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Homegrown: A journey from player to coach

20.05.18 Homegrown: A journey from player to coach

Robert Dingli sat down with Justin Rizzo, an upcoming coach within the Swieqi United academy, to get his viewpoints on the transition from being a player to being a coach, as well as his vision for the age groups he coaches.

RD: Hi Justin. First of all, congratulations on your amazing achievement on obtaining your UEFA B badge - how does it feel?

JR: Thank you! It is a very special feeling, and also a big step forward in my coaching career. Although it has been a lot of hard work, I cannot help but thank Andrea Vella, Jochen Lenders, Julian Bonello and Gilbert Micallef for all their help and support.

RD: You started off your experience with SUFC by forming part of the first U19 squad, following which you began your coaching experience with the same club. Can you explain to us the difference between playing and coaching?

JR: The difference between playing and coaching is night and day. As a player, you are focused on your performance more than anything, and want to focus on giving your best for the team. It’s difficult to notice the micro-movements and the small details that occur on the pitch. It can be easy to get antagonised in certain situations, and equally easy to get frustrated with an opposing player, referee or even a teammate. As a coach, you get to implement the style of play and system that you believe in, and watching the team interpret that style is exceptionally rewarding. However, you also have much more responsibility. You are responsible for each and every single player’s development, and must give them your best in order to help them reach their full potential. Each match gives you a chance to analyse the team's performance, understand where the team must strengthen, and finally work on it during the next week or so in training.

RD: As mentioned before, you have been with the club from its early years. How have you seen the club and its academy flourish?

JR: I still remember the very first day I came to help out with the pre-academy – we were just 25 players across all age groups (U5 to U9) and a handful of coaches at the time. It is incredible to see how big the academy has grown, with roughly 145 kids forming part of it! The increase in players was met with a stronger coaching structure, and this is what has distinguished us from other clubs. The club always keep on trying to better itself, year after year and across all age groups. Andrea Vella has somehow managed to ensure that with every single age group there is now a coach, assistant coach, trainee coach, physical trainer, team manager and physiotherapist, and a structure as strong as this is the key to our success.

RD: Besides being a coach, you are also a 4th year Medicine and Surgery student at the University of Malta - two very challenging and time consuming roles. How do you manage to balance your time between both?

JR: Being responsible for coaching two academy teams, studying Medicine and Surgery, and completing the UEFA B in one year has not been an easy task! It has been a lot of sleepless nights, stress and hard work – but I believe the key to balancing everything in life is time management. Planning a monthly schedule and making sure that you stick to it is essential for coping with studies. I also strongly believe in team work, and have to say that I wouldn’t have gotten through this season if it wasn’t for the sterling work of all of my assistant coaches – Jochen Lenders and Daniel Causon who did an outstanding job helping me with the Under 13s, and Jon Ferry and Leo de Bortoli who were phenomenal with the Under 9s.

RD: Despite your young age, you have achieved a lot already. You surely are a role model for the youngsters to look up to. What message do you have for youths involved in sports?

JR: Dream big, work hard, remain positive, and enjoy the journey. If you believe you will make it and are willing to put in the hours to work harder than anyone else, remain humble, and treat every single defeat in life as a lesson, then you are already halfway to success.

RD: Thank you for your time, Justin.

Photo: Jeffrick Cachia

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