Posted by Marketing, 7th December 2015
The Louisiana Soccer Association (LSA) ODP squad recently took a trip to the UK to train and work alongside their partner club – West Ham United.
Global Image Sports organised and managed the tour and were lucky enough to sit down with Mark Godwin (Technical Director) upon his return to the USA and find out how the players and coaches got on amongst the elite realms of the Hammers.
Hi Mark – we take it the trip went well?
It did thanks! We’ve already started to plan next year’s visit – it was that good!
Looking forward to hearing about it shortly! Can you just tell us a bit about your background within the Louisiana Soccer Association?
I’m the Technical Director at the LSA and have been there for 8 years now. Prior to that I was Director of Coaching at Crossroads Soccer Association and also at Soccer Academy Incorporated [in Northern Virginia]; who are owned by the Ellis family (same family as USA World Cup winning coach Jill Ellis). I also hold a USSF Licence, a UEFA A Licence and played semi-professionally in England previously.
And how has the partnership with West Ham United developed?
It’s been brilliant – we’re in the 3rd year of our partnership with them now and this was our 2nd tour. Both of the tours have been outstanding – we’ve done ODP camps with the West Ham coaches in the USA before which Global Image Sports have helped to facilitate. For this year’s trip to the UK we ended up taking 18 boys, 4 girls and then the remainder was made up of coaches and parents – giving us a group of 43 on the trip.
What are the key benefits of a trip like this for the players?
The attitude in training is what stands out to the players. The expectations are so much higher and the demands made on them are huge because they have to meet the standards of West Ham United. The great thing to see is that they responded well to the challenges and the girls were even able to integrate alongside the academy players!
And you got to play some matches against other academy teams?
Yes – we took on the Colin Kazim-Richards academy in the first game. There was a real risk of a cancellation due to bad weather but I have to give tremendous credit to the staff behind the scenes who all chipped in and made sure the game could go ahead on the 3G under the lights. In the second match we played the actual West Ham academy team at the Rush Green stadium. Paul Heffer (Assistant Academy Director) also gave the group the option to wear the West Ham kit which was unbelievable!
How did you get on?
Last year we lost 6-0 against the academy. We’d been planning and building up to this game for the past 12 months back in Louisiana and ended up losing 3-2 in a really well fought and competitive match. The players were so appreciative of the experience and are already talking about finding ways to win this game next year!
What’s a trip such as this like for your coaches?
It’s so beneficial because they get to absorb and spend a huge amount of time around the coaching methods employed by West Ham United. One of my coaches – Stuart Hayers (a former professional footballer and currently running the ODP programme at Louisiana Fire) managed to collect a series of information to utilise. Kevin Sherry (Head Coach for the women’s programme at Louisiana Tech) was able to benefit from what was on offer.
And how did the parents find the trip?
You know you’ve had a good trip when you spend most of the plane journey home talking about going back next year! A trip like this can appear quite expensive for a whole family but it’s so beneficial educationally; both in terms of the playing style that the players learn and are exposed to but also to absorb the culture and history of the local area. We had tours of West Ham’s stadium, the city of London and we also gave the parents’ days off to do their own sightseeing whilst we looked after the playing group with the help of the GIS chaperones. I know a lot of the parents were in awe when our tour guide was explaining the history of the buildings in London we visited!
Any stand out moments that spring to mind?
I think the memories that stand out away from the training are the live games – they are simply incredible in terms of the atmosphere and passion. We saw a Europa League game (Liverpool v Bordeaux), an EPL game (Aston Villa v Watford) and then an U21 game between West Ham and Derby County at the Rush Green academy ground which was probably the best of them all! The venue was more intimate and the players were right in front of you so you could appreciate it more. We were able to watch Reece Oxford, West Ham’s up and coming academy star, from right up close and that was a brilliant experience.
Given the size of the group and length of stay, how safe were the group during the trip both in and around London?
We had no problems. There was a bit of nervousness before flying which was understandable given the situation but everything felt really secure. You noticed more security at airports, more checks and more patrols or police officers which instantly helps you to relax. The stadiums in England are also the most secure venues in the world – I’ve never known anything come anywhere close. There’s a presence of police, stewards and cameras to keep their eyes on things. The whole group relaxed very quickly after a day or two and it was business as normal.
So you’ll be going back again then?
Without a doubt. We’ve not done any other trips as an association but I know a few of the parents have and the Global Image Sports tours are a cut above the rest. The soccer on its own is outstanding and would be enough but it’s the other little details – the sightseeing, the history, the footballing culture you become part of – that means you end up living the tour rather than just experiencing it. The players now take a keen interest and following in West Ham because it means something to them – they wore the jersey and trained in their methods. They know the West Ham way and what that involves. I also know they bought an incredible amount of stuff from the club shop! We’re so happy to continue to work with GIS and look forward to continuing this prosperous partnership to facilitate these incredible opportunities.