Former AFC Bournemouth player Harrison Gilkes turned to coaching after his playing career was cut short by injury and now the Professional Player to Coach Scheme (PPCS) has taken him stateside to progress his career further.
The PPCS is a joint programme from the PFA, the Premier League and the EFL, designed to increase the number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic players who transition into full-time coaching roles in the professional game.
Gilkes signed for AFC Bournemouth as a teenager but developed a degenerative condition in his hip and was released at the start of his twenties, dropping into non-league before hanging up his boots in 2018.
In 2019, Gilkes was one of the PPCS’s first intake of coaches and over the past three years the Scheme has given him the chance to develop his coaching skills at Reading FC.
"It provides us with opportunities and exposure in professional coaching environments," says Gilkes.
"It also ensures we have the learning opportunities and the qualifications to make an impact and add value. I've always said that if you can't play then the next best thing is to help the players and coach."
The scheme provides up to six coaches per season with a 23-month intensive work placement at an EFL club, within the Academy or First Team environment. Each coach works through an individualised learning and development programme during their placement, incorporating a variety of football functions. This usually includes physical performance and conditioning, recruitment, analysis, administration and coaching different age groups.
At the end of last season, with funding from the PPCS, Gilkes took the opportunity to work in America at USL Championship side Charleston Battery.
Overall, the placement revealed the importance of collaboration within football, and this was something Gilkes was keen imbed at Reading’s Academy.
"In football now, collaboration is huge," he says. "It's very rarely, from my experience working with Reading, one person who is making these decisions.
"If you're more open-minded, you're more open to collaboration, and understanding different people's ways of thinking and their viewpoints."
Participants also receive mentoring from PFA Coach Educators, who have extensive experience developing coaches within a club environment. Members of the Premier League's Black Participants' Advisory Group also support the players and clubs involved in the programme.
Dennis Sanchez, assistant coach at Charleston observed how confident Gilkes was to instantly involve himself at the South Carolina club.
"Harrison has been involved in all our discussions, from the development of the training sessions to implementing them on the field," says Sanchez.
"It takes a person to be open to it [the programme], and Harrison has a very open mind, wanting to grow, wanting to be a part of the programme itself."
INCLUSIVE COACHING OPPORTUNITIES
If you're a PFA member from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background and are interested in coaching, we encourage you to apply for this programme. The scheme is fully inclusive, available for male and female members of all ages and beneficial for aspiring coaches at any stage in their careers.
For more information about the Scheme click here.