Anthony Frost is a Qualified A/B/C License Instructor with expertise in player development, and is the Head Coach of the Melbourne City FC Academy. He’s also the Young Socceroos (Australian U20s) assistant coach, and has spent time at Football Victoria as a coaching instructor and skills development coach. He spoke to Soccerscene about Melbourne City’s talented youngsters, disruption to the Victorian football season, and developing better coaches in Australian football.
How did you become involved in coaching and Melbourne City?
Anthony Frost: Firstly, I started coaching after I had a pretty serious leg break when I was 22, and that meant my ambitions to play at a higher level got stopped in their tracks. It turned my attention to coaching, which was something that I had been interested in and enjoyed doing and after working in the UK during gap year I found that it was something that I was good at. My line of thinking was that if you can’t have a playing career in football then coaching was something I was wanting to pursue. I went head-first into it and I tried to link my studies to football and coaching. I worked through my badges and was fortunate to get an opportunity to work full time as a development officer at Football Victoria which gave me exposure to working in state teams and coach development. From there, I was appointed as the Skillaroos Head Coach, which essentially was the start of the national player development pathway, back in the day before A-League academies were introduced. So I was working with the best under 13 boys in Victoria in a full time program that helped me refine my coaching craft.
Part of my professional development during that period was to get a better understanding of how players progressed from youth to senior football. One of my mentors – Ivan Jolic who was at Melbourne City at the time as an assistant – suggested that I go down to the club and just observe what they’re doing and get involved in whatever way I could. That led me to connect with Joe Palatsides, who was the head coach of the youth program at the time, and he welcomed me in. That was my initiation into Melbourne City, which looking back now was close to six years ago and I’m fortunate enough to now work in a full time coaching and coach development capacity within the academy.
Do you believe that the disruption we’ve seen to football in Victoria in the past two seasons will impact player development?
Anthony Frost: I think undeniably it will. Unfortunately, even despite the pandemic we don’t play enough competitive games so we’re mindful of the impact this could have on a players development but what we’ve tried to do is try is find ways that we can still turn a negative into a positive, and look at ways that we can continue to use this as a as an opportunity to develop other areas of a player’s game, or knowledge. We’ve looked to provide opportunities for individual technical training, tactical analysis, meetings that we’ve done with the group around certain tactical situations, or different types of formations or styles of play, or looking at certain players and their pathway in the game.
But also just from a psychological point of view, I feel as though that if a player can progress through this difficult period and have the ability to persevere despite setbacks and come out the other side stronger mentally, then potentially that’s a plus or a real positive that we might see from the current crop of players that have been impacted by the circumstances that we’re in. So yes, we’d love to be on the park, training, and playing but we have to try and find the positives where we can, and that’s the way we’re trying to frame the last two seasons with our current group.
How important is it to have a real pathway for youth teams into senior teams?
Anthony Frost: I think it’s fundamental. Belief is an incredible thing and if a player sees that others have progressed to that level when they’re given that chance, then players should be thinking, why not me? Why not have the belief that they’re capable of making that jump and being at that level as well. We’re fortunate enough to have seen players from the academy progress recently, and they’re the stories that we look to try and share with the players throughout our academy, and use as real examples that we can shine a light on them and their experiences, their pathway, what they’ve been through.
What we’ve found through the stories that those players have shared with us is that not everything goes to plan, and it’s how you best deal with setbacks, challenges, and hardship that’s going to be the real test of how you can push through to make it to the top level. But I think as we’ve seen in the last couple of seasons in the A-League, the more opportunities that are provided to young players the better, and we’ve found that the increase in match minutes for young players is having a huge impact on the progression of those players, both in the local game and also for our national team, and even those players and seeking opportunities overseas.
So I think if we needed a better advertisement of giving young players a chance, the past two seasons have been unbelievable for the young players taking their chances when time has been provided to them. That’s the key, you just need that chance, and hopefully that continues in the A-League.
How important is educating coaches on best practices and ensuring that young players are receiving the best coaching possible?
Anthony Frost: I think if we have the best coaches, then we’re in the best possible position to support our players to progress and have an incredible experience in the game. We want their time at a club to be some of the best times of their childhood. Football development is important but we also need to make sure that the psycho-social aspect of player development – which isn’t often as front and centre in formal coach development programs – should be a real focus for young coaches because we know that we have a responsibility to develop people and people who are prepared for life away from football.
At City, we want to make sure that’s a big part of how we support our coaches and that they’re aware of how to best equip young players not only on the park but also off it as well. We offer a lot of professional development opportunities, we have individual coach development plans that we consistently review, and we support coaches with their ambitions, their goals, and the things that they set out to achieve in the game. We’re also lucky enough to be a part of the City Football Group, where we have support from people within the group to help our coaches as well. We’ve seen in the last few years in particular that the club and group is not only committed to developing players, but also developing coaches who can progress to help achieve their ambitions, whether that’s being the best possible youth coach they can be, whether that’s the best possible assistant or senior coach, or a coach or working at international level. Our coach development program is fundamental to what we’re trying to do as a club. I said before that the players are only as good as the coaches that we have.