'...being a full time football coach for 3 years now and obviously having a lot of contact hours under my belt, I feel a lot more confident when delivering a session'.
Name, age, where are you based?
Jack Flaherty, 23 years old, mainly based in Beijing but currently in UK due to the world health circumstances.
Current and past roles:
Currently I am working for ClubFootball Beijing. Previously I was working for Tranmere Rovers in Inner Mongolia.
- FA Level 2 in Football Coaching
- FA Level 1 Futsal
- FA Level 1 Talent ID
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I started helping out a friend of mine, Daniel Lloyd, running football camps during school holidays. This was in the Malpas, Cheshire area, where I was living during this time. I was roughly 14/15 years old when I first started helping by setting pitches up, coning off sections, feeding balls where needed. Once I got older I gained my FA Level 1 and started taking control of my own group and coaching different ages. This was when it all began and I knew from here I really wanted to be a football coach. Daniel also played a massive part helping me out, giving me advice on the smaller details of what’s needed to be a football coach. He’s now a head coach at Rochdale Football Club. After this, I then made the move back to Liverpool and started coaching futsal sessions during the week and at weekends.
The next step for me was to start my own coaching sessions with another coach, called ‘Kickerz Coaching’. We started off doing Saturday morning classes which we then developed onto Monday evenings too, adding more age groups. I would be in charge of planning and delivering these classes and sometimes assisting another coach. We started getting a lot of attention from parents wanting us to put on summer camps etc.
Whilst doing all of this, I saw a job advertised with Tranmere Rovers to go across to China and do some football coaching. It was something different and I decided to go for it and from there, I headed to Inner Mongolia in the north of China. After a stint in the very difficult environment, I then moved to Beijing with ClubFootball Beijing, which was a very welcomed difference!
Any highlights you would like to mention?
I used to go to college in Crewe. Studying a BTEC in Level 3 Sports Performance & Excellence. We would train every day and also play matches on Wednesdays. We would compete in the Youth Conference Alliance League, playing the likes of Macclesfield and Gateshead. Our manager and coach for this was Nige Deeley and Steven Atkinson. Nige also worked with the FA and has also done a lot of scouting work whilst working at Witton Albion. Steve was also working at Oldham at the time and has currently had a spell as a coach at Radcliffe Borough.
Luckily due to the connections they both had, we got a lot of opportunities to go to St Georges Park. We would take part in sessions for coaches going there to have their assessments for UEFA A or B license. On one occasion we was lucky enough to go there for a Pro License assessment, which was a great insight! We arrived there and didn’t know who would be taking the sessions and then we was told to head up to the top pitch, the replica of the Wembley pitch. Warming up, we got shouted across and received our instructions and went to take our positions as a group. It was then, we saw Scott Parker and Brad Friedel head towards us, and it was these guys who we would be running around for! It was a great experience all round!
What made you initially want to go out and coach in China and what were the first major culture shocks when arriving there??
Initially I just wanted to be a full time football coach. When I saw the first opportunity advertised I really didn’t think much about it. I applied for it and went through all the necessary processes needed. When everything was processing, I soon realized that I might actually be going over to work in china. I looked into it more and researched a little. Once doing all of this, it made me want to go over even more. I looked at it as such a massive opportunity to do my dream job on a full-time basis and it was also a chance to live in a different country.
The first culture shock would be when we arrived in Beijing, I travelled over with three other lads. Our connecting flight to Inner Mongolia was only roughly two hours, we needed to collect our luggage and transfer to a different terminal and check in again. As none of us had really thought this through, we really didn’t have a clue what was going on or how to get there. We was asking people how to get to the next terminal and they were just looking at us, so confused - obviously they didn’t understand anything we said. I remember one of the lads I travelled with said “oh my god, what have I gotten myself into here”! This was our first thoughts on China and was all of our initial feelings but we had to laugh.
Luckily we found somebody who spoke a little bit of English and said she would organize a taxi for us. We didn’t know how far we needed to go or anything else. We negotiated a price with her and came to an agreement of 400 RMB, we thought it was reasonable at the time as it was 100RMB each. Roughly 11 GBP. Once we got into the car and went to the next terminal we soon realized we paid A LOT more than we should of! This was literally a 3 minute drive around the corner that we paid 44 GBP for! Once we made it onto our next flight and we all calmed down we realized how much we paid and all just started laughing.
What differences are there between Inner Mongolia and Beijing? What adaptions did you need to make in terms of everyday living and what is everyday living like in both cities?
There are a few differences between the two places. Firstly, In terms of cost of living Inner Mongolia is so much cheaper than Beijing. Inner Mongolia can be a lot harder to travel around, at the time when I was there, they didn’t have a subway line so this proved difficult to get everywhere, which then meant travelling involved a lot of traffic and waiting around. Also, in Inner Mongolia there’s not a lot of people that actually speak English, in turn proving me a massive test in trying to learn some mandarin and being able to get by for day to day things.
In Beijing a lot more people speak English. I feel that in Beijing there’s also a lot more to do there in terms of lifestyle and the social aspect of things. Inner Mongolia doesn’t have a lot of western options, you’re lucky enough to be able to have a McDonald’s. Even ordering one of these has proven to be difficult. In Beijing you’ve got a lot of western options and can be comparable in some areas to a normal European city.
In terms of me adapting to Beijing life it took a couple of weeks, mainly due to trying to settle whilst still having a busy coaching schedule. It was a relief to find that when I did try and start ordering food in Mandarin, the waiters would say to me they speak English. It certainly made things a lot easier for day to day living.
Having coached in China for 3 years, what things have developed you the most and what can you do now what you couldn’t do before working in the country?
Due to being a full time football coach for 3 years now and obviously having a lot of contact hours under my belt, I feel a lot more confident when delivering a session. When I first started coaching I remember being nervous and not confident enough to be able to coach a group of kids. I've also developed my ability to think on my feet and make quick adaptions to sessions with minimal or no notice. This is one thing to get used to in China and is one think which is invaluable for future roles too.
One big benefit of starting out in Inner Mongolia was that it gave me a steady base of Mandarin for when I did move to Beijing. I would have enough vocabulary to be able to lead a session using basic language, which is something I couldn't do before moving here from England! This has now also enabled me to interact more with the Chinese 'local' life in general.
What ways did you find to communicate and keep kids engaged through the sessions and what do you feel was their capacity to learn new skills compared to kids back in the U.K?
I always think the main things to keep kids engaged during sessions is making sure the session is fun. When I plan my sessions I think back to when I used to play and think, “would I like this session as a player”? The easiest way I have found to communicate with my students is keeping talk limited and straight to the point. Another main one would be using a lot of demo’s which I find effective because the students can then watch you and follow with minimal words needed.
I’ve had many difference experiences in terms of students being engaged and wanting to learn new skills. I found that in Inner Mongolia you could get a groups' attention a lot easier than in Beijing, as the majority were more likely to be interested in the session without causing distractions. Beijing was a mix of local and international players so when you have this, there's a tendency for the foreign kids to act up a bit more than the local kids from Inner Mongolia would. At least this was able to provide different challenges of class management.
What’s been best for your development so far and what has been the biggest challenge you’ve to overcome?
The best thing for my development would be my time I spent in the south of China in Sanya, Hainan. When working for Tranmere I was lucky to be selected to go there for two months and coach a variety of different Chinese teams. Although this was very difficult for a number of different reasons, it was one experience I would love to do all over again. The best part about this was that the players actually wanted to be there and learn, meaning we could get experience coaching a proper, organised team and get some good progression going in terms of player development.
Dan O’Donnell and Shaun Garnett would take it in turns to come over to China and coach representing Tranmere, bringing a lot of experience with them. Dan has previously played for Liverpool for a number of years and Shaun has also a lot of years coaching and playing professional football under his belt. He is now involved with Tranmere’s first team as a coach and he’s been doing this on and off for a while. Being able to work alongside these two was massive for my development as a coach.
Although one of the best experiences for the reasons mentioned above, it was also one of the most testing experiences at the same time. We was coaching for 4-6 hours per day in 30+ degree heat. We would only be allowed to go off campus once per week which was Saturday evenings, as Sundays was our day off. I found this massively tough as it was 24/7 with all the students and for coaches downtime, there wasn't much to do at all.
Any advice for coaches looking to move out to China to coach
My advice for any coach looking to do this is simply do it. You will not regret it. The first few months are more than likely going to be tough but if you hang in there, you will start to enjoy the experiences after. If you are flexible and able to adapt to challenging environments then you should be fine and one of the main important things would be, to take the bad days with the good. Overall, a definite experience more coaches should try!
What’s next for you, any thoughts on the future?
In terms of the future I’ve currently been looking into how it’s possible to complete my UEFA B license. This would be my main goal in the next year or so and something I’m very interested in completing Also with China shortly opening up again soon, I believe there will be a lot of opportunities becoming available with coaches leaving in the early stages to the virus. I believe some clubs have been letting coaches leave as programs have had to stop and this will be something I will be keeping a close eye on, especially on the BFCN members page!