Before arriving at Seton Hall, Ali Simmons already had a gleaming resume with two NCAA Division II national championships with Barry University and the University of Charleston on it. As is the case for most up-and-coming college soccer coaches, Simmons is well-traveled and has made connections with various coaches and players from all over the country. However, his work outside of the college soccer realm also speaks volumes for the talent and potential he has when it comes to coaching at the highest levels of the sport.
He served as an analyst at Football Radar and helped develop a world-leading scouting software to provide clients with soccer betting advice backed by statistical analysis. It was a grueling job in which Simmons said he watched over 3,000 games within a three-year span, but the experience allowed him to hone his analytical skills before he began to take on coaching roles and start up his own player coaching program. Throughout his time as a coach, Simmons has always tried to live and work by a well-known quote with his own spin on it.
“I was told that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Simmons said. “But what I’ve also learned is that if you love who you’re working with, you’ll make friends for the rest of your life.”
It just so happens that Simmons’ love for coaching and the game of soccer has allowed him to form those types of relationships both within college soccer and outside of it.
In 2017, Simmons co-founded The Academy Player, a private coaching program, alongside Jack Gostelow which allows the two to work in a more personal style with players to help them improve their soccer craft. As head coach of Brunel University, his alma mater, Simmons began providing his services to those players before beginning to branch out across London and the rest of England.
“Me and Jack truly care a lot [about the program],” Simmons said. “I can’t fake it. I need to care about this player’s strengths and weaknesses, his psychological mindset, his position and what it looks like the level he’s playing at is.
“When we first started, we had a couple of my players at Brunel, Jack had a couple of young pros coming through and I had a few friends who were agents,” he said. “It was 50/50 so that players would sign with them and train with us. We’ve turned down a lot of players after one session because if you’re not enjoying it, it’s not worth it.”
Simmons and Gostelow have found that being able to establish that personal connection, much like a head coach usually does with their players, fosters a better sense of growth within that player’s abilities. Premier League defender Max Kilman trained with The Academy Player while at Wolverhampton Wanderers and has since gone on to become a regular presence in their first team. As the program picked up popularity, the likes of former professional Nicolas Anelka and Inter’s Ashley Young have had their kids coached by Simmons and Gostelow.
Throughout their work, they utilize online scouting websites as well as in-person viewings of a player’s games before strategically putting together an action plan on what the player’s strengths and weaknesses are. They clip together video highlights from a few games to provide examples and visuals for the players to learn from and even look to find parallels between that player’s strengths with professional players.
“It’s a cool indicator of who the players see themselves as,” Simmons said. “We did it with some of the [Seton Hall] recruits coming in, and we think it’s really important. If you’re a target center forward but you think you’re a pacey winger, you’re probably going to value little dribbling moments in the area out wide. But if you’re not that player, then you’ve really missed the trick. You need to understand your skill set, what you’re good at, practice that, then execute that.”
Much of what Simmons has learned from his analytical background and through his work with The Academy Player is also starting to translate to the men’s soccer team. Every player is receiving the attention that is expected for the players Simmons and Gostelow train, but the opportunity to apply it to Seton Hall’s team has also allowed him to experiment with how his training regimes can be adapted to fit individual players and entire teams.
As the Pirates push to make the Big East tournament next year, the impact of adding these aspects to the team’s training might be the factor they need to make them a Big East powerhouse. The challenge of doing so also provides Simmons with an opportunity to reflect on his own coaching philosophy. Teaching players alongside head coach Andreas Lindberg and fellow assistant coaches Jeff Matteo and Dan Solli, he is able to adjust his own methodologies and ideologies around the game to suit the team’s needs and their game plans.
As much as coaching is a career Simmons continues to grow within, the progression of The Academy Player is always on his mind.
“We’re looking at developing an app and making it onto a bigger scene,” Simmons said “I haven’t helped the situation by bumping about. I’ve been in Charleston, West Virginia for six months, I was in Miami for a year and I’m here for a year. We want to ramp it up during the preseason now. Long term, we want to continue working with an exceptional group of players during their journeys to the pros and while they’re in the pros.”
In an unprescedented time in which sports around the world are at a hault, these relationships are mor eimportant than ever. Simmons and Gostelow continue to train with players in person as often as possible, but the personal connections they have with them is the driving force behind why The Academy Player and thier coaching philosophies have found success.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.