FC Halifax Town goalkeeping coach Joe Stead has certainly grasped his chance to work in first-team football with both hands.
His appointment in January was the culmination of six years of studying which has seen him achieve a first class honours degree in sports coaching and a masters in performance slumps in sport.
He is now studying a PhD in sport performance, and holds four certificates from the Scottish Football Association in goalkeeping and physical preparation.
Oh, and he also coaches goalkeepers in the academy at Wigan Athletic.
Not bad for a 24-year-old who never rose higher as a player than the Leeds United academy.
“I owe a big thank you to Jamie Fullarton and Phil Hughes for giving me the opportunity to step up to the first-team and be part of a professional environment,” he said.
“They put their faith in me and I’m very grateful for that. I enjoyed working with them both.
“I wasn’t sure where it would leave me when Phil left at the end of last season but I was happy when Jamie said he wanted me to be part of his backroom staff.
“I was disappointed when he left and since then it was me, Steve Nichol and Nathan Clarke picking up the reins until the new manager came in.
“He was happy for me to continue in the role, which I was happy with.”
Stead’s playing career didn’t go much further when he was released by Leeds, where he was coached by Hughes, in 2009 after seven years in their youth ranks.
“I trialed around at a few clubs but it became pretty apparent I was never going to make it as a professional unfortunately,” he said.
“But I’ve always been really interested in coaching. I’m pretty much in a unique position, given my age, to be a first-team goalkeeping coach, so I’m happy people have put their faith in me to do the job.”
Stead says a lot of planning and reflection goes into his role.
“We generally as a staff get together and see what the day’s going to look like, and I’ll be planning technical practices and game-related practices for the goalkeepers, where we’re looking to try and get them to make as many decisions as possible just like they do in the game, and try to create game-realistic scenarios as much as possible,” he said.
“Then come game-day, they’re in the best possible shape to go and put in a good performance.
“We’ll do video analysis, I’ll speak with Sam and Will in regards to what they think their strengths are, what we identify as their strengths, and what their weaknesses are and what plans we can put in place to make sure the weaknesses become strengths.
“We analyse the opposition and see what their key strengths are and that feeds into what we’ll work on during the week to make sure they’re in the best possible shape for the game.”
Stead began working with Sam Johnson midway through last season, the end of which saw the Town keeper keep 19 league clean sheets and win the club’s player of the year award.
“Will (Appleyard) is a promising young goalkeeper but he’s here also to test Sam because we need to keep Sam on his toes,” Stead said of the two senior stoppers in his charge.
“Obviously Sam had a really good season last year and he’s looking to build on that.
“We’ve got a really good goalkeeper’s union, we stick together. Sam and Will get on really well, and I get on really well with them.
“We keep our standards high within our training sessions and they expect high standards from me.
“As a three, we work well together.”
Stead has no doubts that Johnson is capable of playing higher up the ladder.
“He’s consistent, the amount of clean sheets he kept last year was very impressive, along with the back four.
“Obviously he had Clarkey (Nathan Clarke), Browny (Matty Brown) and Ducky (Michael Duckworth) in-front of him who were very solid week-in, week-out. They worked well together.
“If he keeps working hard and keeps a good level of consistency, that’s what it’s all about.
“We’ve been working on a number of things. He’s a good shot-stopper, we’ve been working on his speed of movement across goal to get that better, to get him into position ready for the shot as quickly as possible.
“But also his speed of movement off the floor as well.
“His distribution is still an area that we keep working on to improve it as best we can. I think it has improved.”
Stead says Johnson is more of a commanding presence than the more quiet character that first joined the club back in November 2015.
“We’ve used some techniques to try and get that out of him more, and ensure he’s confident on the pitch,” said Stead.
“Given his size, he should be commanding. Aerially he’s got better and he’s more confident, and given his size, he should be coming for crosses and relieving that pressure, which he has been doing.”