The last 3 years have been demanding for Ray Woodhouse as he worked to complete Ahead in Sport’s BSc(Hons) Applied Football Studies, however he rose to the challenge and has been awarded a First Class Honours degree. An exceptional achievement which is truly deserved.
“Running an organisation, family commitments and undertaking a degree has been an overload on my time and pushed me mentally out my comfort zone. However, the way the course is designed with online webinars and workbooks to be completed in your own time within the week has allowed me to balance work/life commitments whilst completing my degree. I’d like to thank the staff at Ahead in Sport and the course tutors for their continued support which has massively contributed to me achieving a First.”
Growing up as a Liverpool FC fan, Ray always had an appreciation for managers and understood the contribution they make to the success of an organisation. While other clubs shine a light on star players, Liverpool FC shines a light on their managers and acknowledges their place in the club’s history. Anfield shouts proudly about them with statues, gates named after them and tributes to them throughout their stadium and media outlets.
“When you are a Liverpool fan, it’s ingrained in you to really appreciate the manager, so there’s always been a lot of interest from me around, not just the team, but the stories of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Even as a young player, I was more interested in tactics and my skill set was more around organising and supporting my team rather than individual glory. I was more of a talker and an organiser than a runner.”
Therefore, coaching was a natural fit for someone as obsessed with football as Ray, and he’s been doing it for over 20 years. He started out as a volunteer for Marine FC, a non-league club based in Crosby, and then became involved in creating a men’s team called Civserv FC. Eventually, following requests for his support Ray set up his own grassroots coaching company, River Juniors, to provide a place for young people to play football.
“I was approached by a few parents who asked if I would coach their kids who had been told they weren’t good enough, who’d failed trials. We started off as a group of 10 kids and it's just snowballed. We went from delivering simple session that were more like PE for tots with a ball, and it's just grown. We now have over 700 participants every week.”
River Juniors gives every young player regardless of their age, gender and ability the opportunity to develop their skills.
“I think every young person should be included, whether it's football with River Juniors, or whatever they choose to do, it's achievable. There should not be barriers to participation, I just want kids to have opportunities, it’s as simple as that. We work to develop them on and off the pitch, not just by helping them be better footballers, but by providing them with the right environment to thrive, teaching them skills, core values and the importance of respect, all of which enables them to develop into good well-rounded people. With the primary school kids – we help them gain confidence and a behaviour set that is valuable for them as they move into high school. We work to help teenage kids gain key life skills that help them transition from high school to college or employment. We want to provide support and guidance to give people future opportunities.”
As well as setting up River Juniors, Ray was a scout for Everton FC and he also coached at the Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC Academies.
“I learnt a lot from my experiences in scouting with Everton and working with Manchester City and Liverpool in terms of the high standards we set and what academies are looking for. At River Juniors, we can look at players and recognise what development is needed, and we will work on that to give them the best chance to improve. We have demonstrated success, we have players who progressed into the academy system and now play for Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Blackpool, and Preston.
Having established his career in football, and as the director of a successful company, in 2020 Ray made the decision to undertake Ahead In Sports BSc(Hons) in Applied Football as he wanted to further develop himself and help his organisation gain a deeper understanding of all aspects of the football industry. Ray’s colleague Michael Crane also joined him on the degree.
“We both felt that undertaking the degree would be hugely beneficial for us, not just as coaches, but as people. We knew we would gain a deeper understanding to further develop our organisation and it would provide opportunities for us to gain further insight into multiple factors around the football industry and organisations within it.”
Having graduated with a First Class Honours degree, Ray credits Ahead In Sport with helping him further develop his role as a coach and his leadership skills within his organisation.
“Throughout the programme, you are taught to understand research methods, journal articles and academic papers and how to develop your critical thinking. As a business owner, I also learnt a lot from the non-football modules, particularly leadership, managing people, personal development, effective time management and utilisation of skills. We have implemented these at River Juniors, and it has freed up time for us to focus on continually improving our coaching provision. The course has given me the tools to further drive my organisation forward and my degree and knowledge gained means I am in better position to do that now.”