'...coaching groups of 55 children who do not speak English other than a very limited few broken words or phrases, saw the autocratic side of my coaching come through in order to have complete control of the group!'
Name, age, where are you based?
Ryan Eldred, I’m 28 years old and currently based on the Isle of Wight.
Current and past roles:
My most recent role was with Football Future, a football consultancy that provides clients with high quality youth football services based in Shanghai, China. Football Future co-operates with local and international schools and runs various community projects after school times and at weekends, as well as competing teams in the Shanghai International Youth Football Official League.
I was originally employed as a football coach, but was quickly promoted to the position of project manager of the YKPAO School football program. In this position I was responsible for looking after all primary coaching and teams as well as supporting and delivering sessions with the middle and high school.
My first role in China was as a youth coach with Shanghai Leader Football Project in March 2018. I was based in local Chinese schools, coaching children from the ages of 5-16. After a few months I was given additional responsibility within our biggest school in Minhang. This role required taking care of the teams project and overseeing the U7-U11 sides that competed in the Minhang and Shanghai schools league.
Before moving to China I was working full time with Pompey in the Community as a Community / Development coach. This was a role I really enjoyed due to the variety of different sessions I had to undertake. Responsibilities ranged from coaching in schools (P.E Lessons / after school clubs) to looking after and coaching the Elite Youth Development teams, and competing in the Junior Premier League and International tournaments. This is a role where I grew a lot as a coach and as a person due to working with fantastic coaches in a great working environment.
Prior to working with Portsmouth, I completed a year in the USA with UK International Soccer, where I was predominantly based in Seattle (PNW). This was a great experience for myself personally. It was the first time I’d moved this far away from home and moved outside of my comfort zone. Although only being contracted to work as a camp coach / director, I was lucky enough to be involved with coaching K.U Academy in the evenings, both boys and girls teams from U8-U16.
The days were extremely long due to putting on camps during the day and team trainings in the evenings. Putting in numerous hours in the hot conditions was definitely tiring at times but the experience was invaluable and helped me grow as a coach.
My first role after graduating from the University of Chichester was with Chelsea Foundation as a community coach. This was a real eye opener due to only being on a casual contract. The hours were few and far between, which meant having to take on other part time jobs to supplement my wage. This really highlighted how hard I needed to work to become a full-time football coach, I had to go out and get those hours under my belt, learn as much as I could and take every opportunity available to increase my chances of a career in football coaching. This really made me take the first step in moving to Seattle, and I haven’t looked back since.
I graduated from the University of Chichester in 2014 with a Bsc Hons Degree in Community Sports Coaching. Whilst at University I completed my FA Level 1 when volunteering with Worthing Dynamos FC, a club that really supported me and gave me the opportunity to coach on a regular basis. Due to making such great connections and friends within the club I decided to carry on volunteering for another year after graduting with the club putting me through my FA Level 2 in 2015. Whilst at Portsmouth I completed my Talent I.D Level 1 and more recently have just completed my Pyschology Level 1 and FA Primary Teachers Award.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I got into coaching at a relatively young age due to unfortunate circumstances. When I was 16 I broke my hip playing football and this kept me out of the game for some time. After being told I may not be able to play properly again for a long time, I decided to explore other avenues. At the time, I found this situation devastating. All of my friends were moving into senior football and seemed to be developing whereas I had to sit tight and watch from the sidelines for the next 2 years.
During that time my dad and brother in law both coached a local youth teams on the Isle of Wight, so I thought I’d go along and try and make myself useful where I could.
Instantly I found a real love for coaching. I enjoyed setting up practices and helping with the team on match days and thought this was something I could see myself doing.
I gained a real attachment to the team and decided to help out again the following season. This time I decided to get even more involved by taking trainings and having more of an input during games. Since then I really haven’t wanted to do anything else other than make it as a coach, but I still wasn’t too sure how I’d go about it. If you would have told me back then that coaching would have gotten me a degree and allowed me to travel all over the world, I probably would have laughed at you. However, the journey so far has been incredible and I’m not ready to slow down yet.
Any highlights you would like to mention?
I believe volunteering in coaching makes a huge difference, often you are helping someone out but they are also helping you out in return. As a young coach I found volunteering extremely beneficial as it gave me the opportunity to coach on a regular basis and provided me with my licenses from the FA. The support I received whilst volunteering at Worthing Dynamos over 3 years really put me in a good position to take the next step and looking for a paid coaching role.
I will always be grateful for that opportunity. Whilst at Univeristy, I also volunteered with Brighton & Hove Albion in a community participation project based around supporting vulnerable adults. This program allowed them to come and get involved in a great program that supported them with any issues they had in their lives, using football as a tool to combat their problems. Again, an excellent learning curve to see the different types of programs that are offered by community foundations.
What made you initially want to go out and coach in China and what were the first major culture shocks when arriving there??
The true story is, I don’t actually really remember applying for my first job in China. At the time I was working at Portsmouth and had been back from the USA just over a year, but I still had the travel bug and wanted to experience new places. This led me to send a bunch of CV’s to various openings, which I didn’t hear much back about. Around three months later, I received an email offering me a job in Shanghai.
I didn’t know much about the job but had heard a little about the recent development and increase of football in China so it grabbed my attention straight away. At first I thought; I don’t know anyone that’s been to China, so I did a little research on the city and what it had to offer, and I was sold in around five minutes.
Shanghai looked incredible, I immediately phoned my current boss at the time and explained that this was a great opportunity, and he was excellent about it (not the reaction that I expected). Despite trying on more than occasion to persuade me to stay he agreed that this was a great chance to further myself as a coach and 6 weeks later I was on a flight.
On arriving in Shanghai, the culture shock was something you cannot really prepare yourself for. The amount of people, the language, the skyscrapers and not really knowing anyone on top of mega jet lag from travelling over 30 hours was a lot to take in during the first few days.
After settling in for a couple of days, I decided to brave my first walk to the shops and made the same mistakes as I can imagine many others have in the past and will continue to make in the future. I was only looking for a few essentials but of course I managed to buy yogurt instead of milk and shaving foam instead of deodorant, standing there in Qibao Tesco like a lost, little boy.
You really begin to doubt yourself and think, “how am I ever going to live here?”, but trust me, it does get easier. You learn to adapt and somehow find a way through the trickiest situations. Your life skills during that initial week or so really do get put to the test.
How have you had to adapt as a coach to allow best coaching delivery for your environment, and how do you incorporate education within a coaching and learning setting?
After my first day of coaching in China I knew I had to adapt my coaching style and delivery to benefit the group and myself. I already deemed myself to have quite an authoritative coaching style when needed which demanded the respect and focus of the group. However, coaching groups of 55 children who do not speak English other than a very limited few broken words or phrases, saw the autocratic side of my coaching come through in order to have complete control of the group.
I still tried to be as fun as possible as these were primary aged children and football is meant to be fun, but if you did not get the groups attention in the first couple of minutes you were in for a tough 40 minutes. I also found it best to stick to a few certain key words or phrases that the children could remember and of course make use of colors and numbers where possible, something that they could pick up easily and remember.
During days of bad weather or poor air pollution when we forced inside, we would provide the class with ‘Football English’, this was a valuable tool for them to understand more words and sentences for the next session.
Despite not enjoying my first role in China as much as job with Football Future, it certainly gave me a new skill set and allowed me to improve as a coach and a person in more ways than one.
It was disappointing the way it ended with Shanghai Leader because we had a great group of coaches who were a joy to work alongside. However, this opened the door for me at Football Future, something that I will always be grateful for.
Have you gained any experiences or opportunities in China which you wouldn’t have been able to get back home?
One of my favorite opportunities I received with Football Future, in which I was lucky enough to do twice; was the chance to travel to Kunming with a group of players and work at the Keuha Football Center. The facility was incredible, boasting 2 immaculate grass pitches, a hybrid field and a top quality 4G. All of these facilities based in a high altitude environment up in the mountains with the most stunning backdrops. The facility had the same qualities of Premier League training grounds and we had access all areas. I felt really privileged to work at such a great venue, this has made me even more driven to work for a club that has similar facilities.
Different to the working at home, there are more available roles in China where you are solely just coaching football. Ok it may not always be at the highest level, but it is football. Many jobs back in the UK, especially with community foundations and club charities want coaches to deliver different sports and PE lessons, something that I’ve happily done before, however now I I’d rather just focus my attention on football, this is a lot more accessible in China.
What ways have your previous roles in the UK and experiences within community coaching helped you in your current role?
I feel all of my previous roles in the UK have been valuable in my coaching journey so far. Working and volunteering in the UK has allowed me to gain a better insight to how things are run within professional clubs and organizations. Also it has allowed me to gain a great concept of coaching within schools, providing much needed experience of coaching many children of different ages, abilities and personalities.
I believe coaching in the community gives you the tools and skill set that you can use in almost any coaching environment. By immersing yourself in the community and collecting as many hours of experience as you can, you are setting yourself up for your next coaching venture.
What valuable take-aways did you learn in your community coaching roles, when transferring into an elite youth coaching environment?
I think moving from community coaching to an elite role is tricky for some coaches if they haven’t done their homework. When moving into elite coaching there is a greater demand for technical, tactical, and physical understanding of the sport, the group and an overall greater knowledge due to coaching at a higher level. Whereas in community programs the focus is more centered around participation and enjoyment.
Despite this, elite players still require that caring, fun approach in many situations and will benefit from a coach who can strike a good balance between the two. I was lucky enough to be coaching in the community with Portsmouth at the same time as looking after and coaching their Elite Development teams. This allowed me to transfer some aspects from community coaching into a high performance session, allowing the best of both to benefit the group as best as possible.
What’s been best for your development so far and what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Personally, I feel I see my greatest levels of development when I force myself out of the comfort zone. When a new opportunity arises, you’re often skeptical of what might or might not happen, but I feel like you should just go out and do it. Even if it does not quite work out, like my first role in China, It may open another door to something even better.
Taking that step to move away and travel has really taken my career to the next level and I don’t intend for my development to stop here. I’m always looking for the next opportunity and I’m really excited for what the future holds.
My biggest challenge was without a doubt adapting to life in China. At the beginning I had a few ‘China days’ where you second guess what the hell you’re doing, but once you manage to crack it and realize you can adapt because you have to, you receive a huge sense of achievement which will then spur you on to the next great thing that you’re capable of.
Would you recommend coaches to gain experience abroad and what could they expect to get out of such an experience?
As a coach - 100% - It has really helped me in countless ways and allowed me develop my coaching, find myself as a coach, and gain valuable experiences and opportunities that you may not receive at home.
As a person – 100% - Experiencing coaching abroad in a different culture also improves you as a person, you see things that really open your eyes and you learn a lot. It has really broadened my horizons.
As well as this, along the way you will meet some of the most fantastic friends and create relationships that you definitely wouldn’t have made by not taking the opportunity. I’ve met many people during my travels, many in which I now consider as friends for life. Your friends from home will still be there when you get back, so go and make some more connections!
What’s next for you, any thoughts on the future?
I recently moved back to the UK to try and enroll on to a UEFA B course. However, the current CoronaVirus situation this has managed to slow down the process, therefore when things settle down this will be my first priority. I feel as if I’ve been ready for this for a while and probably should have completed it before moving to Asia, however; I was too excited to get on a flight and ended up putting that to one side. I feel once I have this I can then move to the next level and hopefully start working within a professional club academy setting.
I am also currently working on a side project, researching 1 to 1 and small group coaching. This is something that interests me, but I don’t have a great wealth of experience in this area. Most of my coaching work to date has focused around teams. I feel individual training can have many benefits and if I can tap into the pros of this concept it will only develop my coaching skills further.
Finally, the travel bug is still there and honestly I don’t think it will be going any time soon. I’m sure as soon as these travel restrictions are lifted and we get back to normal, I’ll be looking for my next adventure.