2021’s football season has been confirmed (thanks, BAFA!) and that means training is well underway at Coldham’s Common.
Coaches are as busy on the sidelines as the players are on the field, but Offensive Line Coach Leigh Sessions has taken some time out to talk to us for the next instalment of our Meet the Coaches Series.
How did you get into football?
From a young age I always had a keen interest in football. Watching football on Channel 4 late at night I often sat there in envy that I couldn’t get the chance to play the sport. Instead I followed my second love of rugby and played for various clubs and teams. I then joined the Army and continued my involvement in rugby. I then started to go down the route of coaching and my playing career took a back seat as I coached the Army’s academy rugby team. Once I left the army I struggled with the transition of leaving the Military and put myself in a dark place. Then the 2017 NFL season started and I sat there, still in envy of playing the sport.
That’s then when I took the leap and googled if there were any British teams out there. To my surprise, I found plenty of teams out there. I decided to rock up to the first training day of 2018, on a snowy cold day on the Common, completely out of shape… I was quite literally welcomed into this new family, which helped me re-focus and helped fight some demons.
How did you start coaching?
I was well into my second season as a player and had secured my position as the centre. Things were great until an unfortunate injury forced me to be sidelined, watching the game being played without me.
The O-line coach at the time, Brian Jelley, kept me involved and asked me to be his assistant until I could get back on the field. Helping him train up my replacement was a reminder of why I coached rugby, so I then sought to do this more. I became O-line coach of the ARU Rhinos and helped repair a line which was in need of a lot of restructuring. That season they won not only their first game, but also won the division and earned promotion.
As the 2020 season unfolded I returned to the Cats as Assistant O-line coach hoping to help out Brian as much as possible. However as we all know, 2020 wasn’t meant to be and the season did not happen. Later in the year Brian decided to step down as the O-line coach and I was asked to be the new O-line coach, a role I know will be challenging as they are very big boots to fill.
What has been the defining moment of your coaching career?
I think the biggest moment is knowing I played a part in the greatest season of football the ARU Rhinos had ever seen. Being able to join the team and having free range in moving players around the line to positions which I thought would make them better and stronger, then watching them grow and bond together is an achievement which is hard to comprehend. But knowing that the line was recognised as what helped the team to win not only games but also the division was a mind-blowing confidence boost and started to define me.
How do you approach coaching?
Understanding my players is the most important aspect of my coaching style. Knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are and also how they can get better is how I like to operate. There should always be good vibes throughout the team. The line is one unit and if one falls, we all fall. No one man is greater than the other. You can always improve as a player and even as a coach.
Tell us about your best game as a player.
Well to be honest the best game I played was the last game I played! That season I was learning a new position and I wanted to dominate it. I had small adjustments every game and by the time I got to play against the Wembley Stallions I wanted to up my game and I did. I owned the nose tackle and dominated him all game which led to 2 touch downs in quick succession. Then injury struck and I had to watch from the side line.
What Pro team do you support?
The Philadelphia Eagles – as mentioned, at a young age I watched football, the first game I watched was the Eagles vs the Bears and I chose to root for the Eagles in that game. I’ve continued to support them ever since.
Jason Kelce! Hands down; his ability to dominate in the trenches and to lead from the front is why I bleed green.
What’s your goal for the 2021 season?
With the 2021 season coming up fast and the lack of a 2020 season, I don’t want to set my goals too high. But I want to re-establish the success the offensive line had in the 2019 season.
What are your coaching goals?
I obviously want to get that promotion. I want to get the opportunity to coach in the Premiership, to establish a dominant team and show the country that the Cats can take on the big boys. I want to have a season with no sacks, and for the line to be recognised as the best unit in the BAFA league.