Where Are They Now: Ben Harding

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Ben Harding is an experienced footballer who has just taken up a post as assistant manager and head of coaching at Mousehole FC in Cornwall.

Also a player at the club, Ben started his career at Chelsea academy before moving on to Wimbledon, where he worked his way through the academy and then made his professional debut in the Championship at the age of 19. When the club went into administration, Ben moved with the team to Milton Keynes in what was to become the start of a long and varied career in the sport, until he started to think about getting an education and building up his coaching skills. We caught up with Ben to find out more about his new appointment and life after playing as a professional.

Hi Ben, what made you want to pursue an education and coaching?

It can be difficult to maintain a long career in football, so when I started to pick up a lot of injuries while playing at Torquay United, I started to consider if I wanted to keep playing or start looking at life after football. Ultimately, I decided to go back to university to get a degree and continued playing in the Conference South at the same time. I had always felt like I had the right attributes to become a good coach, so I also obtained my coaching badges alongside studying, and when I finished my degree a position came up at Mousehole. The innovative thinking of the club really suited me, so now I’m still playing and also the assistant manger and head of coaching for the team.

Did the PFA offer you any support throughout your journey?

The PFA have been great and have always been really supportive of me dealing with club issues, especially during my transition period. They gave me bursaries to support me during my degree, and when it comes to coaching, they provide you with all the tools you need to go in and succeed. My assessors for my UEFA B license Mike Cook and Steve Guinan were fantastic and offered a great amount of help and advice along the way. With the PFA I’ve found you can just pick up the phone and someone will always get back to you with information to help you deal with any problems you may have.

What will your role at Mousehole entail?

We’re lucky enough to have full-time players at Mousehole, so my day-to-day involves coaching and spending a lot of time with the players, building a rapport with the lads and putting on good sessions for them that are enjoyable and will help progress their development. We also have an academy with age groups from under-7 all the way to under-16, so I also make sure we have the right coaches in place that abide by the philosophy of the club. We really focus on developing players, and we’re already working at a professional level, with the hope that we will be moving up the leagues in the next few years.

What has been your biggest challenge in football?

When Wimbledon became MK Dons I stayed and followed them, but it got to a point where the manager was looking for more experience and I ended up playing in the Conference with Aldershot Town. I’d never played in that league before and I lost a lot of confidence and almost lost my way. At the time I felt like I was losing the football dream until I realised football is a business and the decisions people make are not personal. I decided to give it my best shot and we got promoted back into League Two which was great, seeing as our aspirations had been to avoid relegation that season. I’ve played at both the old and new Wembley so I’ve definitely had some incredible experiences along the way too.

What advice would you give to players in a similar situation?

The vast majority of football players will need to have a second career when they leave football, so my advice, to any young player is to make use of any time you have and make sure to gain skills in whatever direction you want to go in. If you don’t quite know what that is, then you need to seek advice from the PFA and other players who can give you the help to progress as a footballer and as a person. It is important to make sure you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to go on and be successful in another career after football.

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