From Belfast, Northern Ireland, British coach Craig Livingston recently accepted a professional role at Phnom Penh Crown FC of Cambodia, after seeing the position on the British Football Coaches Network Jobs board.The Sports Studies graduate started out coaching in NI whilst still studying but has now been coaching abroad for around the last 7 years and during that time has held roles in USA, England, China and now Cambodia.
Name: Craig Livingston
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Club: Phnom Penh Crown FC
Role: U17 Head Coach & 1st Team Analyst
Previous Role: Academy Director at Burnley Academy Shanghai, China
Qualifications: BSc Hons in Sports Studies, UEFA A Licence, FA Futsal Level 1
Was it always your intention to pursue a career in coaching?
Initially of course, as is the same for most teenagers, the dream was to have a professional playing career. Unfortunately I ruptured my ACL when I was 16 and although it seemed like the end of the world at the time, everything happens for a reason and it was during my rehabilitation period that I turned my attention to coaching and started to assist at my local club in NI, Greenisland FC. I had a great initial grounding and learning experience there as a coach and it certainly set me down the path of looking seriously at coaching as a professional career path. It’s been a pretty good choice so far as it has allowed me to learn and develop both as a person and coach whilst having the opportunity to travel around the world.
Tell us a little bit more about your current role…
My primary role of coaching the clubs U17 team usually entails 4 or 5 training sessions, a video review session and a league match on the weekend. Several players in the squad have already represented their country at underage level and will hopefully go on to play for the clubs 1st team in the not too distant future also. Having the responsibility of helping players of that level to continue to improve further, with the aim of turning professional, is certainly a challenge to be relished.
The other aspect of my role sees me meeting with the 1st team manager, Sean Sainsbury, a couple of times per week to analyse 1st team performance and prepare for upcoming league matches. This also gives me the opportunity to assist in training sessions a couple of times per week and on match days. Having that level of involvement and exposure to a professional team environment on a weekly basis is absolutely invaluable at this stage of my career.
Do you have any aims or aspirations in your current role?
One of the primary reasons that attracted me to role was that in recent years the club has shown great faith in its academy system with at least half of the current 1st team playing squad having come through from there. To have the opportunity to continue that trend and help current academy players realise their potential, and break into the 1st team squad, is a big motivator for sure.
From a personal point of view, my main goal is simply to immerse myself in the professional environment every day here, take as many learning experiences out of it as possible and continue to develop and improve as a coach.
What’s been the best thing for your development as a coach?
I would say the main thing has been the experiences and mentors that I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to learn from everywhere that I’ve coached. From when I was just getting into coaching at Greenisland FC in NI, which was tough work but without that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, to present day where I have the opportunity to work at a professional club every day and see first-hand how things should be done at all levels.
Did you always feel the need to move overseas to have the chance to coach professionally?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have held full-time coaching positions both at home in NI and in England but did always see that if I wanted to have the opportunity to work in the professional game, then moving abroad was what I would probably need to do. That’s not a complaint or slight aimed at anybody, but the simple fact is that supply outweighs demand in the UK in terms of the amount of qualified coaches to the amount of professional roles available. That, plus the fact that I’ve always been keen to travel, has meant it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.
What support have you had from your home FA whilst you’ve been abroad?
Potentially not being able to progress further with my qualifications was something that I was worried about when I was thinking of moving abroad. However, I can honestly say that the support and opportunities I have received from the IFA in that respect has been second to none. They have always been very understanding and accommodating to the fact that I’m based abroad and can’t afford to make 5 or 6 trips back a year to do my Licences like it is with some other FA’s. Of course I’ve had to make sacrifices myself, both time wise and financially, but it’s been well worth it.
What thoughts or advice would you have for anyone considering coaching overseas?
Just go for it really. You learn the most about yourself both as a person and a coach when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. It also gives you the opportunity to experience different cultures that maybe you wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to see. I’d also stress that adaptability is vital as things might not always be how you expected (not always a bad thing!). In my view, being able to adjust to that is crucial if you’re going to get the most out of it.
Plans for the future?
In the immediate future, the plan is really just to continue on with what I am doing at the moment and get as much out of my current role as I can. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking to progress into 1st team management at some stage but will just have to see if and when that type of opportunity presents itself. In the longer term, I’ll hopefully be able to make a start on my Pro Licence also.