fbpx

Johno Clemente: How Australia’s youngest NPL senior coach is reinventing leadership

With a number of Matildas thriving at top European clubs and Australia set to co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, administrators have the perfect opportunity to establish a sustainable national framework for women’s football in the country.

Despite progress at the elite level, work still needs to be done at the grassroots to ensure the women’s game reaches the heights FFA is aiming for. This means fresh ideas, investment, and buy-in from community clubs around the country.

Jonathan ‘Johno’ Clemente embodies this mantra. The young, ambitious coach has only just started his career, but is already driving change with a bold, new-age leadership style.

Appointed as Head Coach of Heidelberg in 2019, Clemente is only 21, making him the youngest senior National Premier League (NPL) coach in Australia. With wisdom beyond his years, he has built a strong people-centric culture which he hopes will set a new standard in women’s football around the nation.

Clemente joined Heidelberg after leading Essendon to promotion in his first season.

“There’s a good saying in football, male players need to perform to belong, whereas women need to belong to perform,” Clemente said.

“It’s about making everybody feel valued as a person and a player. That’s the way I want to lead, through emotional intelligence and building a culture which promotes that.”

“It’s a move away from that old style of leadership, where most coaches would have that ‘my way or the highway’ approach. I believe it’s a two-way street where we work towards a common goal, so it’s important the players know that I care about them as individuals and that I equally know what they need from me through direct feedback, so I can improve with them.”

Clemente’s has already enjoyed success during his short career to date. Following junior coaching at the Essendon Royals, he was appointed Technical Director before also taking the reigns as the Senior Women’s Head Coach.

“The team had been relegated and a lot of players were wanting to leave. I immediately thought long-term, with the vision of gaining promotion and how great of a challenge that was. It was a real sink or swim situation, but I knew I had to back myself because I wanted to coach seniors, so I jumped at the chance,” Clemente said.

“That’s where I began to adopt my philosophy. I was lucky to have had great coaches growing up. It took some time, but I learned to be confident in my decisions and be ruthless when I had to be. But ultimately, I thought the most important thing was to create a culture of respect and positivity, I knew that the rest would follow.”

After a rocky start, Clemente led the Royals to promotion, leading to him drawing the attention of Heidelberg United.

“As difficult as it was to leave Essendon, when I got the call from Heidelberg, I knew straight away that I had to go because it is a huge club and a huge opportunity to coach in the top division,” he said.

“The transition was seamless. One issue with women’s NPL is the high turnover of NPLW players. It can get toxic as a lot of players move in groups and chop and change teams regularly.”

“My goal is to change the perception of the league by ensuring that Heidelberg’s girls come here to enjoy football and get better as players and people. I set the standards early so that the players enjoy training sessions and want to come back.”

Although COVID-19 hampered Clemente’s first year in charge at NPL level, the foundations he set are already creating massive benefits for the club. Player retention is at an all-time high, vindicating his coaching philosophy and approach to building team culture.

Clemente is a vocal mental health advocate, something he incorporates into coaching.

“Every single player re-signed for next season. They’re all chomping at the bit to play for Heidelberg again which to me is a huge indicator that we are on the right track. I think it’s really important to give the girls ownership of the team. We’ve got a strong leadership group and I’ve told them this will only be as good as you make it and challenged them to set the standards,” he said.

Clemente’s attributes his successful approach having high-quality coaches when he played, but also his experiences outside of football. The young coach has had challenges with mental health and now is a strong advocate for mental welfare, something he incorporates into his coaching.

“It’s so, so important. That’s why I’ve resonated so well with the women players. The same applies for men, players will have off days and it’s important to be flexible and understanding,” he said.

“There are no no-negotiables in football anymore. If a player has to work every night until 6:30PM and needs to arrive a bit late to training, you need to understand that and make them feel welcome and warranted. It’s important to still set high standard but there has to be a balance.”

As part of this mental health conscious approach, Heidelberg FC has appointed Darby Dexter, a Leadership and Culture Consultant to assist player welfare.

The club has also invested in an app, Inspire Sport to help juniors report on their mood and mental wellbeing to assist coaches in understanding the needs of their players and how best to communicate with them.

“Football really needs to invest in mental health and not just tick boxes. It’s important to build a culture of high performance and open communication where the stigma of speaking about mental health is removed,” Clemente said.

With coaches like Clemente reinvigorating the grassroots of female football, the years leading up to the Women’s World Cup will be vital to establishing a sustainable framework.

Female participation rates have steadily increased over recent years and FFA has outlined its goal to achieve 50-50 gender participation by 2027, but while Clemente believes this is achievable, he says it is important to make sure this is done correctly through investing in the right people and programs.

“Women’s football is developing quickly, which is a positive but it’s important clubs are involved for the right reasons. It sounds simple, but sometimes councils give grants to clubs who have a girls’ programs, so it’s important that clubs are genuinely creating these programs to nurture talent and get young girls to fall in love with our game,” he said.

“That’s the challenge for all clubs. To care and invest in both genders equally. It’s all about getting the right coaches in and getting the contact hours in at an early age.”

 

 

Football Queensland appoints new staff in regional areas

Football Queensland has appointed three new staff in Wide Bay and Central Coast regions of Queensland to bolster services in those areas.

Football Queensland has appointed three new staff in Wide Bay and Central Coast regions of Queensland to bolster services in those areas.

Experienced coach Alec Wilson has joined FQ as Senior Manager in Club Development, Talent and Coaching.

Wilson holds an AFC A License with experience in sporting organisations across the globe, headlined by Football South Australia, New Zealand Football and the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He will be based in Wide Bay, Central Coast and the Sunshine Coast where he will work with different clubs and coaches.

The other appointments are Joao Abreu and Rebecca Toohey, both as new Football Queensland Managers. Abreu will be in charge of Wide Bay, while Toohey will be based in the Central Regions.

Abreu is a highly qualified sports management professional who previously worked as Director of Coaching at Toowong FC and as manager of a futsal centre in Brisbane.

Toohey has extensive knowledge of regional sporting communities, having worked with the Australian Sports Commission, CQ University and local football clubs & fitness centres.

Football Queensland Central Coast Region General Manager, Andy Allan:

“Alec, Joao and Rebecca bring a wealth of knowledge and talent to the regions and will work closely with our local football communities to achieve positive outcomes for the game,” he said.

“To have a coach of Alec’s pedigree and technical experience is a huge boost for local players and coaches in the Central Coast Region.

“In the 2020-2022 Strategic Plan, FQ identified the need to grow the game throughout the state and provide high-quality participation experiences.

“These appointments are proof of Football Queensland’s ongoing investment in regional football as we work to achieve those outcomes.”

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 5 with Gary Cole interviewing Michael Valkanis

Valkanis

Michael Valkanis was most recently the Assistant to John van’t Schip as the Greece National Team Coach and this week has been appointed as the new Assistant Manager at K.A.S. Eupen FC. They currently play the in Belgian First Division A, the top tier of football in the country.

Michael played his junior football at South Melbourne and as a student at De La Salle College. He made his senior debut in the NSL with South Melbourne before heading to Greece to play with Iraklis and then AEL Larissa. He played for eight years in Greece before returning to Adelaide and the A-League.

His coaching journey began at Adelaide United with the youth team and then as an Assistant Coach with the first team. A new opportunity took him to Melbourne City to work alongside John van’t Schip and then a brief spell as head coach before joining John in Holland with PEC Zwolle. This was followed by the move to Greece with the National Men’s Team.

Michael served a wonderful apprenticeship as Assistant Coach in Adelaide and Melbourne, with brief stints as Head Coach at both clubs. He is now keen to stretch his wings and take on the mantle of Head Coach as his journey continues to develop.

He firmly believes that there are many Australian Coaches good enough to work overseas. Coaches, like players, need to “get out of their comfort zone”. This is another conversation full of wisdom.

Michael’s ‘One Piece of Wisdom’ was: ‘Knowing yourself. Look in the mirror and ask who am I going to be?’ ‘What do I stand for, what are my values that will come out?’ ‘This will show to the group who you are, they stand out because they are consistent over time.’ ‘Your football philosophy will come to light through knowing yourself.’

Please join in sharing Michael Valkanis’ Football Coaching Life.

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks