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Sparks seals Stateside post with Tennessee test

Billy Sparks (3641578)
Billy Sparks (3641578)

A former Uppingham Community College pupil is making his mark as a football coach in America.

Billy Sparks, who also attended Rutland Sixth Form College in Oakham, has been appointed assistant men’s coach at Tennessee Wesleyan University.

Sparks, who played for Stamford Under 18s, Bourne Town and Yaxley after spending six years at Notts County’s Centre of Excellence, went out to America as a student nine years ago.

He now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife Victoria after recently receiving his big break into coaching after a playing career that saw him feature for National Premier Soccer League side Knoxville Force.

Billy explained: “I wanted and needed to get into a full time coaching role in the USA.

“My friend and ex-team-mate, Luke Winter, had been appointed as coach at Tennessee Wesleyan University and wanted me to join him for the 2018-19 season as his assistant .

“It was the positive break that everyone needs in life.

“The support of my wife and that of those at home has made this journey possible.

“And now I am helping soccer players achieve the same – how rewarding is that?

“I believe there are a number of young footballers released from professional academies or just playing in leagues such as the United Counties League who probably have not thought of an American option to study for a degree, play soccer and coach too.

“The good networking while out in the USA can also make this a life-changing, career-enhancing opportunity.”

Billy’s American adventure started out when took up an athletic scholarship offer in Tennessee which allowed him to study for his degree while at the same time playing soccer at a high standard in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC).

After graduating in 2013 with a BSc in exercise science and sports management, Billy had been Tennessee team captain for two years, selected in the All-Conference team three times while being considered one of the top 10 NAIA College defenders nationally in 2011 and helping his team bring home AAC titles in 2010 and 2012.

He then attended St Andrews University in North Carolina where he was a graduate assistant for the men’s team while working on a master’s degree in business administration.

Developing an interest in coaching, he helped the Knights achieve their best season in school history in 2014 when the team won the AAC regular season and tournament championship. They also appeared in the national tournament.

Returning home in 2015/2016 as an assistant teacher at Uppingham Community College, he went back to America the following year to William Carey University in Mississippi where once again he was a graduate assistant for the highly successful men’s team helping them to the top eight in the nation two years running.

He successfully completed his Master of Education degree in February of this year and also held his USSF National D License, NSCAA National Diploma, NSCAA Advanced National Diploma, NSCAA Goalkeeper Level One and Two plus the FA First for Sport Level Coaching Award.

Sparks also had coaching experience in youth academies across Tennessee and Mississippi with McMinn United, Chattanoog, Knoxville Force and Hattiesburg Youth before Luke’s offer came along.

Luke – who went out on the same plane in August 2009 with Billy to start their American journey together – explained: “It is great to be back working with Billy.

“As a player, he helped lead the team and I know he will do the same in this new role.

“Billy is bringing experience from the top level in the NAIA and that is where together we want to take this programme and stay there. We are both hungry to achieve this success.”

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