I started writing this blog on my 24th birthday sitting aboard a flight to Beijing where I was excited to open the next chapter in my coaching career. When I was at school it took me a number of years to realise that coaching was a viable career option. This was a consequence of there being so few full time coaching opportunities in Northern Ireland. Despite my love for the game no one at school showed me what was possible and it was only when I went to University and spent the summer coaching in America and Canada that I realised coaching was a viable career path. This realisation changed my life. Four days after completing my masters degree I set off for the Middle East where I spent seven months working for Arsenal Soccer School in Kuwait, and have now spent the last seven months working in Beijing for China Club Football. Having lived abroad for the past 14 months I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my formative years as a young adult. I have gathered some feedback from eight of my coaching colleagues in Beijing to give you further insight into life coaching abroad.
Benefits of coaching abroad
One of the key themes from the coaches was the opportunity to learn about a new country and culture. I didn’t quite know where Kuwait was before I moved and had only formed views on the culture from what I had seen in the media, especially as there was a bombing the month before I arrived. The media had made such a strong impression on everyone that a number of people feared for my safety. This was a false impression as I always felt very safe in Kuwait. It was an amazing cultural experience as locals would explain their views to me and I watched how they lived day to day which taught me a side of their culture that the media fails to address.
Another key aspect for the coaches is it allows the opportunity to travel. Being abroad makes certain countries much more accessible as being closer makes flights cheaper and flight time shorter. In some countries you can also find foods and clothing in markets which are much cheaper than you would find back home. During the past 13 months I have been to ten new countries. Travelling becomes an addiction once you move abroad, it opens your mind and it teaches you so much about the world. I have met some amazing people from all over the globe on my travels and now have contacts in various regions of the world. It also presents a brilliant opportunity to learn a new language as you pick up words and phrases every day just being surrounded by it. Being abroad helps you to develop as a person as you now have to fend for yourself and can no longer rely on your mum to do the washing!
From a professional perspective coaches mentioned that there are more coaching opportunities abroad as there are a lack back home even at professional clubs. This allows you to dedicate more time to the profession and get more experience on the grass while having more responsibilities than you possibly would in an organisation back in the UK. They also mentioned the benefits of working with kids from different backgrounds. It was believed this is positive as it gives you experience of using different approaches and helps you to develop new methods which will make you a better coach. Alongside this it allows us to learn about different coaching styles as I have done this season working with Spanish and Belgian coaches who have both worked with academy teams in their respective countries.
A coach mentioned how we are heavily influenced by our football associations and that sometimes it’s good to get away to create a different way of thinking and adding it to what we already know. Another coach agreed saying how the AFC A licence and working with a Japanese coach has given him a different perspective on the game. It is also a great opportunity and responsibility to work in less developed footballing countries where there is a chance to make a bigger impact. This can be seen as many coaching organisations with international coaches run the local leagues and may be the only competent coaches that a child comes into contact with.
Difficulties of coaching abroad
There are many positives to working abroad but you do also encounter a number of difficulties that need to be considered. Being a coach abroad can be hard as you work long anti-social hours. The weekends are usually very busy and although we sometimes start later during the week, in most cases we finish quite late as our sessions can run into the evening once school finishes. The office work and travel to venues can take up a lot of time before the sessions even begin. Our day off is typically a week day which makes it hard to find new friends and hang out with other expats. The coaches mentioned it is difficult being away from family and friends especially during birthdays and big holidays. The goodbye at the airport can be an upsetting moment for many families. Some companies only give a flight out at the start and back at the end of your contract so it can be expensive getting home with many people preferring to travel to more accessible countries as it is less expensive.
The language barrier can be a challenge here in Beijing as not as many people speak English as you would as you would expect (maybe it’s my Irish accent). Working with a translator to get your messages across to the kids can be difficult. This can clearly be overcome by coaching in the likes of America but shows the importance of researching potential countries you’d like to coach in. It can also be a positive as it encourages you to learn a new language and is a challenge which will make you a better coach.
Football may not be the biggest sport in the country you coach meaning the ability of the kids and their desire to play and improve may be lower than you would expect. Often it is expensive for the kids we coach to attend sessions led by international coaches which means they may be spoilt which can cause poor behaviour and a lack of motivation at times. This highlights the need to research the coaching organisation you will work for to find the level of ability you will be coaching, their behaviour and motivation levels.
Small things can also cause some challenges in certain countries including finding your favourite foods and navigating your way around, both of which get easier with time. The time difference can impact upon your contact with loved ones or make it difficult to watch matches. Adapting to a new culture can be difficult and understanding the locals behaviour especially in lesser developed countries but it can be an enriching life experience. I much prefer highlighting the positive aspects but it is important to outline both sides of the story to provide a true reflection of what coaching abroad can be like in the more challenging countries.
The positives of coaching abroad cause enriching life experiences while the difficulties provide a challenge which encourages personal and professional development. One coach did mention it’s not for everyone which highlights the need for detailed research to be carried out in the region you aim to coach in. Countries in Asia with a foreign language, culture and food may suit one coach whereas a western country such as America who speak English may be more comfortable for another coach. It is also very important to research the company you will work for. It is vital to find the level of children you will work with, their motivation and behaviour, and what responsibilities and opportunities for professional development you will be given. Overall the coaches and I would highly recommend coaching abroad. I hope this article has reinforced the idea that a career in coaching is possible and has given you an insight into what to expect when coaching abroad.
Key recommendations to coach abroad:
- Achieve minimum level 1 coaching qualification. The higher up the ladder you are the more attractive you will be to potential employers.
- A sport related degree is not essential but it will help you to get a work permit and may help you obtain a better coaching job. The majority of our coaches in Beijing have one. At Uni you can spend your summers in the US to see if coaching abroad is for you, or possibly your year out.
- Get coaching experience. The more experience you have at the different levels within the game the more desirable you will be to coaching organisations.
- Find an experienced mentor within your region who you can observe, gain feedback from and receive guidance on your potential career path. It’s also important for getting a good reference!
- Subscribe to a sport career sites who advertise the latest jobs abroad and email companies in different countries to develop a network of contacts. Check the job specifications to see what you need to get the jobs you want.
- Research the country you will live in. You need to address aspects such as the language, culture, lifestyle, activities to keep you entertained and relaxed away from work, food, visa requirements, political stability, laws & the weather (including pollution levels).
- Starting at a professional club abroad is unlikely unless you know someone very well. Soccer schools can be a great way to get yourself immersed in the culture and build up contacts. Three of my colleagues went from a soccer school to professional clubs in China in the space of six months.
Questions to consider when researching a club or coaching organisation:
- You need to talk with them to see is the club/organisation the right fit for you in terms of professionalism, offering opportunities for responsibility and professional development.
- Will the players speak English or will a translator be needed? Will you be coaching adults, kids, elite players, players with poor ability, motivated players, spoilt/unmotivated players, or possibly a mixture of types?
- What facilities will you be coaching in and will you be in one fixed venue or travelling between venues? If so, how is this done and will the club pay for my travel expenses?
- It is important to find out the length of contracts offered to see which time frame suits you best.
- You need to find out the number of paid flights your will receive and whether accommodation, visa, food, medical insurance and transport will be paid for.
- What is the accommodation like? If it’s not paid for by the club, how complicated is the process of dealing with this yourself?
- It’s beneficial to find out about the visa process beforehand to get your documents ready as it can take time to get police checks and book appointments etc.
- The currency you will be paid in, the exchange rate, and whether they will help you to set up a bank account. What is the basic wage after tax, and will there be any add ons or bonuses?
- How many hours a week will you work, is travel time from the office to venues included in this? How many and which days will you get off? What activities/attractions are there for coaches to visit outside of work?
- The number of days leave there will be that will allow you to travel. There are many vital issues such as these you need to discuss before accepting any role.
- This research can be carried out by asking the company directly or by seeking out a current or previous employee, which may be the best non biased approach.
If you would like any advice or would like a contact abroad in a certain country feel free to get in touch.
Originally posted: 7th August 2016.