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California Dream or Nightmare? - Gavin Murphy

This article was written by coach Gavin Murphy, from his experience in Sacramento during the summer of 2019.

It has always been a dream of mine to coach in America, specifically California, and last summer I got to do just that. I was offered the position of “camp counsellor” at a soccer/futsal company based Sacramento, in northern California.

After some delays, I collected my passport (with visa) at 6am on the 7th of June. Upon leaving the collection office, I booked my flight for 11am on the 7th of June. I got home, packed my bags and left for the airport.

Twelve hours later, I landed in San Francisco, where four other English coaches were waiting. Unfortunately, we had to arrange our ride from San Francisco to a hotel somewhere near Sacramento, eventually getting to hotel late in the evening. We had all of Saturday off to do what we wanted, we all went out to Folsom for some drinks, but didn’t stay out too long because we had a company training the following day.

The company training was showing us how to set up pitch with the equipment we had; 4 large cones, 50 small cones, 4 size four footballs, 4 size five footballs, and some bibs (pinnies). We were shown soccer habits (toe taps, soccer boxes, etc) that would start our sessions. We were taken to a mobile phone shop where we given sim cards (our phone bills would be paid). We then moved back to the company office where we set up a Google drive and calendar account. We were also allocated our schedules and where we would to be staying; three coaches would be staying with host families, two would be staying in a rented apartment, and we were given keys to one of three cars. After all the logistics were arranged, we then set off to either the apartment or host family. I would be staying with a host family, mum (a soccer coach) and dad, two young boys, and three doggies.

Monday, the first day of soccer camp which lasted from 9am – 12pm. I was there with two other coaches, one working with the keepers and another working with the younger players (6-11 years old). I worked with players aged 12 – 14 years. We were given sessions to run for the whole week and we finished each with a themed competition, awarding winners with coloured wrists bands at the end of the week presentations. After twenty minutes of running my session, I realised that the session I had been given was far too basic for the players I was working with, so I adapted and tried to make it more fun and more realistic.

Twelve o’clock rolls around, and we packed up and headed back to where we were staying for lunch. I had 3 groups that evening; a u10 girls team, a u13 boys, and a u11 boys group, finishing at 8pm. I delivered the basic session given to me by the company, but we (as coaches) discussed via email with club coaches what their teams needed to work on. I then had to design a six-week or twelve-week training plan and upload every session to Google Drive. I coached every morning at camp that week and every evening. I didn’t finish earlier than 8pm. It was great, coaching soccer in the California sun and getting paid for it!!! I was already planning on extending my contract beyond October…

Eventually, my schedule started to get busier. I was doing a one-to-one session with a boy twice per week. Friday was particularly hectic; a twenty-minute drive to camp, camp for three hours, a twenty-minute drive to the house, a thirty minute drive to session, a twenty minute drive to futsal, leave the futsal court at 9:30, another twenty-minute drive home. The feedback from my sessions was good and I was up to date with all my other tasks. I got my head down and got on with things.

On Saturdays, I would get to view some of the teams I was coaching and then do an evaluation of them and send it across to the coach. We’d get Sunday off. By mid-summer it was incredibly busy for us; camp in the morning, a break in the afternoon, then coaching every evening.

I eventually managed to sort my social security number after six weeks of wages. I was excited about how much I was going to get paid because of how many coaching hours I was doing. When I did get paid, I couldn’t believe just how poorly I was being compensated. My motivation immediately took a hit. One of the younger coaches, who was homesick and averse to any food other than chips and chicken tenders, decided to return home after a second bust up with the owner of the company, which meant his sessions had to be covered by the remaining coaching staff.

I moved into the apartment and slept on an inflatable single bed for two weeks before one of the coaches moved in with a host family.

Every evening, I would come home, eat and have some sort of admin to do, whether it be writing evaluation cards for players at camp, planning sessions, match evaluations, six-week team evaluations. But the wages made it very difficult to enjoy any of it. I was paying rent on a flat back home. I was basically paying for the privilege of coaching in California. We had to pay for the rent of the car we drove, we also had to pay for the fuel. One car was so bad on fuel that we did our best to avoid driving it. Whoever was staying in the apartment had to pay rent. All this while the owner was making a fortune from our labour. We were coaching way over one hundred kids per week.

I eventually had enough, particularly after being told by the company secretary to pay for a broken-down car myself. I went to the office and spoke to owner and his secretary about how low my wages were and that I would be returning home because what I was being paid was not sustainable. What I was being paid did not reflect the work I was doing. An argument ensued. I was told if I left early, they wouldn’t pay for my flight (which would cost me at least £700). I got choked up when talking about leaving some of the teams I was working with. I am extremely loyal to any players I work with, and I never want to let anyone down. My resignation was accepted, but I was told it would be needed in the form of an email. I returned to the apartment, opened my laptop to write the email. I got a call from the owner, stating that I was not being paid properly because of my tax code or something, and extra money would be distributed from the sessions left by the coach that had returned home. He didn’t have the balls to ask me to stay. I didn’t want to leave, and I convinced myself that I would get more come pay day. I did get more, but it still wasn’t close to what I was expecting. After the office bust up, I knew even if I wanted to extend my contract, they wouldn’t have me. I didn’t write the resignation email.

Camps finished, which meant we were working less hours. I’d go to the gym in the morning and then run sessions in the evenings. Contracts with teams started to end as schools began to return. I ended up staying with wo more host families. One was an older lady with an old dog. Her grandchildren all played soccer, so they all got discounted rates with the company. And a family with parents of a boy and girl, their grandfather, and three rabbits.

On the final day, we returned the cars (clean), and equipment, and the three of us made our way to San Francisco airport, and flew home.

In conclusion, I managed to clock up at least three-hundred hours of coaching in four months. That is experience I can bank, and it is an experience that these coaching companies are selling. Don’t go out to America like me expecting to be compensated fairly, you won’t. I would eventually love to go back and coach in California, but only if the money is right.

Camps lasted around Six weeks, Monday to Friday – players who couldn’t kick a ball to players who were very good. I also coached Monday to Friday. The earliest start was 430pm. I had two U8 recreational teams, U10 girls, U11 boys, U12 boys, two U13 boys teams, U14 boys, a week of futsal camp (where only one player wore the correct shoes), Friday evening futsal with U10 boys and U14 girls, two one-to-one sessions, match observations and ran two coaches clinics.

This may seem like all I do is chase money, but I have invested a lot of my own time and money on myself, and I take the profession quite seriously.

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