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  • Writer's pictureBFCN

I Want to Make It as a Football Coach

Are you prepared to suffer? Are you willing to lose? Are you ready to endure the pain? You're going to have to risk it all, and if you're not okay with failure, you don't want to win enough.

This is me, ten years ago, during my first coaching job abroad in Canada. For those who don't know me, you need to know that this picture is incredibly sarcastic. I was giggling just seconds before, and cracked up immediately after. I spent a summer working at Disney World in Florida, so I'm more than familiar with the believe in yourself type quotes. These quotes were all over the walls of family homes throughout Alberta, and myself and my British colleague thought they were hilarious.


To quote Maroon 5 from back in their early days when they were a band that made music; "It's not always rainbows and butterflies, it's compromise that moves us along." Football is hard. It hurts. The bad times often outweigh the good, and sometimes by several factors. But we only get one shot at life, limited to maybe seventy or eighty trips around the sun, and some of us are compelled to chase dreams that involve kicking a ball into a net.


As a jobs site that has helped British and Irish coaches achieve their dreams at home and abroad since 2017, I'm going to offer some practical solutions that may help coaches at various levels. Every few weeks I have a phone call or an email exchange with a coach, always male (unfortunately) between 25-40 years-old, looking for advice for the next step in their career. They've been in coaching for a while and not yet cracked full-time in the UK. The cost of living is going up, the spouse is nagging them, bills need to be paid, there's a house or apartment, sometimes ungrateful kids, and they want to know if they should give up on that silly coaching dream, and look for a real job.


Well, let me tell you the answer is, unequivocally... maybe?


Coaches are unique. Like snowflakes. Everyone has different circumstances and ambitions. Before anything else, you first have to determine this; what does making it look like to you?


Complete this sentence: "I'll know I've made it in football when..."


Now that you've determined that, let's dive in and see what it takes.


License

Like it or not, the harsh reality is that jobs require coaching badges. You may be the next Guardiola, but if you don't even have your FA Level One, nobody is going to believe you. The problem is that these are hard to get. Like a lot of industries, I think it's a bit too 2022 to still be using the pandemic as an excuse for excessive backlog. Plenty of coaches have had their career on hold, and thus their progression up the coaching ladder has stalled, because they've can't get onto the next badge.


What's the job you want?

What coaching badge is required?

Can you afford it? How long will it take you to save?

What's the criteria and what will you do to make up for any gaps?


Remember that it doesn't just have to be your country. Any of the British and Irish associations will do. And if you're working abroad, have you looked into the national governing body of your country, like in Canada, USA, and Australia? Even in places like Dubai, they're able to fly out FA tutors (what a job, right?)



Perhaps you're trying to make the jump to the next level, but keep getting rejected every time the application cycle comes around. As many of you will know, feedback in these instances can be scarce. I have two recommendations.


Shadowing: Use your contacts to find someone in the role you want, working at the level you're aiming to get to, and ask if you can come watch some sessions and games. You'll see the environment, understand the demands, and fill in some gaps of your knowledge. This can then be added to your application for next time. There's a lot of generous coaches out there who would be happy to have you along. And if you can't think of anyone in your network, make a post on social media, and tag us. We'll share it to the thousands of followers on our different platforms.


Diplomas: Some of the best courses I have ever done were with United Soccer Coaches, a coaching association and educational body in the USA. They don't offer licenses, as that is the job of the US Soccer Federation. But they do offer diplomas. You can learn and study on these diplomas the things you would on the licenses, meaning you'll be more prepared for when the license opportunities come along. If it's football knowledge you lack, the technical and the tactical side, then you need to look at the courses MBP offer. The Master in High Performance is a course for coaches who want to work at the high end of football. Much of the content would be similar, and maybe even more profound, than the top licenses in a lot of countries.


Get Abroad

If you can't get the experience or wage you want at home, dust off the passport and head overseas. We've spoken at length several times on BFCN over various formats about the benefits of going abroad. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll try to sum it up quickly;

  • Experience a new culture.

  • Coach in a different language.

  • Work full-time.

  • Get opportunities and roles you wouldn't back home.

  • Be able to shape the development of under-developed football regions.

  • Be out of your comfort zone.

  • Earn a living.

For more information on coaching abroad in various countries, hearing from those who have been there and done it themselves, check out our coach abroad section. There are tips, hints, survival guides, and lots of information on the football landscapes within those countries.

If you want to be more selective with where you go, and not be beholden to a club, may I suggest TEFL. That's teaching English as a foreign language. There are so many opportunities, practically in every country available. We're lucky that the world wants to speak our language, so get out there and use the skills you've developed since you were a toddler. Especially in top football nations like Spain and Italy, where it is very hard to be directly employed in football straight from the UK, a TEFL job will allow you to be on the ground in your desired country. It will provide you with an income, and in most places, accommodation too. Then you can get out and about in your spare time and look for clubs.


If you're interested in Asia, get in touch with Matt Ward to see what opportunities are available.


Supplemental Income

Coaching involves anti-social hours during weekends and evenings. In many cases, you'll spend more time on the road than on the grass. When I worked at Aldershot I would drive an hour to get there, an hour to get back, and often get there thirty to sixty minutes early to either set up or talk with other coaches. All for a ninety minute session. It was the same when I was at Bournemouth too. With the amount of travelling I did, it would work out that I'd actually earn £5 per session. Four hours out of the house for a net gain of a fiver. That's without mentioning the planning of sessions, game reviews, and any analysis I did.


What many coaches have done successfully is to have boring, mundane day jobs. Sometimes full-time or part-time. I've been a referee as long as I've been a coach, and will always pick up games in my spare time. There's now a great site called Yes Ref where teams post matches needing officials and referees can search for extra games in their area. It's a good way to earn some extra petrol money while keeping fit.


If you can, I'd recommend being a school sport coach. Essentially a PE teacher, but they can pay you half the wage for doing the same job. I won't waste anymore of our time going into detail over how school sport is neglected. Just know that you can work in full or part-time roles within schools, taking lessons, doing PPA cover, lunchtime clubs, after school clubs, and running various other football and sport sessions. It's coaching related, and will broaden your horizons of sporting knowledge. Maybe you'll see working abroad as a PE teacher as a viable career path. The happiest people I see on Twitter are the PE teachers in Dubai.


A lot of coaches are offering private sessions. My view on those is that a lot of them are simply charlatans pulling the wool over people's eyes by charging sixty quid to make a kid run around poles while coach throws cones at them to duck and dive. I wish I was making this up. But if you're a genuine coach with a conscience who thinks you can make an actual difference, private sessions are something you can do either cash in hand, or set yourself up as a limited company or sole trader. I only urge you to think of a good name for your business rather than something generic like Dave's Coaching Ltd, and avoid using the words elite, academy, pro, and premier. But if you're okay with extracting cash from the wallets of gullible rubes who live vicariously through their children, then go wild. Pro Elite Soccer Coaching Ltd. Academy Elite Football Training Ltd. Premier Elite Academy Football Ltd. Pro Academy Football Coaching Ltd. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night, but you do you.


Non-football related jobs could be something like working in a warehouse, stacking shelves, postie, or even deliveries. The gig economy has made it very easy to get jobs like working for Deliveroo and Evri. All you need is a license, a vehicle, and insurance. The app on your phone tells you where to go and what to do. Shifts are flexible. The amount of money you earn is directly proportional to how much you work.


Never think those jobs are beneath you. Such an attitude will not serve you well as a coach. But after years of coaching, there's something reassuring and alluring about working set hours, with no expectations, same time and place every day, doing something mundane that requires no thought and no planning. Coaches never switch off. We take our work with us everywhere we go, due to the mental space it occupies. Player A looks worried, how can I get them to calm down and be confident? Player B is unhappy with game time, but hasn't been playing well, how do I initiate that conversation? Coach X isn't happy with the way the sessions are being structured. I wish he'd shut up. Parent Y has sent yet another long rant into the group chat about raising standards within the U8 team, and I know Parent Z is wound up with his constant moaning. How do I get Parent Y to stop, while making sure his aggression doesn't end up punishing his daughter?


These thoughts are always on. I know I'm not 100% present at family dinners, when out with the wife, or socialising with friends. My phone is never too far away, because I'm always hoping to receive a text or an email to tell me the problem has been solved. In five years working as a delivery driver in college and university, I never once lost sleep at night because I was worried if a customer's chow mein was too cold.


Volunteer

Get hours on the grass. Unless you're working at the very top, you'll likely never be fairly compensated for the work you do, or the skills you possess. To become more employable, you need to add strings to your bow, feathers to your cap.


Two coaches who have both been a coach for ten years may not have the same experience.


Coach A coaches one team at a time. U12 boys playing 9v9. One hour training per week, one game per week.


Coach B coaches coaches three teams (U14 girls 11v11, U9 boys 7v7, university men 11v11, equating to three games and four training sessions), runs a Wildcats session, does three after school clubs per week, two private sessions, and coaches one hour per week for players with disabilities.


Extrapolate that over a year and Coach B will have done considerably more coaching than Coach A. Three times as many games, four times the amount of training sessions, with another seven hours extra coaching per week on top. Coach B has worked with more different age groups, different genders, beginners, intermediates, and advanced players. Coach B has worked with teams, individuals, and recreational groups.


With more experience you become a more well-rounded coach. Learn what it's like to be the coach of a team that wins every week and still find a way to improve your players. Learn what it's like to be the coach of a team that loses every week and still find a way to motivate your players. Work with groups that are challenging and hard to reach. Coach at places with great facilities. Coach at places that are downtrodden and neglected. Some clubs will give you twenty cones and a ball. Others will have an entire equipment cupboard at your disposal. All of these variables and changing factors make you more employable, more dynamic, and more adaptable.


When working in the USA I'd be on the grass every evening from five until nine, coaching three or four sessions. Some teams were similar, and others were vastly different in age and ability. We'd coach from a curriculum with weekly topics. Often this meant coaching the same session plan two or three times per week. The first one would allow for a trial run, but by the third one I'd have nailed it. I also became good at adapting each session to suit the needs of the group and the individuals. "This group wouldn't get this exercise, so I'm going to simplify it and avoid the progression." Or "this group would find this rondo too easy, so I'm going to reduce the space or change the overload."


There's honestly no substitute for time on the grass. Volunteering is a way of gaining additional hours. You can try things, observe, listen, learn, and improve. You'll talk to other coaches, watch and be watched by more people, with different ideas and experiences.


If there's a job you want, but just can't seem to get, find someone in a similar role, and ask if you can give them a hand. Can you come and pick up cones for them? It's a way of getting you in the door, rubbing elbows with the right people, and learning the identity and culture of a club.


Improve Your CV

Does it stand out? Is it easy to read? Does it showcase the things about you that are most relevant to the job you're applying for? Many recruiters will receive hundreds of them, and by and large, most of the candidates will match or exceed the criteria the same as you. Yes, you may be special, but does your CV show that? Our good friend Matt Ward can help you.

It's worth the investment. Football coaches aren't renowned for their speeling and grammer, let alone their graphic design skills. Soon you'll have a professional looking CV that will get to the good bits quickly, allowing you to catch the eye of your potential new employer.


Show Your Work

You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

  • Share your session plans.

  • Show us clips from your games.

  • Upload passages of play that you are proud of.

  • Ask for opinions and advice on what you've done.

  • Start a YouTube account to host some of your content. Coaching videos fill up the hard drive very quickly.

Twitter is a great place for this, especially within the #SundayShare. Your account pretty much becomes your brand. Social media isn't everything, and people lie and chase clout all the time. It almost becomes a cesspit of idiots craving likes. Disappointingly, mundane quotes that have been said thousands of times before actually makes a great way to grow your follower count.


What's your area? In what do you specialise? Time to show us what you can do. If people like your sessions and advice, your brand will grow. Your reputation as a coach will improve massively. Recruiters will reach out to you to give you first dibs on jobs. I once went on a podcast to talk about everything wrong within youth soccer in the USA, after writing several articles and long Twitter threads moaning about it all. Within days of that podcast episode, I was on the phone to a man who was offering me a DOC job in New York. He liked the way I thought, and he too was desperate for change. That would never have happened if I didn't share my experiences, ideas, and insight.


Grow Your Network

Yes, LinkedIn is contrived, and yes, Twitter is a hellscape of doom and gloom, but they're also where the coaches are. Take the time to connect and interact with coaches in the roles, clubs, and organisations you'd like to work in. For some people social media is daunting, but it needn't be. Try the following tips;

  • If you see a post you like that has also been liked by lots of other users, click on there to view those users, and begin following people. It grows your network with people who have similar interests and opinions to you. Twitter and LinkedIn are suggesting connections all the time.

  • Congratulate someone on their achievement. If a coach gets a new job or succeeds on the pitch, like the post and tell them well done. It doesn't have to be elaborate. And definitely be sincere. Don't go overboard like telling a three-year-old that you love their drawing.

  • Offer your opinions. "I think the heading ban is completely stupid if you're still going to allow throws, goal kicks, and corners. We have to keep our kids safe, but these rules are silly."

  • Offer your reflections. "Only had six players at training tonight, so my plan went out the window. We did a series of 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 exercises. The kids loved it because everything was competitive and fun."

  • Ask questions. "What formation or strategy do you use at 9v9 to best prepare your players for the transition to 11v11?"

  • Share session plans. Twitter is becoming saturated with two things right now; young women looking for extra income by starting an Only Fans, and young coaches looking to gain clout from sharing session plans. It's trite, but you'll either get feedback or praise. You'll start to gravitate towards coaches on similar paths, working in similar roles, and it can become like a little brain trust, sharing ideas with your peers.

  • Appear in articles and on podcasts. At BFCN we're always looking for guests to talk to, to write about, and to share their opinions. In some cases, you'll be exposed to large audiences of hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands. That's a great way to grow your brand. They can become like interviews before the interview.


Final Thoughts

It's not easy. Our futsal club has not been doing well this season. At the time of writing, our men's team has not won a game in their inaugural season, and our women's first team has only won two competitive matches this calendar year, and both of those games were against teams without their first choice keepers. It's tough. We're covering the motorways of England every week. This long travel time provides ample opportunity for discussions, reflections, and heart to heart. In the cold light of day, we come to the conclusion that we're all crazy, yet for some reason we feel compelled to do it. We couldn't imagine not doing it. Is not doing it even possible? Friends and family don't get it. They can't understand. They can't relate. They try to talk us out of it.


I find a lot of parallels here with coaching. Low pay, hard hours, stress, pressure, responsibility, not enough recognition, trying to move up a ladder while competing against nepotism and cronyism. It's pointless. The odds are stacked against us, and when you sit down and reflect, and make a list of pros and cons, the cons outnumber the pros tenfold. It doesn't make any logical sense.


Then I think for a minute. Have normal people coached on live TV? Have they coached and lived on different continents? Have they delivered sessions in a second language? Have they obtained academic and vocational qualifications from other countries? These ambitions and achievements are not normal. Thus, my expectations for life should not be normal. I want to achieve abnormal achievements. I want to experience abnormal experiences. I want to learn abnormal skills. I want to be left with abnormal memories. I want to touch lives in faraway lands.


With that as my motivation, I'll find a way. And I hope with these tips that you will too. Our site is full of jobs and lots of great insight from fantastic coaches. I hope to continue to provide a good service to others. If you want some advice or guidance, then reach out. And if I don't know the answer, I'll help you find someone that does.

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