Jon Shaw on the changing scene of non-league football
After five years at South Shields, defender Jon Shaw has taken up a new role with the club as assistant manager.
The veteran has been in the game since 2003, beginning his playing career at his boyhood club, Sheffield Wednesday.
Since then Shaw has played for a multitude of teams up and down the football pyramid and is hoping to draw on his experiences in his new position.
One aspect of this is the changing face of non-league football, and how this area of the game is moving away from stereotypes of pub footballers, endless long balls being lumped up the pitch and big Dave at the back doling out leg-breaking tackles.
Shaw said that his introduction to this football as a player had this general feel and standard similar to the horror stories that circled the non-league circuit, but this stigma is slowly changing.
“The level of football lower down the pyramid is getting better,” he explained. “The difference between League Two, National League and National League North is now really small.
“The best part about non-league football is that it’s going up, the standard of play, the standard of care, the standard of fitness, the standard of sports fitness.
“All of those things at the top of the game will inevitably just drip into non-league football.”
Shaw believes that this changing landscape of non-league football has allowed it to become a better arena for young players to come and learn their craft.
He added: “If you can find a club – and these clubs are popping up more and more – with a standard of playing and an identity of what they do, then you can get younger players into these levels and expose them when they’re ready for this development.”
As well as the standard of football, another area that is starting to shift is the science behind the football, something which Shaw has noticed in recent years.
“We brought in a sports science coach and he did some freelance stuff and at this level, it’s about education, making sure that the lads are aware of what they can and can’t do.
“We give players information and if they need our help, they can have it and if they want to use the sports scientists, they can and he’ll give us some information.
“The lower you go down the pyramid, you have to get players to take ownership of their own fitness, their own bodies, their own diets.
“We’ve got some great lads and they try and gain the 1%s and 2%s that they can.”
One key area of development at South Shields is the academy system, which has been up and running for the past four years and is something that Shaw is particularly proud of.
A big part of his ethos is his faith in South Shields’ academy system, and he says it would be “daft” to ignore it.
Shaw said: “Our academy is designed for exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about developing players and giving young lads in our region the best opportunity to get into our first-team.
“It’s about the opportunity to become a better person and a better person in what you do.”