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An in depth interview with U17 coach Justin Rizzo

16.04.21 An in depth interview with U17 coach Justin Rizzo

'The coaches at this club are never satisfied with their work and are always hungry to continue to improve.'

An in depth interview with U17 coach Justin Rizzo

Swieqi United's U17 team has proven to be a force to be reckoned with! In fact they are currently in first place of the league. The coach who is at the helm of this talented squad, happens to be a junior doctor. A man who manages to balance his medical profession and coaching life, today SUFC Media met up with U17 coach Justin Rizzo.

SUFC:Thanks for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk to SUFC Media Justin! For those that do not know besides being a phenomenal coach, you are also a junior doctor. Can you describe to us in detail how your work as a junior doctor helps you as a coach? Also how do you manage to strike a balance between coaching and your profession?

Justin: Hi Hayden, first of all thank you for inviting me for this interview!

I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as “phenomenal” as I have a lot of room to improve, but I make sure I do my best. Working as a junior doctor definitely has helped me grow more as a coach, as it has given me the tools to handle stressful situations immediately, as well as having to make difficult decisions on the spot, which is something that every coach has to do especially during competitive games.

With regards to balance, it is always difficult. This season I had to reduce the number of teams that I coached down to 1 group due to the amount of hours that work has consumed. It always gives me a boost during the day knowing that I have a session to look forward to after work, but sometimes it can be quite difficult to swap shifts and take leave in order to attend training sessions and competitive games. Luckily, I have a great set of coaches working with me this season who are more than capable of taking over when I am not able to attend, and we remain in contact to ensure the sessions have continuity.


SUFC: You have been here at the club for 9 years now, how would you say the club has developed in these past 9 years since you have been here from a personnel stand point?

Justin: We often talk about development of the club in terms of numbers and facilities, but what struck me the most over this period is the development of players. I can think of a number of players who have been at the club for a long period of all time, of all ages, who have vastly improved on the pitch, and are reaching heights that few people thought would be possible.

It’s also nice to see some players showing an improving attitude, and not only doing their best on a daily basis, but also working hard on their own in their free time, asking for extra sessions, as well as taking care of nutrition and sleeping habits. We might not have the best players yet, but across the whole academy I can see an increasing number of boys and girls with a very professional attitude.

The coaches at this club are never satisfied with their work and are always hungry to continue to improve. We are actively looking for methods to develop further as coaches, whether it is through courses, discussions, webinars, or simply watching and learning from each other, which vastly contributes to the overall development of the club.

SUFC: You are also doing your UEFA A coaching license this year, in behalf of SUFC I wish you good luck in this endeavour! How has the Covid-19 pandemic effected your studies?

Justin: Thank you! It’s a really interesting course which has already taught me so much. It is definitely a new experience with the coaches at MFA really giving us a lot of insight and information, all of which can be so easily applied at Swieqi United. So far we have only completed a couple of modules as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in us starting late and having to postpone parts of the course, but I’m looking forward to continuing to learn when we resume.

SUFC: Lastly can you tell us about the rest of the coaching staff and how they assist you and the team? Also can you give us updates on the progress of the U17 squad from a developmental perspective.  You currently hold first place in the league, do you think the team has what it takes to win the league?

Justin: This year I took charge of the Under 17 boys. I am lucky enough to be working with fellow coaches Edmund Mifsud and Andrew Sant Fournier together with physical trainer Pavle Puzovic, all of whom constantly give their utmost to the boys and have taught me a lot this season.

In terms of player development, our main target was to prepare this squad for their transition to Under 19s next season. It is always a difficult step up, and our aim was to ensure that this would be made easier by preparing the players physically, tactically, mentally and technically, and maybe pushing some players to make a few appearances for the Under 19s this season.

We are really happy to be able to say that from these boys, already 7 players have made an appearance for the Under 19s this season alone, 4 of whom have also been getting regular game time and even scoring a few goals in the process!

The vast majority of the Under 17 players have been playing at Swieqi for at least 2 years, so it was more of a process of continuity of development rather than having to start from scratch. It is very satisfying for all of the coaching staff to be able to be part of this long-term development, and really show how much the players have grown and developed at Swieqi United.

In terms of results, our main target this season was to challenge for the league. We are currently in first place, leading by 2 points after playing every single opponent once. We are still hoping to have our last 3 important games of the season (depending on how COVID-19 will affect fixtures) in order to finish the league and prove on the pitch that we deserve to win it. No game this season has been easy, and despite the fact that we have not been able to play a single competitive game with a full squad (due to injuries, quarantines or suspensions) we definitely believe that we can improve our performances and results for the last part of the season.

Everyone involved with Swieqi United wishes coach Justin Rizzo and the team all the best! A huge thanks goes to the parents who support thre team!

Article: Hayden Pesci | Photo: Jeffrick Cachia 

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