‘A tactical mind’ – The inside story of how Dean Smith became Aston Villa’s very own grand master – MSN UK

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Dean Smith has detailed how becoming West Midlands schools chess champion continues to give him a tactical edge in the Premier League.

Aston Villa 's Great Barr head coach grew fond of the thinking man's board game thanks to countless hours playing and testing himself against his uncle, Reg, during the school holidays.

Smith, 49, still plays chess to this day and explains how it's helped him in terms of his tactics in football management.

"I played chess with my uncle," Smith told Sky Sports, "every Christmas and holidays where they came round to our house.

"I went into school and became West Midlands school chess champion as well, with our school team. I've continued playing. It probably gave me more of a tactical mind because of that."

Smith finished his playing career at Port Vale in 2005 but, four years prior to that, embarked on his first taste of coaching and helped manage a grassroots club in east London called Glenthorne.

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"That was my Thursday night," Smith added, who was still playing for Leyton Orient at the time. "Sometimes I was actually playing on a Saturday and still doing this!

"I think early on the experiences I had were centred around how to improvise well. I'd go into those coaching sessions and think, 'That's the session I'm going to have' and it doesn't progress how you want to, or three or four people don't turn up to train, or are injured.

"So improvising and making sure I'm flexible in my sessions is key."

On management itself at Villa today, the boss said: "I've always said that my role is to make players better; not just as players but as people as well, if I can. I want to help them on their path, on their journey.

"I've always believed that if you're helping individuals to improve, naturally the team is going to improve. That's been at the forefront of my mind all the time, and to do that you have to create relationships with the players you're working with, because you have to get the best out of them."

Villa play host to Leicester City on Sunday with Smith looking for a response following last week's goalless draw at Brighton. The head coach has helped Villa to within six points of the European places, and said: "The intensity levels in training have not stopped, they've been up there.

"We've had a fairly consistent team throughout the season, and that's because they've been playing so well, but the players who haven't been playing as much have been training well, and are ready to step in when needed.

"It's the players' responsibility to keep fit. It's a big thing for them to take ownership of their bodies and their recovery strategies, and how they live their lives outside of football.

"There's not as many distractions this season with the lockdown. There's not a lot the players can go and do to get distracted. But their professionalism speaks volumes for how we're doing this season.

"If I feel a player needs resting, I will rest them, but I don't feel we've needed to that often this season, and that's a credit to the players and their physicality. They are reaching their numbers regularly, and enhancing them too. I'm very pleased with that."

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'A tactical mind' - The inside story of how Dean Smith became Aston Villa's very own grand master - MSN UK

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