A father and son are looking to the coaching styles of this year’s World Cup successes to train winners for a future England team. Mark Wenham, 50, and his son Joe, 20, are behind the family business, First Steps Soccer.
The pair, from Horfield, train children aged two to nine across Bristol. “We studied the youth coaching methods of the clubs and countries we most admired, particularly those of Germany, Holland and Spain, and visited Manchester United and Ajax to see the skills sessions they do with their youngest players,” said Mark.
“After this, we started putting together a coaching syllabus that was designed for two to nine-year-olds. I did a lot of research to see if there were any companies offering football training for this age group in Bristol, which there weren’t.”
With more than 8,000 hours of coaching between the two of them, it’s not a career, but a passion. But the business, which grew from the back of a garage in Horfield, was almost over before it started.
Mark set up the company in 2006 and had to get through the recession to keep it going.
“Looking back, we couldn’t have picked a worse time to start a business, and the first five years were a real struggle,” he said.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse when he lost his job working with people who had learning difficulties. But a small pay-off from his previous job enabled him to sustain the coaching company.
“They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that was truly the case with First Steps Soccer,” said Mark.
“In retrospect, being eased out of my last job has been the best thing that has happened to me as it’s given me the chance to run a business where the staff, children and parents are an absolute privilege to work with.”
Fast forward to 2014 and First Steps Soccer is thriving, with many graduates being signed by professional football clubs when they are nine. But for Mark, First Steps Soccer is about more than delivering players to professional clubs. He said: “I want every child that attends our classes, whatever their ability, to remember their time at First Steps Soccer as enjoyable and rewarding; the start of a lifelong love of the game that will be an important part of their lives forever.”
By Ile Jarrett