Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hello I’m Tom Williams and I’m originally from Wales, but I’ve spent most of my career away from home. I’ve worked in football for over ten years with senior teams and in the academy setting. My career aspiration initially was to become a coach. After finishing playing there where not many roles within football, so it was between taking a medical or a technical pathway. I chose the technical pathway, completing my UEFA coaching licences and then began coaching part time at academy teams at Derby County FC, Nottingham Forest FC and Derbyshire girls Centre of Excellence, all whilst completing my undergraduate degree in sport science at Loughborough University. This gave me (more insight into the developing roles within the performance sector. From this moment, my mind was made up, that with my playing and coaching background, there was an interesting role to be involved in the fitness and performance side of football.
As many young aspiring coaches do, I bombarded mailboxes and sent letters to every football club I could get an email, personal contact or a training ground address too. Whilst looking for contacts, I saw that the Sport Scientist at Mansfield Town FC club had left. I called the club and they asked to me to send my CV. Within an hour I had a call from the Manager, David Holdsworth who offered me a part time position with the first team in the National League as Fitness and Assistant Coach. I worked at Mansfield for one season and during a coaching course with the Football Association of Wales, I met Garry Speed, who was at the time newly appointed as First Team Coach at Sheffield United. He mentioned that the club were looking to hire various positions within the first team and the academy in the Sport Science department. From here I was introduced to the Performance Director, Dean Riddle who had a vision of creating a unique performance department. I was hired as Return to Play Coach with the first team and my main role was to bridge the gap between medical and performance and control the early to late stage RTP progressions. I had four great years at Sheffield United, making some great friends along the way.
Following Sheffield United I was offered an opportunity to join Leicester City and work with a really good friend of mine Kevin Paxton (Head of Academy Performance) to oversee all the strength and conditioning for the academy players. It was a great opportunity to join a forward-thinking staff where performance was valued highly within the organization. Being involved at Leicester City FC for the promotion season, and the title winning season was an exciting part of my career, along with now seeing many academy players playing regularly in the first team, is a joy to behold.
I always had aspirations of experiencing football culture overseas and following three amazing seasons at Leicester City, an opportunity arose to join MLS side Toronto FC (TFC) as Head of Strength and Conditioning and Sport Science. My role at TFC was very much similar to my role when I first began my career, as what was then the “fitness coach”, where I would plan, deliver and monitor all aspects of performance from warm-ups, speed and conditioning sessions, strength and power and all player monitoring and tracking. During my time in Toronto, the club had a successful few years, playing in three of the past four MLS cup finals, winning one of them in 2017 where the club was the first in MLS history to achieve a domestic treble, winning MLS Cup, Supporters Shield (League Title) and the Voyagers Cup (League Cup). I spent five and a half years at the club before moving to my current role as Head of Sport Science and Research at LA Galaxy.
What do you do in your current role?
My role at LA Galaxy is most definitely a hybrid role combining all aspects of performance and doesn’t pigeonhole me into being a S&C Coach or Sport Scientist in isolation. I’m a coach first and foremost and my passion is working with the players and making tangible gains in their durability and career longevity. I combine my coaching role with analyzing data and using it as a guidebook to help inform my decisions and communicate relevant information to the key stakeholders.
What does it look like to work in the MLS?
The MLS is a very unique league and holds many challenges due to the vast size of North America. The climate changes and travel durations are extremely grueling and taxing on the players and staff. A regular away game may include a 6-hour flight with a 3-hour time difference, whilst playing in either 40-degree heat or at 1500m of altitude. Therefore, planning a schedule that looks at the bigger picture of selecting specific flights paths, and when to leave and arrive at destinations is a key for success in MLS.
It is a difficult league to really gain a lot of training rhythm, where in many months of the year fixture congestion takes over much of the training phases. Similarly, to my time in the English Football League the game schedule is grueling however, the travel and climate is much more stable in the UK, that’s why we have to make the most of our pre-season time to develop athleticism and push players to achieve more when and wherever possible to sustain the game demands. The blessing is that in LA, the climate and environment is very stable, and we can make a lot of gains in training both during the off season and pre-season.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
It’s a tough question to answer as to how I ended up where I am now. I like to think that I am a trustworthy, hard-working and passionate coach who is always looking for new questions and better answers. My main targets are to stay humble and remain grateful for every opportunity I have, as this for me is the best job I the world!
I knew I wanted to be in sport from a very young age, I have a highly competitive trait, so when the team wins it feels like a win for me too. I celebrate every goal scored and it still really hurts when the team loses a game, I don’t think I will ever lose my passion for football. I feel that roles within a performance department continue to develop and organizations now value performance staff skill sets far more than they did years ago. I now see staffs of around 5-7 people strong in many teams across the world, whereas when I started, you were lucky to have 1 or 2. It’s great to see that, and it makes me happy that more people are getting a chance to make the industry a better place and bring new research and ideas to an applied setting.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
There is always a lot to be excited for, this is an ever-changing landscape, and we have to move with the times. I feel that the technological developments have been a huge factor in bridging the gap between applied research and innovation. However, for me, I like to do the basics right, and even though that sounds very cliché, it’s the truth. We can get bogged down with wanting more and more tech and research and we call that innovation. In my opinion, it’s about the person in front of you, build trust and let them know that when we go to battle you have their back no matter what. If we start there, and build trust, the education of athletic development and lifestyle becomes the innovation.
I guarantee that you will learn more by getting an espresso with one of your athletes than you would reading about how to create a winning culture. I’m excited about people getting their hands dirty again and rising from the desk and looking an athlete in the eye and teaching them something.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work? In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
My number one focus is the person in front of me and I aim to give them my full attention. I’m interested in the individual, so I listen and ask questions, to find out who they are, where they are from and what they want to be. MLS is unique with people coming from all over the world, some don’t speak any English, or have never been in a weight room. Therefore, the program must be individual, not only for athletic development but from a personal care and compassion standpoint. It’s important for me to know if they are in a relationship, do they have children, where did they grow up, what do they like to do on off days. All of these details come together when you show compassion and gratitude and are key building blocks in creating a legacy in an organization.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
One piece of advice I would give someone going into sports would be to do as much research in the market you are going into as possible, know teams, athletes, stadiums, people in management etc. If you begin here, you create a foundation and are credible. Once you have your foundation laid down, you must stand back, say YES and absorb what is going on around you. See the environment unfold, observe the surroundings and feelings that are going on during training and games and feel what a win or loss is like and what it means. There are all subtleties of the industry and getting a sense of these details is vital in my opinion.
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