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Coaching with Villarreal CF in Spain

Not many British Coaches are coaching so close to a professional setup in Spain these days, but Vicky Yarnold who started coaching at 15, has ended up there and is learning along the way through her coaching path.

Name, age, where you are based?

Victoria Yarnold, 22 years old, Valencia, Spain.

Current Role:

I am currently completing an internship with Villarreal CF, working as an academy coach for the Pre-Benjamín B (U7) team. In addition to this, I carry out tasks for the clubs’ international department, including research and translation.

Back home in England I am studying a bachelor’s degree in Sport & Exercise Science and Spanish at the University of Chester, and as part of my course I am required to spend a year abroad working within a Spanish speaking country. This placement year was the ideal opportunity to gain valuable sport related experience in preparation for my future.


At present I have the FA Level 2 in Coaching Football. I have also achieved several Sports Leadership Awards, up to and including Level 3 Certificate in Higher Sports Leadership.

I would be interested in getting onto the coaching ladder in Spain and completing a course with the Spanish Football Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol).

How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?

I started coaching at the age of fifteen. In school I was involved in a Sports Leaders programme, during which I was required to complete some voluntary work. I contacted my local grassroots football club, Harborough Town FC, which I already had connections with having played at the club from a young age. From there I was given a position as an assistant coach for the U13 girls’ team.

Once I had completed the required number of volunteering hours, I made the decision to continue working with the team since I was enjoying the new experience. Two seasons later I was offered a managerial role for a newly formed U11 girls’ team. I took on the challenge and to date I still consider it one of my proudest achievements as a coach, and the biggest step which really kickstarted my coaching career. At the age of 17 I was managing my own team, leading the training sessions and taking control of the admin, all while studying my A-Levels, playing football for my own team, and refereeing.

Before attending university, I took a year out of education. This gave me the opportunity to focus on my personal and professional development as a coach and gain further experience, which ultimately helped me clarify my career path and where I wanted to go with my degree. I started my gap year in the summer of 2016 by working for UK International Soccer in the San Francisco Bay Area, running AYSO summer camps and assisting parent-lead teams during the fall season.

Following my return to England I went on to manage the U13 girls at Harborough Town FC once again for the remainder of the 2016/17 season. During this time, I also worked for a local sports provider, A Sporting Hand, where I delivered weekly football sessions to children aged 3-6. Once the season was over, I returned to work in the United States of America, this time with YESsoccer where I was assigned to Chicago Fire Soccer Club to deliver their summer camps.

When I started university in Chester I found a position as an assistant coach for a local grassroots team, Westminster Park FC U10 Lions, for the 2018/19 season. I also completed my FA Level 2 project with the team. The summer proceeding the season I made my return to America with YESsoccer.

Despite this vast history of experience with different age groups and abilities, in both England and the United States of America, it was a main ambition of mine to combine my love for football coaching with Spanish. After some time searching and contacting various clubs in Spain, I found a coach development internship with Villarreal CF which is where I am currently at.

So far, the experience I am gaining and opportunities available to me have been unimaginable. The position I’m in now, working for a La Liga club and coaching in their academy is something I envisaged once I have finished my university degree, and once my level of Spanish has excelled.

One of the key influences of increasing my involvement in coaching is my history of knee injuries. At the age of 16 I sustained my first ACL injury while playing for my school football team.

The 12-month recovery period following reconstructive surgery meant I had to take a step back from playing. At this point I was already volunteering at Harborough Town FC, and I saw coaching as an alternative way to maintain my involvement in the sport. Within my first week of training with the University of Chester women’s football team, I sustained my second ACL injury, only three years after the first. At this point it was almost certain that my time as a player was over, and therefore my focus turned to coaching.

What is your training focus with your current teams and players, and what are your main duties in your role?

As a coach within the academy, one of my main roles is to instill the club methodology into the players and prepare them for a future within professional football. As opposed to isolating skills, learning frequently takes place within small-sided games, using a reduced area of the pitch and implementing the skills into realistic game-like situations.

Players are provided with a lot of decision making and independence, aiming to develop them as a person not just as a player and promoting a high level of responsibility. In addition, there is a strong focus on providing both individual and group challenges, and ensuring players are progressing on their own terms as opposed to matching the ability of their teammates.

To nurture this, the players are encouraged to rate their performance in relation to their target after each training session by considering whether their objective has been achieved, or if additional work is required.

What’s the environment like for living and what are the main things that take some getting used to?

Living in Valencia is very different to Vila-Real where I work, since Valencia is the third-largest city in Spain with a population of 2.5 million, whereas Vila-Real is a town in the province of Castellón with a population of approximately 50,000.

Valencia is a very lively compact city with a vast population of university students, expats, and visitors. There is lots to see and do, and there are always events taking place. Vila-Real on the other hand is much more of a residential area with very little to do.

Because of this, Villarreal CF means a lot to the community when you take into consideration the size of the town. Having such a big football club playing in the Spanish top-flight means everything to the citizens of Vila-Real, and home games are treated like a mass social event for the town. What’s more, the town is set in such a beautiful location, with views of the Sierra Espadán mountain range which can also be clearly seen from the Villarreal CF Training Ground (Ciudad Deportiva del Villarreal CF).

When I first moved here, I found the cultural difference quite hard to adapt to. The Spanish way of life is much more relaxed, especially within the workplace. There is very little rush to get tasks done and the Spanish are much more lenient with their schedules.

The Spanish eating habits and mealtimes are also somewhat unique. Having 5 meals a day and eating dinner around 9pm definitely took time to adjust to. In addition to this, I was unaware of how broadly spoken the Valencian language would be within the region, which at first came as a big shock. Over time I have become accustomed to it and even managed to learn some words and phrases.

How’s the footballing culture in Spain and how is it being developed?

Football is a significant part of the Spanish culture. Every community is linked to a club and if you don’t play for the club you are expected to support it. Children grow up surrounded by the sport and therefore there is a strong influence for them to start playing from a young age. They will take every opportunity available to kick a ball around, which is also influenced by the countries renowned climate.

Spain is a prime example of a country with a high participation rate in youth football, as well as developing key initiatives to promote participation. UEFA invests a lot into football in Spain including the funding of high-quality facilities and delivering programmes with the aim to increase opportunities available and the number of people playing the sport.

Spain also has a reputation for having a strong youth development system. Look at Villarreal CF as an example – they have some of the best training facilities in Europe, and approximately 50% of players in the current first team have come up from their academy system. The Spanish Football Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) is partnered with UEFA to ensure that this reputation is maintained ahead of the rest of Europe.

What differences are apparent in terms of coaching in Spain compared to the UK?

My current role in a youth academy is very different to my previous coaching positions in England, since in England I have exclusively worked with players at the lowest level of grassroots football. Because of this, it is difficult to make comparisons between the two in terms of the standard.

I have however noticed a clear difference between the two countries in their style of play, which therefore influences the way in which you coach the players. The Spanish style of play is primarily focused on maintaining possession, by gaining control of the ball and playing it through the zones from defence to attack.

Because of this, sessions frequently include rondos, with the main focus being techniques to maintain possession and play the ball away from opposition players, as well as ways to quickly regain control. English football on the other hand has a greater focus on strength and advancing the ball upfield as quickly as possible.

Would you recommend coaches to go abroad and why? Any advice?

I would definitely recommend for coaches to gain experience abroad, particularly those who are looking to enhance their learning and develop themselves both personally and professionally. Speaking from my own experience, my most significant periods of development have been whilst working abroad. It tests your ability to adapt to a new environment and a different culture and work out how to communicate information in different ways, especially with those who don’t speak your native language.

If the opportunity arises, my advice would be to take the risk and really grasp it with both hands. Go into it with an open mind, and the more you put in the more you’ll get out. Coaching in another country doesn’t come without its daily challenges, and it can be a big step moving out of your comfort zone but immersing yourself amongst a different coaching culture is a true eye-opener and a very beneficial experience.

What has been the best thing for your personal development so far?

Learning how to coach in a different language and putting myself out of comfort zone. This has been my first experience as a coach where I’ve significantly felt out of my comfort zone, and where I haven’t immersed myself straight into my role.

At the start of my placement I had to take a step back from being at the forefront of the session, to take time to learn and understand how I was going to fit into this new coaching role. There’s no success without failure, and this is something I have certainly experienced this season.

What things have been challenging in your current or past roles?

Currently, my most significant challenge is the language. Despite having studied Spanish for 8 years, both in school and at university, I wasn’t concerned about my linguistic ability before coming to Spain. I never considered what language barriers I would encounter as a coach in a foreign country. As time went on it became evident that English coaching terms don’t convey the same meaning when translated literally into Spanish, and because of this the range of coaching terms I have always been accustomed to became irrelevant.

The moment when I want to provide a coaching point or feedback to the players it takes time for me to think of the right word or how to phrase it, at which point the moment has passed. At the start my lack of Spanish coaching terms was a key setback, but as time has gone on, and as is the case with learning any language, it has become easier and knowing what to say now comes more naturally.

In addition to this, having to adapt my mindset as a coach and what the main objectives of my role are. My current position at Villarreal has made me look at coaching from a club’s perspective. Previously, most of what I instilled into my role as a coach was my own interpretation, developing players and teams as I see fit, however now I’m having to follow their methodology which is a new experience for me.

My past experiences have always involved coaching players at the most basic of level. It goes without saying that there is a big difference coaching those already with years of experiences who have mastered basic skills and techniques.

Has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?

Immersing myself within a different culture and working in a much more professional setup. As mentioned, it has been a goal of mine to combine coaching and Spanish, therefore I am now developing within an environment where I see myself long-term.

I have had the opportunity to improve my knowledge of coaching players of a much higher ability at an academy, which is something that I am yet to experience in the UK.

The future – what is next for you?

Once I have finished my placement with Villarreal CF I will return to work for YESsoccer during the summer, and then back to England in September to complete the final year of my degree. Following this, my path isn’t certain, but I hope to continue my development in Spain and therefore return to coach in a more permanent position.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’ve always been driven to achieve my dreams, and no matter what my role is I will always put the maximum effort in. But over the years I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some very talented coaches from all around the world.

Seeing where their hard work and determination has taken them really inspires me further to follow this same mindset and hopefully one day get to where I aim to be. As a young female in this profession, I feel privileged to be doing what I am and continuing my involvement in the sport I’ve grown up loving and being a part of.

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