Baines Reflects On Impressive Maiden Year As A Coach

Leighton Baines has reflected on a season of "positive experiences" for Everton Under-18s, as well as his own development during his first year in the role of Head Coach.

The former left-back hailed the impressive team spirit his group has shown throughout the 2022/23 campaign as he bids to strike a balanced approach between positive results and individual player progression.

After recording a fourth-place finish in Under-18 Premier League North, Baines told “Definitely in a positive light. The players, the coaches, and the staff – we’ve all learned a lot from this year.

“There’s been some positive experiences throughout. The idea is always that the players are developing and moving towards their aspirations. The important thing for us and them, is individual improvement. It’s been good and they’re all making the right steps.

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Match highlights from Everton U18s final outing of the season.

As well as impressive results - including several comeback victories - Baines believes the development of his young players remains the top priority, but both elements must still be considered.

“For our lads, the development comes before the winning,” he said. “The winning still has to matter because they’re getting older and closer to the real game. We create that environment on a Saturday as balanced as we can. We work on certain things during the week and we’re willing to practise them on the weekend, even if it may be to a detriment of the potential outcome.

“At the same time, the kids play football, and they want to win. We’re not trying to create an overly sanitised environment where they don’t know how to win and where they don’t know how to play under pressure. We find a balance of those two things. What I’ve been blessed with this year, is that the lads have built a really strong bond and team spirit. I think that’s been reflected in some of those comeback performances and the ability to dig in.

“I think towards the end of the season, we’ve talked about that quite a bit, or I’ve just praised them a lot for looking out for each other and never giving up. They show the right spirit that, certainly an Everton team would want, but one that any team would want. Overall, we’re balancing things between development and performance, while getting them ready for the real world.”

Still in the infancy of his coaching career, Baines says he is learning every day about intricacies of the role.

Asked about his approach to coaching, Baines replied: “We have to give a balanced environment to the lads. I can’t just focus 100% on off-the-ball work or on-the-ball work. We work to a model that we try to deliver in a balanced way. I’m still learning about myself within that, so it’s hard for me to know.

“What I will say, is that whatever week it is, whatever block of work we’re doing, I find myself getting passionate about it. I find myself trying to learn new things and trying to figure out how I can best help the players. I don’t know if I can really define myself as a coach because I’m still working towards that.

“What I do find is that whichever way our curriculum takes us, then I get equally passionate about whether we’re doing on-the-ball work, or out of possession, or team shape, or teamwork, or working with individuals. Whatever it is, I get equally excited about and passionate about."

The long hours linked with coaching roles in top level football, particularly for those like Baines who are transitioning after playing, are somewhat infamous - but the 38-year-old says he is relishing the prospect of mastering a new craft.

“Nothing is surprising and challenging because life has always taught me that if you want to get to a good level at anything, then you have to work hard,” he added.

“There are certainly easier things to do when you finish football, than to get in to coaching. You just have to work hard, and it is hard work. There’s a lot of hours that go into it, but I’ve never known anything different. I’ve always worked hard and tried to be the best version of whatever it is that I can be to get to my ceiling. I’m still a developing but I’m enjoying the process.”