A Caribbean Diary Part One

In this, the first of a regular series of articles for Impetus, James Thomas, the newly appointed head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago women’s national team, speaks to Ben Gilby about his footballing journey and how he aims to take the Caribbean nation to the World Cup in 2023.

Above: James Thomas, in his previous coaching role in the Welsh Women’s National Performance Centre. Photo: John Smith/Same Old Smith Photography – FAW.

James Thomas’ coaching career started at the age of 16 at Cardiff City FC and has taken him to the USA, several top level English clubs and international set-ups for both England and Wales. He is now in the early stages of an exciting opportunity on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I started coaching at Cardiff City on a work experience placement for their Football in the Community scheme assisting with, and then delivering sessions at local schools, clubs and school holiday camps. This developed into a job for me and I spent about nine years working within the community scheme and Centre of Excellence at the club. During this time I also spent a season working with the Football Association of Wales, and their Girls South Wales Centre of Excellence. I went on to spend three years working in Southern California coaching at various clubs with Girls teams predominantly. When I returned from the US I had a spell as a coach for Manchester United working on their Soccer Schools program.”

“After a couple of years out of the game, I took a role working within the England Women’s & Girls Elite Talent Pathway as U16s Head Coach at their South West England Advanced Coaching Centre (ACC) in Bristol. I spent 3 years at the ACC and this led to an opportunity to join Bristol Academy WFC (now Bristol City WFC) initially as a Head Coach of the U14’s, but during my time there I also held roles as Assistant Coach of the U20’s WSL Development Squad, that featured players such as Lauren Hemp, Aimee Palmer, Flo Allen, and Lily Woodham all of whom have gone onto careers in the WSL and internationally.

“My last role at Bristol City was as Head Coach of the WSL Academy & 16-19 College programs whilst also being part of Willie Kirk’s staff in and around the first team environment.”

“In 2018 I was given the opportunity to join the Wales Women’s National Team staff and during my 3 years with the FAW, I was fortunate enough to work across a variety of roles with the U17/19 and Senior National Teams including Coach, Assistant Coach and Analyst. I also had the opportunity to be Head Coach for an experimental U16 UEFA Development Tournament that was held in Slovenia in 2019. I also spent three years working as a coach within the Women’s National Performance Centre.  Outside of my commitments with the FAW, I also held the role of Assistant Manager of Cardiff City Ladies FC, who compete in the FA Women’s National League.

From working with the FAW to now taking over as the head coach of Trinidad and Tobago is a huge jump. James explained how it came about.

Above: James gets a point across during Wales Women’s Performance Squad Training. Photo: John Smith/Same Old Smith Photography – FAW

“I had been thinking for the past 12 months or so about what the next step in my development as a coach should be, and when the changes within the FAW Women’s staff started happening at the beginning of the year with staff leaving I felt that the time for me to take the next step. Although I had remained at the FAW, I felt this was the right time for me to move onto a new role that would challenge me.

“The position with Trinidad and Tobago was advertised in January, and it immediately took my interest as the standard of players they have is very good and felt that my experiences and thoughts on the game could add value to them as a national team and as I said I was looking for a challenge and challenges don’t come much bigger than trying to qualify for a FIFA World Cup!

“They had 195 coaches from around the world apply for the job, so I knew I was in for a tough challenge, but was confident that my experiences and ideas would stand me a good opportunity of progressing through the process of multiple interviews and shortly after I was contacted by the General Secretary of the National Association to formally offer me the role, which I of course accepted there and then.

“I have just relocated to the islands full time. We are launching a National Performance Program and this will see us working with the domestic players three or four times a week, so it is essential I am there full time to make sure I can control that program and to set the standards I expect of the players and staff within the environment.”

“Additionally, I have already started looking at players in Europe who have Trinidad and Tobago heritage to see if they could be added to the mix and there are a couple on the radar already.”

James outlined his plans for his first weeks and months in the job. “As far as the National teams are concerned, we are working right now on the organising camps and hopefully four friendly games ahead of our World Cup qualifying campaign with starts in November.

Above: Promotional artwork for the Trinidad & Tobago National Team. Photo: Trinidad & Tobago Football Association.

“The immediate goal is to implement a game model that will afford us the best chance of success in the qualifying campaign. The players have a ton of ability and potential, and are great athletically, but from what I’ve seen from the previous games I have watched there has been a lack of organisational structure within the team. My job and the job of my staff is to add a lot of coaching detail to the team’s game plan.”

With more places than ever before available for World Cup qualification, James confirmed that a major goal would be to make it to the tournament with the Caribbean side.

“Of course, it will be tough and we have a lot of work to do in a relatively short space of time, but that is the challenge now for the players and staff – to learn the game plan inside out so that we are able to hit the ground running come qualifying in November.”

James ended by considering what he wanted his legacy to be for women’s football in Trinidad and Tobago.

“I want to be able to look back and be proud of the work we have done and the legacy I have left. Not just in terms of the Senior National Team performances, but also the impact on the development of the game domestically.”

Impetus will be following James Thomas’ progress with Trinidad and Tobago with regular interviews over the coming months as the team embark on the road to the 2023 World Cup.

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