The allure of coaching abroad is strong. There’s many reasons why we do it, ranging from a sense of adventure, to looking for opportunities. We can gain a lot from coaching in different countries, and I can attest to that, having learnt another language and gained a wife. Professionally, it has brought me new insight, qualifications, perspective, and a whole range of coaching experiences and challenges I could not have experienced back home.
It can be hard, but nothing worth doing comes easy. Leaving friends and family, adapting to a new culture, a new language, new weather etc. can be daunting. It’s worth it, even when it doesn’t work out as planned. You can be vulnerable, and I’ll try to go into detail on how to best prepare yourself for what’s ahead.
Know Who You’re Working For
Technology has improved massively. This is a great advantage to us when seeking opportunities in strange lands. Do your research on your employers. It’s possible to check some of them out on sites like Glassdoor, where former employees leave candid reviews, talking about all sorts of issues from pay to atmosphere and cohesion. They’re honest, and quite telling. LinkedIn is another good one. It allows you to see the experience of the people you will be working with, and can allow you to contact some of them and ask questions. A couple users on LinkedIn contacted me back in the day, and I talked them out of signing up for a scam.
Many clubs and organisations abroad are franchises. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will show you a lot of good information. Is it a franchise in name and badge only, or do they have guidelines and a curriculum sent from the parent club? You may think it’s great to be associated with a large European club, but do they really follow the principles of that club, or are they just some grafters in club tracksuits? From social media, you can check out the facilities, the level of the players, what the training looks like, and even what the parents think via their comments and reviews.
Where you will live and who you will live with can often be deal breakers. The coaching might be good, but if you’re stuck sleeping on your boss’ sofa, or living with unpleasant housemates, this can really affect your enjoyment. Try and get clear answers on this, and pictures if possible. Many companies in North America have you staying with host families, and for every dream family that spoils you rotten, you have an equal chance of being stuck with a family you can’t stand.
You will need your freedom and your own space. The job is stressful, and that is exacerbated by having few outlets. Back home, your family and friends help you unwind and reset. They will not be with you abroad. Which part of town will you live in? This impacts your social life. As coaches, we work unsociable hours, but you still need to find ways for you to have fun. For me, I try and join a team to play football with, I find a gym, and I buy a guitar. Those things are what help keep me sane when working abroad and isolated. Think about what it is for you, and if you can have access to that in your future work environment.
How will you get to and from work? Some companies in the US have you car sharing. They do this to save costs. If you’re stuck with a group of non-drivers, this means you might become the default chauffeur. This adds hours to your day, and can sometimes have you stuck with the fuel bill. Car sharing also makes it hard to socialise, and go on errands. If four of you have a car between you, it becomes difficult to manage things like going to the supermarket and hanging out with friends.
Some companies won’t give you transport, and in some countries, this severely inhibits your freedom. Anyone who has been to the suburbs in the US knows public transport is so rare, and everything is spread out, making walking impossible. In other countries, public transport can be useless, unpredictable, or dangerous. Make sure to check this out. The employer may tell you that you’ll be fine, as you will get lifts everywhere, but do consider how much this will impact your ability to get around in your spare time, and how many hours it will add to your day, being dependent upon others, and not being able to move around on your own terms.
How Will You Get Paid?
It’s not likely that working in football will make you rich, and if you’re in it for those reasons, the kids are better off without you. Still, we need to eat and to live. Too many companies pay peanuts, and in some cases, keeping you poor is a way to keep you subservient, as you are not likely to book your own flight home and get out of there.
Each country is different, and some pay monthly, weekly, or every two weeks. Definitely find this out so that you can budget for the first amount of time there before receiving a pay cheque. Many employers will tell you, to help you swallow the pill of low pay, that “things are cheaper here.” You’ll hear things like a three course meal is £4, and a taxi into town costs £2. Sometimes that is the case, but as a coach, we should always have an eye on the future. Ask questions to yourself like “will I be able to save enough for the next coaching license?” A good rule of thumb will be that if you were to spend no money whatsoever, you should be able to afford at least one return flight home per month. Ideally, it should be closer to two. If not, I’d be sceptical that they’re keeping you poor for a reason.
Many companies don’t just pay you, but will in some cases, sort out certain utilities too. Find out what this is, or that monthly salary that might originally seem decent, will quickly become depleted when you’re paying for gas, electricity, water, phone, internet, and transport. The good employers usually take care of most of that for you. The packages often include a return flight for each contract, and some will even pay visa costs.
Some companies won’t tell you this, but they will expect you to buy things related to work. They’ll talk about getting it back via expenses, though some can deliberately make this an excruciating process. “We’ll cover 75% of your gas receipts” but will then do everything they can to delegitimise your claim. And don’t take this for granted, but ask what equipment they will give you. It’s sadly not uncommon for coaches to be given two shirts to last a whole week, even in sweaty countries, and not have any balls or cones.
Any coach worth their salt knows that there must be some kind of scheme of work. We’re too far progressed into our football journeys to just be making it up on the spot. Working with others who have completely different philosophies to you might not be something you can reconcile. Working for someone who doesn’t even have a plan to begin with can be even worse.
Ask questions about the methodology, style of play, curriculum etc. Ask how they ensure quality control, to make sure all coaches are working together to achieve the same goal. If they can’t answer these questions coherently, it might not be the best football environment for you. I’ve made that mistake a couple of times, and you feel helpless.
All coaching experiences should have you becoming a better coach at the end of it. Ask what they are going to do to help you improve by the time you have finished your contract. Is it the players you’re working with? The colleagues you have? The company resources? Will there be regular CPD? Are there opportunities to go on courses? If none of this is happening, you have to wonder about their values. Just as we seek to make our players better, we too must be striving to become better as coaches.
What Does the Work Actually Look Like?
Five hours a day sounds great, until you realise there’s a two-hour gap in there, and an hour commute either end, with no day off. Will you be just coaching, or will there be admin and sales too? Will it be just football, or will you be expected to teach other sports? Imagine flying halfway around the world, as a football coach, to only coach one hour of football a day, and the other hours being sports you know nothing about. Some companies do dupe you like that, so be sure you know what you’re getting into.
How much of your work will be with U5s? It’s important work, and we all need to contribute, but sometimes your whole day can be playing cops and robbers, Shrek and Donkey, what’s the time Mr. Wolf? And preventing kids from running to their parents, crying, and eating grass. Is that what you want to do? What are the levels and ages of the teams you’ll be working with? What does the training schedule look like? What are you doing in the off-season?
Another thing to ask is in regards to vacation time. You may miss friends and family back home, or they may want to come visit, so you don’t want to be inundated with work when they come. Or perhaps you’re like me, and enjoy travelling and exploring. When can you do that?
Find out what the facilities are like too. Google Maps and Google Earth are great for showing what polished websites don’t.
What Do You Need To Know About Culture?
Sometimes the most fascinating part of the experience doesn’t even relate to football. It can be amazing to be in a new place that is nothing like your own. Try to ask about what are the most different aspects in the country when compared to back home. Are there any customs or social norms you have to be aware of? Are there any rules regarding religion, sexuality, different treatment of men and women?
It's also very important to know this stuff, because if you have any strong stances about certain issues, there might be a few countries out there that you can’t stomach. How much adapting do you have to do? How much do their rules conflict with your core principles? Can you make those compromises?
Culture also affects parental expectations and how the kids behave. Will the parents be on your case? What are the motivations of the players? What is it that British coaches typically struggle with when engaging the kids from X country? Football is a very social game, and we have to be aware of our audience, and also how we may be perceived. Some countries have very different greetings to ours, such as hugging or kissing on the cheek. Most locals will not be offended if you get it wrong, but learning their customs will go a long way.
What language do they speak? Are there opportunities to learn it? Are there some key phrases that will help you? Will there be the use of a translator? What is the level of English? Coaches deliver messages, and we have many ways of doing so. Knowing your audience helps you better shape and broadcast your message. Sometimes, learning a bit of the language and trying it gains some respect, and also makes you seem humble and vulnerable, such is the learning process. If kids see you trying and struggling with something that is easy to them, they’ll be more open about making footballing mistakes in front of you. If they’re open, you can help them.
Make sure to be aware of safeguarding procedures in the country. How will you be expected to communicate with kids and parents? Will you ever be left alone with the kids? Some countries have no laws on this, and do not require things like waivers for liability, insurance, and even taking photos of players below eighteen without permission. It can put you in uncomfortable positions, that would make most Brits shudder. Be clear on the procedures, and don’t do anything you feel uncomfortable with. As a rule of thumb, if it would feel wrong in the UK, don’t do it abroad.
What Is The Visa Procedure?
When can you enter the country, and when do you have to leave? Know your rights. Many companies make millions off of visa abuse. Working without a visa means you enter as a tourist and earn money illegally. The employer might tell you it’s easier this way and saves a lot of hassle, but what it does is removes a lot of protections for you, and gives them a ton of leverage. Having the legitimate right to work in a country means that the government will protect you, by law. You are guaranteed certain rights, making it harder for the boss to exploit you. This is vital, as this is where most of the employment issues arise.
A lot of countries have two main requirements, which are to have a bachelor’s degree, and have no criminal record. It’s not impossible to work abroad without meeting these criteria, but it does become much more difficult. If you’re young, and starting your journey, wanting to go abroad, three years in university to get a BA or BSc, and at least a Level 2 (C license) will open up so many doors for you. Get it over and done with in your late teens and early twenties, and the world becomes your oyster.
Be A Good Ambassador
Do your country proud. Don’t be a drunken womaniser, engaging in debauchery. Sadly, many do. Being abroad means they are given a little anonymity, and are free of accountability. You are not better than the locals, no matter how stupid or backwards you think their customs are. As a foreigner in their land, you stand out. A lot of people will know who you are, and anything reckless you might do will likely find its way to your boss, or even worse, the parents.
If you’re not serious about coaching, please don’t go. You’re stealing a living, taking a job from someone else, and robbing players of a real coach. There’s plenty of opportunities to work abroad via other means, such as Camp America. It gives the rest of us a bad name when too many illegitimate coaches flood the market. I’ve seen too many go abroad and think they can get away with half effort, believing there is less accountability, and that they can just go out on jollies and do coaching on the side.
Coaching is a serious profession. You’re part of a team. Not putting in full effort, not pulling your weight, not being on the same page, that’s not being a good team player, and pulls everyone else down with you. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it abroad. Would you turn up to work drunk? Would you make excuses to skip sessions? Would you skip preparation? Would you let your personal life interfere with your professional life? The players deserve our absolute best, regardless of which country we’re working in. If you’re not prepared to give it, coaching is not the job for you, at home or abroad.
If they don’t like you asking questions, you should be suspicious that they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Do your research, find out as much as you can, and if you’re hesitant, listen to those feelings. Going abroad isn’t all bad, but like anything, we need to be prepared. You can meet fantastic people, learn a ton, and gain whole new perspectives on coaching, football, and life. The experiences make you rich. If you only do one term abroad, and even if it is only short, you’ll gain so much from it.
Would you like to go abroad soon? Our friends at Projects Abroad have many great coaching opportunities in countries such as; Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Ghana, Kenya, Belize, Tanzania, Ecuador, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Samoa. Girls United are always looking for coaches to go over to Mexico and be part of their team. These opportunities are all year round, and you can go for as long as you like!
Why volunteer in Mexico?
What we aim to do here at BFCN is make the world a little smaller. We have years of articles and podcast episodes from coaches who have worked abroad. Within our network, we have most of the globe covered. You're not alone out there. We have so many good people within our reach that are able to help. Don't be afraid to ask questions. The best coaches are often the most generous with their insight.
Over the next few years, we'll be exploring different popular destinations that are greatly sought after by coaches. We'll be doing the research for you, and posting the findings on our site. Just like we have done recently with Dubai. First, we went there and met Conor Doyle, which lead to a brief YouTube video, giving coaches a taste of the Emirate. Then, Conor joined us on a podcast episode which allowed us to go way more in depth about Dubai and his experiences. In the short term, we plan on doing similar things for Singapore, Shanghai, Spain, Mexico City, Kuwait, as well as the US and Canada. Over time, we'll build up a library of visa information, videos, interviews, and articles straight from those who have lived it. In addition to the regular fantastic jobs we post, we'll help you to grow your network and get in contact with those on the ground.
How does Dubai sound to you?