How 'deep thinker' Ray Shearwood is helping mould Liverpool's next generation

Behind the BadgeHow 'deep thinker' Ray Shearwood is helping mould Liverpool's next generation

Published 3rd May 2022
By Joe Urquhart

Ray Shearwood is very much part of the fabric at Liverpool’s Academy.

The former Preston North End scholar has undertaken a wide range of roles during his eight-year stint working for the Reds so far, picking up vital experience that has laid the foundations for where he finds himself today.

Shearwood began life at his boyhood club assisting the U15s, followed by various spells with the U16s, U14s and even U8s – with roles often crossing over in all directions and age groups.

He finally settled as head coach of the U10s having joined the Academy in 2014 on a part-time basis initially, leading the age group for two years before moving into a combined coaching and analyst role with the U16s.

Shearwood now has the same permanent role at U23s level, assisting Barry Lewtas’ squad on-pitch while giving decisive feedback to the Reds’ next generation in the classroom.

“I probably didn’t realise what I was learning at the time,” Shearwood told Liverpoolfc.com of his early years.

“I was surrounded by top-quality coaches and players. Being around quality players was always helping me, challenging me, and probably taught me a lot that has helped me with the players today.

“The lads that I first started coaching when I came in on a part-time basis from the U10s, they’re the current U23s team.

“It’s great to see some of the lads like Tyler [Morton], Layton Stewart and Dom Corness are still knocking around from when they were 10.

“It’s probably hard to explain, really. As a local lad, I’m working for Liverpool. If someone had said eight years ago that I’d be doing what I am now, I wouldn’t have thought it.”

Shearwood knew he wanted to remain in the game following the expiry of his schoolboy forms at Preston.

He took up a part-time coaching role with the Deepdale club, completing his badges alongside a sports science and teaching degree as an emergency fallback.

Plans of travelling to America emerged, though came and went quickly once Liverpool knocked on his door.

“I’ve always been a deep thinker,” Shearwood continued.

“I’ve always been someone who used to reflect on my own performance, but actually the coaching badges helped me when I was a scholar even more to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses and being open to feedback from the coaches.

“I suppose there were certain bits that related to each other and there was a crossover. Watching football was obviously a big part of my life, anyway, as was going the match and watching games.

“It certainly gave me an introduction into wanting to be a coach. I probably used to try to help others. I wasn’t the best at football, but I always used to help others on the pitch and try to help my teammates as best I could.”

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Shearwood is now a pivotal part of the staff that help bridge the jump between Liverpool’s aspiring youngsters and the club’s senior squad.

He remains hands-on in his approach on the training pitch alongside U23s boss Lewtas, but has continued to help mould minds off it in the video room too, with crucial feedback and information.

“The role is one I have probably adapted,” he added.

“Everything we do is around player development. It’s preparing the players for the next challenge and preparing for the next level. A lot of the work myself and Barry do with the U23s is led around that.

“Pre-match will be about how we want to play and what we want to do and how we’re going to implement the Academy philosophy mixed in with the first-team philosophy.

“There’s obviously an aspect of watching the opposition from a team point of view and an individual one.

“An example would be Billy Koumetio, he has really taken the onus on wanting to know about his direct opponent, so I suppose he puts pressure on me to try to find who he could be playing against.

“Then it’s sitting down with Billy and going through clips, so he can create a bit of a picture about what he might be facing. During the game I’ll be live coding, so it’s coding instances that are happening during the match that we can pick up later.

“We’ve just started to introduce showing the players certain parts of the game at half-time, which might be an individual or a team thing. That’ll be shown briefly. The reasoning behind that is because you’ll have players who have been in and around the first-team environment and that’s what goes on with them.

“It’s all about helping prepare them for that by making sure they’re ready to get to the next level. We wouldn’t want that to come as a surprise, which is why we introduced it.

“It’s also good from a personal point of view for me to upskill. Post-match would then involve going through the game and sorting through individual clips linked to each player’s development plan.

“So, areas which they’ll be working on. We’d also look for trends in their game both positively and from a development point of view.

“From a team perspective, I’ll go through the team codes, so that Barry will have positives from the game and areas to improve, which we’d debrief with the players around two days after the game.”

It is easily apparent that Shearwood is a busy man between coaching, analysis and helping players prepare and reflect on their own performances.

On top of everything else, he is also completing his UEFA A Licence having already added the bulk of his coaching badges to his CV.

The proof that the hard graft is worthwhile, though, is there for all to see in the number of youngsters that have earned first-team involvement this season.

At Shearwood’s old club Preston, 18-year-old Harvey Blair was given an opportunity in the Carabao Cup, while Conor Bradley, Tyler Morton and Max Woltman were handed a chance at San Siro against AC Milan in the Champions League.

More examples can easily be found with a glance at the fixture list, and the hours put in behind the scenes are done with that key driving factor in mind – both for coaching and playing staff.

“I suppose the biggest thing is that you’re working for a club where there is a clear pathway,” Shearwood said.

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“You’re working for a club where there is evidence and examples of players who have come through the Academy from the age of six and seven and gone on to play for the first team.

“You only have to look at the likes of Curtis [Jones] and Trent [Alexander-Arnold]. That is, essentially, the role of everyone at the Academy. We’re fortunate there is a pathway. The manager has clearly shown he is more than happy to play players if they’re ready.

“The link is a strong one, you can see that in how many debuts there have been this season. It’s rewarding both as a fan and professionally.”

Shearwood isn’t one for taking credit despite his obvious importance in helping develop those around him inside the training ground’s four walls.

“These players get to where they want to get to themselves,” he insisted.

“The Academy provides a lot of fantastic opportunities, but it’s for the players to take that. We’ll help, support and be there for them.

“It’s not just players who go and play for our first team, a big responsibility of my role is to also make sure the boys who are out on loan get looked after. Then there’s boys who go on to other clubs too.

“What I believe the Liverpool way to be, is that we want to try to create good people. It’s great to see boys move up and train with the first team, but it’s more rewarding when you know that they’re good lads. We’re trying to create good young men.

“Who knows where their paths may be in football or otherwise, but we’ve got such a responsibility to try to make sure that these young lads turn into good human beings. If the two go hand in hand, then that is all you can ask for.”

Analysis has become a key part of the modern-day professional game, with feedback invaluable for player development owing in part to the advancement of technology.

Shearwood does, though, still see himself as a hands-on coach – one that loves working and nurturing the next generation of the club’s rising talent out on the grass.

“I’ll always see myself as a coach, I see myself as someone who can help and develop others,” he concluded.

“The analysis side has helped me massively with my coaching. I’m able to still develop players, just with a different aspect, and that can only be a good thing.

“I’m still learning and I’m still taking in knowledge. That will never stop in whatever I do, whether it is in or out of football.”

Liverpool U23s face Burnley in the Lancashire FA Senior Cup final on Wednesday night - stay logged on to Liverpoolfc.com for match coverage and highlights.

Published 3rd May 2022