UK Coaching Week: Jonathan Pugh

UK Coaching Week: Jonathan Pugh


UK Coaching Week is a chance for us to celebrate the coaches we work with who put their all into their coaching roles. They make sport accessible to all and make it possible and easy for everyone to be included in their chosen activity.

First up, we chatted with Jonathan Pugh about his experience of Blind Football. Jon is the Head Coach for the England Blind Football Team and gained 104 caps himself during his career!

What role does coaching play in your life?

Even though it is my job, coaching has become a way for me to, firstly, learn to try to be better in everything I do and, secondly,(and hopefully), to pass on some of this knowledge to support others in this learning process.

What made you get in to coaching and how did you become an inclusive coach?

Retiring from playing blind football for my country (Sighted Goalkeeper), was tough and, naturally, I wanted to continue to support the game. I was given a fantastic opportunity to become a coach at the Royal National College for the blind (RNC), in which I learnt soooooo much about blindness and how to use that knowledge to help better support blind players. I don’t see there being a difference between disability sports and mainstream sports; to me each player/person should be treated and coached with the same hard work and dedication and coaches should do their very best for that individual.

What has been the coaching highlight of your career?

It’s hard to say just one, but the London 2012 Paralympics were amazing and something that is difficult to describe! Just for once, the feeling of genuine support from people who watched [Blind Football] for what it was: elite athletes performing at the highest level. I suppose the other big moment was the first game as England Head Coach, playing against Spain (European Champions); the unity of the staff and players, walking out for the first time, was all so emotional and exciting at the same time! It’s one of my favourite things about my job, it feels amazing every game.

What challenges do you face as an inclusive coach?

I suppose having such a small amount of players playing Blind Football is hard, as it’s tough trying to re-invent playing styles and philosophies of seasoned players. Players buy in and give everything each time and so rolling out that change can be hard work.

It’s sometimes hard to get respect from peers, as some don’t completely understand what we do - and maybe don’t take it as seriously. However within the FA (English Football Association), during my A licence qualification, I have been supported and encouraged to deliver my evidence and observations within my Blind Football setting and my tutor, A licence Lead Matt Bishop, has been fantastic offering a good blend of challenge and support.

Do you play or participate in sport yourself?

I’ve finally retired from playing football (even though I do still have the odd game!), and really enjoy playing golf. Outside of all this I also manage a mainstream football team, Wellington FC, which still gives me the football buzz!!

How has lockdown and social distancing impacted your ability to coach your participants? What has helped you to stay active during this time?

To be honest, I’ve really struggled to be as active as I normally am but I have walked or cycled when I could. It’s been hard not being around all of the team of staff and players, but I have been really lucky in the fact that 4 players live locally to me and so does my assistant coach, so we got back coaching as soon as we were allowed. Coaching within the social distance setting has been ok and, actually, we found that the learning from sessions has been very impactful, probably because it’s been more about how we can spend time breaking down small elements and really go into fine detail, rather than when we have more players to coach. It’s definitely something that has given me more ideas for the future.

Do you have any encouragement or words of wisdom for someone with sight loss who wants to get in to sport or physical activity but may be apprehensive or not know where to start?

Don’t be afraid to ask for, email governing bodies - there is always someone who can help you try new things. Also try a range of sports and see what you enjoy - you’ll be surprised where you can get to!!