Newly appointed St Paul’s football coach Sam Wilkinson spent six years coaching football in the UK. He recently returned to New Zealand with a goal of growing the sport in his home region.
Sam grew up playing football in the Waikato. After trying to pursue a career in professional football in the UK as a teenager, he returned to play senior football at national league level for Waikato FC and Auckland City, also representing Hamilton Wanderers, Melville United and Tauranga City at regional level.
It was during this time that Sam began looking to coaching as he felt there was something missing in the development pathway for football in the Waikato. He worked on holiday programmes and skill centres, later graduating to high school first XI coaching.
“I was lucky to have my Dad’s – Roger Wilkinson, former Technical Director for NZF and West Bromwich Albion U21 coach – coaching influence throughout my formative years. I believe that gave me a head start in understanding the coaching and player development process,” says Sam.
In 2010, Sam returned to the UK to work for Premier Skills Coaching, a Birmingham-based coach education company. It was here he met John Cartwright, a former Arsenal first team coach.
“To this day, John is one of the greatest coaching minds coach you will find in the game. His expertise, combined with my Dad’s influence, gave me a really unique outlook on the game and in particular developing highly skilled footballers with outstanding game understanding,” he says.
Opportunities soon began presenting themselves to Sam and he was offered the chance to work at West Bromwich Albion Football Club as their U14 coach – one of the only Kiwi coaches to have ever worked in the English academy system.
“I worked with a number of players at West Bromwich who are now playing regularly in their first team and at international level. Seeing how these players have progressed has given me great insight into elite player development,” he says.
Following West Bromwich, Sam took up coaching in Birmingham City working across all academy age groups from U7 – U21. “I was able to watch and observe the first team environment from close quarters and gain further insight into how elite clubs and programmes in the UK are run on and off the pitch.”
Sam completed UEFA B and A licenses, as well as gained the Level 3 English FA Youth Award.
Now back where it all began, Sam has been working as the first team head coach and academy director for Melville United since returning last year. “My aim at Melville United is to put in place the type of programme at youth and senior levels that I believe was missing throughout much of my own playing career.”
Taking up a coaching position at St Paul’s, Sam is looking forward to growing the school’s football programme. “I am delighted to be joining St Paul’s and I believe we can create a truly unique football programme here. My aim is to develop a clear and identifiable playing and development philosophy and give every player at St Paul’s a chance to reach their potential as a footballer.”