Swansea City Academy’s globetrotting Head of Goalkeeping believes the future is bright for the club's youngsters and hopes his experiences abroad can be of benefit to them.
Despite being only 28 years-of-age, Andrew Sparkes already has nearly ten years worth of experience as a goalkeeping coach, plying his trade with the likes of New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg and, most recently, the Sierra Leone national team.
The young coach’s primary role is looking after the Swans Under-21s and U18s, while he also oversees the goalkeepers and goalkeeper coaches from the U8s through to the U16s.
Sparkes, who took a trip to Australia this summer to coach young goalkeepers, says that the travelling has helped his development as a goalkeeping coach.
“I think you see different things in terms of training methods, training styles, types of goalkeepers,” said the coach, who played a key role in Gerhard Tremmel’s move to Swansea.
“You come up against different challenges in different places of the world.
“I just hope that the experiences I’ve had with all of the clubs, and all of the different places I’ve worked in, add up so that I can improve the goalkeepers that I work with.”
Sparkes’ most recent exploit in the world of football is by becoming the goalkeeping coach of Sierra Leone’s national team – a role he was offered by a former colleague at New York Red Bulls.
He said: “When I worked in New York, one of the coaches there went to work for Craig Bellamy’s foundation in Sierra Leone. He had been there for four years when the national team job came up. They approached him, and he got the job.
“He then asked me if I wanted to come on board, and obviously it’s a senior national team, so it was my first experience of working within an international setup.
“My first match happened to be a FIFA World Cup qualifying game. We won the game, but I think we finished three points off of the top of the table.
“If one or two of the results had gone right, before we came in, then you never know, we could be packing our bags for Brazil in 2014.
“It was a great experience; not many coaches get the chance to ply their trade at international level.
“My bread and butter is Swansea City, though. That’s my main focus.
“It was good for the club for me to be given time to travel over there, and hopefully the experience I get I can bring back to the Swans.”
In addition to his experiences abroad, Sparkes says that Swansea’s brand new Landore Training Academy could have a hugely positive impact on the club’s future.
“It’s fantastic,” said Sparkes. “I think it’s something that the club has needed for years.
“I think the youngest ones, especially – the U8s and U9s – will see the full benefit of it [the new facilities]. They are going to be in here for – hopefully – the next ten years and then into the first-team.
“For the older boys, we obviously wish it would have come earlier for them, but now the ones that do have it, they have to make the most of it.
“Now that it’s in place, it has taken us to a different level, in terms of what we can do on a daily basis with the players.
“From a goalkeeping standpoint, we now have our own goalkeeper area, which we can use pretty much 24 hours a day.
“There has been instances when we’ve had a weekend off, but a goalkeeper has wanted to come in and train for an hour on a specific technique or an issue they want to train a little bit more on, so we now have the freedom and the flexibility to come in and do extra sessions.
“We also have the canteen, the gym, classrooms for video analysis, so everything we have is centralised to one place; whereas, before, we were in five or six different places and trying to juggle things around people’s schedules.
“It can only benefit the boys and the club. Hopefully we will start seeing the rewards of this.”