From AC Paulista to Charlton Athletic, and then Geneva, Switzerland – all via Peckham. This is just part of the remarkable journey of Uefa-licensed coach David Powderly

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning at Charlton Athletic’s Sparrows Lane training ground. Teenage academy players are steadily boarding a minibus parked just outside the canteen. “Morning,” one of them politely says to me as I make my way to reception. I’m here to meet David Powderly, a young, up-and-coming coach and innovator. We’ll get to that soon.

Sparrows Lane 1
Under-14s being put through their paces at Sparrows Lane.

Powderly, a Business Studies graduate, started his career in football coaching at Lewisham-based youth club AC Paulista in 2012 as a 24-year-old. “It’s the same club where Liverpool’s Joe Gomez came from,” he says. “I did my Level 1 at Paulista, working with the under-10s, making lots of mistakes and learning with the boys. Started really enjoying coaching, got more experience and started to work with the older age groups within Paulista.

“I then began looking into doing my Level 2 and then in 2013/14 started my Uefa B. Part of that was to find a professional club, as the FA introduced a bursary to increase the number of black and minority ethnics [BAME] in football coaching because the number was quite low.” The FA Coaching Bursary Programme was brought in to support more coaches from under-represented communities in both grassroots and professional football in England. Powderly, who’s mother is Irish and father a Jamaican, has benefitted greatly from the scheme and is grateful to the FA.

“I received a bursary for Uefa B, so I paid 10% towards that. Uefa A was also 10% so I got a bursary for that as well and I’ve just received another bursary for my Advanced Youth Award, so I can’t thank the FA enough.” By the end of this summer, Powderly would have completed his Uefa A licence which means he’d be one step away from Uefa Pro, making him eligible to manage a football club.

So how did the former under-10s coach end up at Charlton? “Joe Gomez’s younger brother was playing for the Paulista side I was coaching at the time. I had a good relationship with his dad Gus and one day asked him if there was any chance Charlton would take me on as a bursary coach. Thankfully, he spoke to Steve Avory [Charlton Academy Manager] and they allowed me to come in and assist with the under-12s which was ideal for me. There was a lot to get used to, but it enabled me to not only learn how to interact with the boys and how to manage different characters, but also to improve my knowledge of the game as well.”

The 29-year-old coach has progressed nicely at Charlton. “Last year I was the under-14s assistant and this year I’ve taken over and now lead the under-14s,” he says. What’s a typical week like? “We train four days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – due to the EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan] to increase the contact time with the boys. Because we want to try and aspire to Category 1 status, we needed to put on an extra training session so now we train four days a week with a matchday on a Sunday.”

Although Powderly is working with a talented group, he leaves no stone unturned and puts in the hours. “Saturdays I get here for 7:30am just to prepare and look at what players are available and then plan in terms of what the session’s going to look like. Training starts at around 9am.”

Last year Charlton’s under-14s won the Youdan Trophy in Sheffield. “We’d worked for six or seven weeks, all together as a group before going up to Sheffield and winning the tournament,” Powderly remembers. Clubs from all over the world competed for the trophy and en route to the final, Charlton defeated a Celtic side that included Scotland and England wonderkid Karamoko Dembele who went on to be crowned Player of the Tournament.

Team photo after winning the 2016 Youdan Trophy in Sheffield.

From talking to Powderly, it’s clear to see that he has an abundance of ambition and with the dearth of BAME coaches and managers in the game, it’s more than refreshing. “For me, I love coaching,” he says. “Managing? I wouldn’t mind maybe one day, but it’s different at this level. I’ve gone on record and said the under-18s would be ideal for me. It’s the only age group where you have the whole squad to really work and be on the grass to implement your philosophy every day.”

In 2014 Powderly was watching the Barcelona-Bayern Munich Champions League tie on his television. He was fascinated when Pep Guardiola, Bayern’s coach at the time, decided to go man-for-man. “I really wanted to see it from a different angle and luckily, the image panned out and you were able to see the whole pitch and the movement of each Bayern player tracking a Barca player. It didn’t quite go to plan for Pep, but it was a good angle to see.

“It got me thinking, ‘How can I get this into training in my sessions?’ because I want to be able to provide this view for my players and for myself to analyse the footage. I was on YouTube one evening listening to music and an ad for DJI Drones came up. So I looked into it. I did research for like four months because I wasn’t sure. It was my own money that I was going to be investing and drones weren’t cheap at that time. So I asked myself, ‘Can I seriously justify spending £1,200?’ and I did, I took the plunge.”

That “plunge” looks to be paying off. After purchasing the drone, Powderly set up DPY Productions to demonstrate how drones can add another dimension to training. The YouTube channel showcases the many benefits drones have on training sessions and he often uploads sessions like the one below.

Powderly, who’s a CAA approved drones pilot, has implemented the drone at Charlton. “Former first-team coach Jose Riga was using it in training. It’s being used throughout the academy and the players and coaches all love it, especially when looking at the tactical part of the game. The players can’t wait to see the footage when I put it up.”

All in all, Powderly’s parted with over £2,000 for the drone and CAA course, and it seems to be money well spent. “It’s been a huge investment, but I think I’m reaping the rewards now. I did a speech in Geneva, Switzerland last December in front of Fifa and Uefa delegates,” he proudly tells me. “That was the first time I got nervous. I was thinking, ‘Man, I was born in Peckham and I’m now here in Geneva with people listening to me talk about drones.’

Powderly speaking at the International Sports Convention in Geneva, Switzerland.

“When we went out for a meal afterwards, I was at a table with the Technical Director of Feyenoord, Technical Directors of Croatia and Belgium and there’s me just thinking, ‘This is crazy!’”

Powderly has also spoken to England manager Gareth Southgate, who seems open to the idea. “I’ve spoken to Gareth twice and he’s keen to bring it into the England set-up. He told me he likes the idea but it’s somebody else’s job to try and introduce it. So I’m hoping we can try and work something out and implement it within the age groups from the 15s, 16s, 17s and 18s.

“Rhys Long [Head of Performance Analysis and Insight at the FA] and I have exchanged emails and he’s keen on it. So it’s just about trying to get us all in one room so we can have that discussion.

“When I did my A licence, I brought the drone with me and even the tutor was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ When we all had to give feedback about what we’d take from the course, a lot of the coaches said the drone, even though it wasn’t part of it,” he laughs.

England isn’t the only country that has shown interest in what Powderly’s doing with drones. The Charlton academy coach recently found himself in sunny Spain where he visited two famous La Liga clubs. “Guillem Balague is the Director of Football at a club called Biggleswade United. The manager Cristian [Colas] saw my videos on YouTube and asked me to come up to the club. I did some filming with them and they enjoyed it. Guillem retweeted it out and it just went from there.”

Spotting another huge potential opportunity, Powderly pounced. “I asked Guillem and Cristian if there was any way they could help me get over to Spain, just to watch training and also to bring the drone and showcase what I do?

“So, I went over one half-term. I was at Espanyol in the mornings and Barcelona in the evenings. Espanyol were preparing for Real Madrid. There was one day that they didn’t train and I was able to talk to Quique [Sanchez Flores] and ask him if I’d be able to use the drone during their training session. He said I wasn’t going to be able to film the patterns, which was fair enough, but I could film and show him what it looks like.

“I did some filming and the goalkeeper coaches and the staff were like, ‘Wow!’ and the players were like kids, they loved it. They then started to ask me questions about rules and regulations and how they could get it at their club. It was just really good. Not only were they helping me by giving me access to watch training sessions and record, but I was there giving them some value with the drone. So it was great and I still speak to Quique now.”

Espanyol manager Quique Sanchez Flores and Powderly viewing drone footage.

More access at Barca? “The Barcelona under-15s coach Cristian gave me tremendous access. It was surreal and security was so tight so I got to see bits of training but not much because obviously they want to protect their philosophy. In terms of showing them the drone, I sat down with the coaches – under-14s, 15s and 16s – to show them what it looked like and they all said, ‘This is what we need.’”

There definitely seems to be a future for drone use in football coaching and Powderly aims to be at the forefront. “I want to work with clubs in terms of consulting on how to introduce the drones and I think I’ve already started doing that. I want to do conferences and share my expertise on how it can be introduced and maybe work with a company that can provide a bespoke course for analysis. But certainly at this moment in time, it’s about consulting with clubs and sharing my knowledge and continuing to build the profile because it’s taken off already, so to speak.”

Powderly’s story to date is remarkable and it seems as though this is just the beginning. He’s a minority coach making significant strides at Charlton and with the introduction of drones and DPY Productions, he’s demonstrating that he has a few strings to his bow. “Four years ago I was on a bicycle with my footballs in a bag travelling to primary schools to do £20 after-school sessions, not for the money, but for the access and to gain experience. I get so many people asking me, ‘How did you get here?’ and I tell them, ‘Hard work.’ It’s still hard work now.

“You think of my path – at Paulista, Joe Gomez got me into Charlton, who have given me a platform to coach, improve and learn. I introduce the drone and because I’m in the coaching environment already, it adds credibility. People see it, ask me to do presentations, which leads to more networking. I’ve actually got another presentation coming up in the Czech Republic with the Czech FA. I’ll be going over to Prague in November to deliver a workshop.”

Onwards and upwards, Powderly!

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