bolton Wanderers Football Club, 5 Seasons as Head of Education and 2 Seasons previous to that involved in their International Academy. My current role involves being responsible for the Player Care provision for our Academy Players from Under 9’s all the way through to Under 21’s, with some crossover into the first team. Which also encompasses facilitating training for Staff and supporting our Parents who support their sons.
What do you do in your current role?
In my current role, I essentially manage the Player Care Team and the provision we deliver to our Players, Parents and Staff through a variety of bespoke and purposefully designed programmes that meet the needs of each of its cohorts.
Researching the current issues young player’s face, visiting Clubs and other sports to see what we can learn from them, before putting our ideas and plans on screen, with the aim of turning these plans into action through a variety of workshops that are informative, interactive and supportive.
Preparing our young people for life, supporting them through their various micro and macro transitions and guiding them through the various challenges they will face in Academy Football.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
‘Normal’ and ‘Average’ simply don’t exist in Academy Football, with fixtures, training and other football related commitments planned through the week for the various Age Groups and different Phases, plans don’t often come to fruition.
My week is split up into Phases, meaning I try to focus on those Age Groups on certain days of the week, but also still being adaptable to more pressing needs of certain Players at the same time.
With a number of meetings each week varying from Phase specific, to our Wellbeing Team Meeting and catch up for the Player Care Team, these will often dictate what tasks we will address during the week ahead. In addition, with our newly designed Programme for the 2023-2024 Season, we will be delivering or facilitating a number of Workshops with various Age Groups/Phases on any given day/evening of the week. With administrative duties carried out at home or during early mornings/late evenings, so that we can be a visible presence around the training ground, instigate informal conversations and maintain relationships.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
As early as I can remember, I always wanted to be involved in Football in some capacity, obviously, it is most young boys’ dreams to play at the highest level, but for most of us that isn’t possible.
Nevertheless, I have always had and continue to have a passion for all sports and had the vision to be involved in sport in some way shape or form. I am one of the lucky and fortunate few who get to do this as a job and get paid to do something that I love.
I have been extremely fortunate in being in the right place at the right time which has led to me holding the position I currently do. If you had told the 5-year-old me that I would be working within a Professional Football Club, getting paid to do so and wear the kit that a young person or long standing supporter would only dream of doing, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I suppose I find myself in my current role as a result of having a dream, a passion for what I do and open to the opportunities that have presented themselves.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
My number one focus has been and will always continue to be the Players, or more specifically, the Person behind the Player. They drive everything that we do here at the Academy and I do my best to see things through the lens of a Player, which is sometimes difficult considering I have never been one or been in their position at this level.
We seek their opinion at regular stages, both formally and informally, as well as encourage and embrace their opinion on what we do (is it any good, did it fit a purpose, could it have been better, what would they do differently etc).
I see myself as their unofficial spokesperson and mediator, part of their support network and go between when introducing them to external organisations to further their development, an honour and a privilege that will never be lost on me.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
As cliche as it sounds, I fail almost every single day in a number of things. We dare to be different and try new things, which can often fail, sometimes miserably. But then, isn’t that life, that’s courageous, sometimes where the innovation comes from and more often than not where the good stuff happens in our provision.
A big failure for me professionally last Season was allowing my passion to spill over at times, resulting in a chaotic and sometimes erratic provision.
Some may read this and think that makes for something unique and different, but what I took from that is that we needed to streamline what we do to have a clear and identifiable delivery model.
This was achieved by being open to feedback, which can be harsh and hard to hear at times, being reflective, being brutally honest with yourself and being okay that your way isn’t always the best way or the only way.
Players have to take that same harsh feedback at some point in their career, have to listen to the opinions of others and reflect internally in order to identify different approaches to achieve their goal, signing new registration forms/achieving a professional contract/making their debut.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
What excites me the most about the industry and how Player Care fits within it is the variety, the contrasting approaches and the new People who are joining Clubs up and down the country, bringing newer and fresher ideas for us all to learn from. Despite the rulings and guidelines that govern our respective Programmes, there is a high degree of freedom of what is currently being designed and delivered.
Which allows people like myself the opportunity to get their teeth into the area and not simply regurgitate what has gone before with maybe one or two changes or additions. The openness of every Player Care Officer, Manager or similar in sharing what they do, with pride, knowing what works at Man City, may well not be as effective at Mansfield, and vice versa.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
One thing that disappoints me and an area I would certainly change is funding and by that I don’t necessarily mean the salary for those in the Player Care role. But the funding made available to allow those in these roles to realise their plans by investing money in supporting our current Players and those who unfortunately leave us each Season.
Having to rely on pilot schemes, a set group of guest speakers through the main organisations in Football or contacts you have had to create and maintain yourself is restrictive.
When in reality you aspire to offer each Age Group/Phase an opportunity to travel abroad as part of a trip or tournament, be able to invite experts in their respective fields into your Club and be able to truly offer a bespoke and individualised aftercare Programme for those who’s journey comes to an end.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
It is seemingly impossible to switch off at times, anyone involved in Academy Football will tell you that, but it is also massively important to do so too. Practice self-care before Player Care is something I have targeted to do this Season and encourage to all Staff too.
It may seem impossible, but it can be easily achieved in small steps; getting away from the desk to talk with Players and Staff about life outside of Academy life, incorporating a daily walk into your day, choosing a different method of commuting to work, listening to music, having a relatively flexible work schedule and most of all having supportive colleagues.
To totally switch off from work, squeezing in a long weekend at key intervals throughout the Season is something I stick to, turning off technology during the day time when at home often works a treat too.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
In terms of advice, you have got to love it! The seasons are long, the days roll into one, you can often work long days without much to show for it and there will be days you’ll question yourself. But if you love it, all of those things pale into significance and you quickly remember why you do what you do. Don’t pursue a role in sport for the status, the kudos, the appearance, the money or social media updates.
Those will quickly erode away in time and what else will you be leftwith. Ultimately, if you can go home most days knowing you have contributed and made a difference to someone’s life, you’re content with what you have achieved, what is not to like.
What other roles in the world would you get to form lifelong relationships with people and their families, where you can look back and confidently say you have played some small part in their journey.
How to connect with Lee Wood…
You can connect with me on LinkedIn!
I love a plug, for any Academy Graduate, feel free to follow our Alumni Group, which shares unique opportunities they may not necessarily be aware of that can lead them back into Football, establish a dual career or provide them with the building blocks of an alternative one.
BluesBrothers4Life – https://www.instagram.com/bluesbrothers4life/
Aside from my work with our Players at Wigan Athletic, I also have my own Podcast that covers all things Academy Football related. So whether you’re an Academy Player now, have ambitions to be someday soon or have been in the past, a Parent of an Academy Player or a member of Staff working with these individuals, give our episodes a listen.
Interviews from the Locker – https://open.spotify.com/show/4I050tcMiJOl81Cdc77KOa
People can also find out more about the Podcast on various social media platforms;