Cooking Food to Coaching Football - Neil Connor
Neil Connor is a football coach from Liverpool, with experience at home and abroad, working in Mexico, Vietnam, and the USA. Neil transitioned from being a chef to becoming an international football coach.
Name, age, where are you based?
Neil Connor, 43, Liverpool
Current and Past Roles:
Director of Football - Premier Liga FC
Academy Manager - IFA - Mexico
Multi-phase Coach - West Ham - Mexico
Coach & Mentor - Soccer XS - USA
Volunteer Coach - HSA - Vietnam
Head Coach - Woodingdean Wanderers FC - Brighton
UEFA B (2022)
MSc Performance Coaching (2022)
GCSE Spanish (2022)
Level 1 & 2 Coaching - (2019)
MSc Virtual Product Design Engineering (2006)
BSc Automotive Engineering (1998)
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I have been coaching people for over 20 years as a Head Chef and have transitioned over to Football Coaching in the past 4 years as my desire for cooking had become less and less. I have been fortunate enough to rapidly develop in the football industry because of those experiences as a chef because if you can coach a chef, you can coach anyone. It is also in part due to my desire to gain as much football experience as possible why I travelled and worked abroad for the past 3 years to get those coaching hours under my belt.
Can you share a story from your time volunteering?
I always look back at my time as a volunteer in Vietnam helping at The Blue Dragon Foundation through the academy, I was working at in Ha Noi. The foundation works tirelessly to help trafficked children return to their home country, and we were fortunate enough to be able to help them put on fun sessions for the boys. It taught me a lot about being able to communicate through football to those that I could not communicate with due to my lack of Vietnamese. Lots of opportunities to be creative whether that was putting the players in formation in the pre-match run down and having a sort of human Fussball to show in and out of possession was very amusing. That and using players that sometimes didn’t have any boots and played in whatever they could get their hands on truly brought the value for football to myself and those that were helping as part of the coaching team.
What are your current coaching roles?
I am currently a Director of Football for a new community-based club in Mexico City that we set up due in part to the unacceptable experiences we had working for another academy in the city. We wanted to offer a pathway to school, college, work and professional football to those independent of how much money they had, or their family had. We offer scholarships to about 30 per cent of our players and are working on bringing in some interns and local volunteer coaches to also offer a path to get full-time work to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. I also start my UEFA B in September so will be based in the UK for the majority of the next 12 months so will be looking for opportunities to complement that and my Masters.
After achieving your level 1, you went to Vietnam to coach with Hanoi Sports Academy. What was the motivation behind taking such an opportunity?
I wanted to get as many coaching hours as possible in the following years and knew that it would be difficult to achieve that in England with the competitive nature of the footballing pyramid. I also wanted to experience coaching in different countries to learn from a range of philosophies and techniques which would give me a point of difference in the future when compared to coaches who have similar qualifications. If I had stayed in the UK to coach, I would have had to find a full-time job and then volunteer maybe a couple of hours per week. To accelerate my experience and learning I knew it would have been more beneficial to work abroad and expand my footballing CV.
What do you wish you understood better about Vietnam before going?
I had travelled across Vietnam previously so, to be honest, I sort of knew what to expect from the country although living there did bring new experiences that were far greater than my previous time in the country. Learning to ride a motorbike for the first time in my life aged 40 in one of the most traffic-heavy cities in Vietnam was an experience that I will keep with me forever. That and watching Ha Noi FC in a fixture where we had to buy beers from a guy in the toilets whilst the authorities tried to put out the opposition flares on the field were memories I will cherish.
What have you learned about yourself and about coaching from your time abroad in Vietnam, the USA, and Mexico?
I have learned that my previous experiences in travelling and working as a chef actually complement my coaching skills and the flexibility and adaptability that I possess from having to work in some of the most stressful environments imaginable have given me a great repertoire of skills that help me, coach. That and the realisation that it does not matter your age you are still able to travel and work across the world!
What is one thing for each of those countries that you would like to change about the way football is done there?
I find that the countries that have a low level of coaching education from the national body due to a lack of resources tend to employ coaches that use a lot of commands and conquer pedagogical traits mostly because of employing ex-pros who have played under coaches from a different era. Education is key in developing a modern approach to coach and player development and some countries are not able to spend the resources others do. That is why I believe coaches who work abroad are an asset to both their home association and the countries they work in as they can offer different views on how to coach to create a dialogue for change and discussion about newer methods. We should be working with some of the less-resourced countries to help them look at alternative methods to coach ed.
What lessons have you learned from coaching abroad?
Nothing is impossible you just have to find the key that opens the door.
You have recently founded Premier Liga FC in Mexico City. What are your ambitions there?
We aim to help the local communities by offering a club that is open to anyone independent of your background or financial circumstances and offer a clear pathway to either go to school, college or university, gain employment by offering apprenticeships within the local community or provide an honest and clear path to becoming a professional player. We also want to be able to help people coach in the community with a training programme to help them gain invaluable coaching experience which will help them develop a cv to be able to gain employment within other clubs and businesses. We have a 2, 5 and 10-year plan which outlines where we want to be and shows our commitment to the community with the eventual dream of building our own football-focused school.
You have a bachelor's degree in automotive engineering, your first master's was in advanced product design, and then you achieved a second master's recently in performance football coaching. You are a very clever bloke. So why football?
My careers advice at school was relatively poor and so it led me into following a short career in engineering once I had finished my master’s degree. I was designing telecommunication cabinets for a company that works for the highways agency and knew then that it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had worked as a chef during my time at uni so continued to work in that industry until one day I woke up and thought again there is something better than this. When I realised that I had become tired of working 80 hours per week as a chef I thought long and hard that if I could
change career what would I want to do for the rest of my life if money was not part of the reasoning. I love playing and watching football although some years being an Evertonian can be frustrating so looked at the process of becoming a coach and wondered if I would be able to turn that into a full-time role. I knew that if you are passionate about something then it is much more rewarding and so if I could coach kids to play football then I would not feel like it was a job. So began my third career and I have loved every minute of it since and look forward to seeing where it takes me over the next few years!
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