We've all seen them. £15 p/h for a B license coach at an academy. Unpaid internships that are basically a stressful 9-5 with the only perk being the name on the CV and the club tracksuit. What's going on, and what can we do?
As I say frequently, sport reflects life. And for those who "don't do politics," you better. Because while you keep your head down and don't do politics, your landlord raises the rent, petrol prices increase, you can't afford to pay your electricity bills, and the country occasionally shuts down in the summer because we have record heat waves, year after year. The biggest strength we have is as a collective. If a handful of people keep their heads down and do nothing, we lose that unity, and that bargaining chip we have as a collective crumbles into irrelevance.
Sport is political. Always has been, always will be. Women banned by the FA in 1921 and not allowed to play football until 1971? That's political. The first black man to play a senior international game for England was Viv Anderson in 1978, yet Arthur Wharton was the first black professional footballer nearly one hundred years before in the 1880s. That's political. A distinct lack of openly gay players in men's football. Again, that's political. Fans scared their club will be bought by some overseas despot to be used as a pawn in their sports washing campaign. Political.
You get the picture. Everything is political. Shirt prices going up each year, ticket prices being obscene, BT Sport and Sky charging a small fortune yet not letting you watch Saturday 3pm games, naming rights, betting sponsors, player agents. It's all political. So do politics.
In this instance, where we look at the wages of football coaches, we're going to get into some socialism v capitalism areas. Of course, much of my opinion will be skewed by my own lived experience, speaking anecdotally regarding myself, friends, or colleagues. Yet having coached for sixteen years now, working with thousands of colleagues in that time across three continents, and running BFCN for the past two years, these experiences are not unique. And I think many readers will find similarities, and probably align with my points of view.
Why would an academy offer £15 p/h to a B license coach?
It's not like these professional EFL and PL teams are short on cash.
As the graphs show, the amount of money being spent by these clubs is obscene, and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing exponentially. Surely they can spare a few quid for their U12 goalkeeper coach, right? Increasing that £15 p/h to £25 p/h will be a drop in the ocean to them, yet it can make a world of difference to the coach. I was paid a similar wage when I worked at Aldershot Town with the boys, and AFC Bournemouth with the girls. Both about an hour from where I lived. A 90 minute session with 30 minute setup, and another 30 minutes of planning, with a 60 minute drive each way, amounting to four and a half hours of work for only fifteen quid. Ten quid would be spent on petrol. I'd make a fiver from those sessions. So why did I do it?
Why do you do it?
Foot in the door at a pro club.
Working in an academy.
Surrounded by great coaches to network with and learn from.
Being part of a big club.
The opportunity to improve massively as a coach.
Work with talented players.
It's what I want to do with my life.
The job market is highly competitive, and if I didn't take the role, someone else would. When would I get my shot again?
I think the last one is probably the most key point. You have to take the job, for all of the reasons above, but mostly because if you don't, even though you'll make no money, someone else will take that job. And then, when will such an opportunity open up again? Perhaps you've been working in a foundation or for a private sports company, running sessions in schools, getting your £12 p/h, and you feel like a failure because you can't get on the next course, and several of your mates are now working in decent roles at other clubs. Your non-football mates have got proper jobs with company cars. You feel the walls are closing in. Yeah, you won't make any money from it, but you'll get to put X club on your CV, and won't feel like such a loser anymore. Sure, it's not sustainable. You'll still need to patch together several other jobs to make a decent income. And maybe it isn't Man Utd or Arsenal, but it's still a professional football club, while your idiot friends are working behind desks in offices.
Is it fair?
Hahahahaha. No. The courses alone required to get those jobs mean that it's almost like using the job to pay off a debt.
FA Introduction to Coaching = £100
UEFA C = £500
UEFA B = £960
UEFA A = £3,645
UEFA Pro = £9,890
Let's just stop at the B license for a second. Forget DBS checks, first aid, safeguarding, and other courses like youth modules and goalkeeper coaching. To get to the UEFA B, a coach will have had to spend £1,560. If that coach were to take a role at £15 p/h, forgetting all other associated costs like travel, it would take 104 hours of coaching to make that money back. Providing you do two hours a week, it would take an entire year's worth of sessions. That's if you don't stop for summer and Christmas, and never take a night off.
It is expected with coaching that you'll just do extra stuff. None of which is paid. You're part of the fraternity, and we don't do this for money, so just get on and do it! This includes arriving early for training and games to organise and prepare, as well as staying after to tidy. Session planning. If you're lucky enough to have filmed games, that will require analysis and reflection. And don't forget all the talking to parents, constant emails and texts, reminders on the app, and all the hours of ruined free time due to the mental anguish that comes from not being able to switch off.
Since I started coaching, I've had the occasional other normal job. The kind where you simply turn up, do the thing, and then go home. It does not occupy your mind. It doesn't have you worrying or daydreaming. Coaching football exacts a heavy toll.
But wait...! There's more!
The FA Youth Award has changed since I did it, as it is now more integrated with the senior coaching pathway. However, coaches to have obtained their youth awards will have incurred the below costs:
FA Youth Module 1 = £100
FA Youth Module 2 = £150
FA Youth Module 3 = £250
Prices varied from one county FA to another. Then there was the Youth Award assessment fee.
Nowadays the FA Advanced Youth Award costs £3,435 The prerequisites are the youth award and the UEFA B. Considering the vast majority of football coaches in this country are volunteer or part-time, these courses are costing several season's worth of work for some people.
Are the costs of courses prohibitive by design?
In many ways, I believe they are. Here's a little story to show what I mean. Having worked in the USA for several years, I get filtered through lots of tales and anecdotes from US soccer college coaches. They take their recruitment very seriously, as you'll see from their Twitter pages. Occasionally they'll brag about reasons why they didn't select a player at an ID weekend, or why they chose not to pursue a player they were scouting. Probably the worst one I ever heard was about a player who was subbed off in the second half of a match, and was on the far side of the field from where the benches were. The sub rules had changed, and players had to leave the field of play at the nearest point. This player had played well, and was coming off to give someone game time.
A player that had played well? Surely you'd think Coach would be impressed. It was what happened next that infuriated Coach and led to the player having their name crossed off the list. While walking alongside of the pitch, the player stopped and chatted to their family, who were in the stands watching. A couple minutes after chatting with their family, the player returned to the bench and sat with the rest of the team for the remainder of the game. That was it. For Coach, this showed blatant disregard towards teammates, the game, and the coaching staff. This kid was not offered a position in Coach's team.
Spend some time on Twitter in these circles and you'll see these college coaches proudly share why they cut a kid. They stalk their socials, and perhaps the kid has a stupid photo with friends. Cut. Sometimes it's because the player shared a music video that had a bad word in it. Cut. Often at open tryouts, players come along wearing all sorts of kit, as no standard uniform has been handed out. Some players are cut based on what they are wearing. "He came in a shirt of a rival school. It was an instant cut." Imagine Man City holding open trials, and not selecting a kid that showed up in a Man Utd shirt? There have also been instances of high schools and other clubs cutting a kid because the ball they brought along was not inflated properly (many American clubs don't supply balls, but make kids bring their own).
This all sounds like nonsense. There's a couple issues here;
The coach can't identify talent or possesses little to no ability to differentiate the attributes of one player to the next.
The quality of players on show is all pretty similar, so they need to invent other reasons to justify not selecting a player.
We've all experienced it in coaching when it comes to not being offered a position on a coaching course. Often better coaches are overlooked. "How has that idiot got on the course and not me?" I believe this is also why they offer courses on inconvenient dates. Some people can't get the time off work, which already reduces the pool of candidates. Some won't be able to afford the courses, which reduces the pool even further.
The FA are making half a billion a year in profit, so they don't need you to pay three grand for your Advanced Youth Award. But they do need to decide who gets on the course. You don't work at the right club, so therefore won't be able to afford it, which means you don't get on the course. Create barriers so the candidates filter themselves out.
When do you start to make money in football?
Have a look at the above at the roles that you would most likely achieve in the EFL. Depending upon your situation, many of these aren't enough to support a family.
Looking at the above graphs, it would seem that most of us are better off working in a normal job, and doing football part-time. What is it about football that pulls us in? Why do we do it?
Dreams. We get one shot at life, and most of us in football are motivated by wanting to achieve something or make a difference.
Enjoyment. If you're going to have to suffer for several decades before you die, you might as well pay your bills and taxes from a job you enjoy.
Ego. Simply put, it's the sunk cost fallacy. I've spent years working hard and thousands of pounds on courses. I can't quit until I make it!
Here are a few examples of salaries from full-time jobs that we have on the board. Far too many of them list salary as "competitive" which is incredibly dickish. I've seen all the arguments for this, and none of them are good enough. Shut up. Stop being a knob. Tell people what the wage is. Competitive doesn't pay the bills. Tell us how much money we're going to get. Stop wasting everyone's time and making them feel bad by insinuating they're only doing it for the money. Looking at these jobs, football coaches clearly aren't in it for the money. But it's a job. Money is important. If you want my time and skills, what is it worth to you? Just another way they try and shaft us.
Juventus Academy Bahrain | C License | £12,480 (tax free, car and accommodation)
Burton Albion Academy Coach | B License + Youth Award | Competitive
Cardiff City Academy Coach | A License + Advanced Youth | Competitive
FAW Youth Academy and National Team Coach | A License + A Youth | £25-30,000
Watford Community Coach | Level 2 | £19,110
Bristol City Sports Lecturer | Teaching Qualification + Level 2 | £24,100 - £30,000
Lincolnshire FA Football Development Officer | N/A | £25,908
Leicester City Academy Head of Education | Qualified Teacher | Competitive
Leicester City Academy Coach | A License + Advanced Youth | Competitive
Forest Green Rovers Analyst | B License + Analysis quals. | £22,000
Many of the full-time jobs these days have a degree as a requirement. Some a master's, and some a teaching qualification. Let's look at how much these will set you back.
BA Football Studies from Southampton Solent = £27, 750
MSc Football Coaching & Analysis from UCFB = £10,950
PGCE = £9,250
That's pretty bleak.
Do we need to start a union?
Do academies actually value coaching?
In the last year or so, I have witnessed an increase in the amount of scouting jobs within grassroots football. The pro clubs want scouts in their club tracksuits to line the fields on Saturday and Sunday mornings, searching the grass for that next hidden gem. There are now more and more U8 and U6 pre-academy scouts. As much as this may be seen as a path into football employment for some, I just can't imagine having to explain that line of work to an acquaintance.
You're at a family birthday party and your cousin has a new boyfriend. "I'd like you to meet Dave" she says, bringing him over to you. You get chatting, and Dave seems alright. He works as an estate agent and seems to be doing fairly okay for himself. Then the conversation shifts, as Dave says "enough about me, tell me what you do for work." You proudly inform him that you're a "pre-academy scout for a Premier League club." Puzzled, Dave asks you what that means. "Well, basically, I hang out at local pitches in my club tracksuit watching seven year-olds play football."
When the likes of Bayern Munich are scrapping their academy teams below U11, in England, we seem to be going younger and younger.
“Anyone who tells you they can spot a professional player at five years old is basically lying,” - Nick Levett. You would think a kid with the talent of Cristiano Ronaldo would be obvious to spot, but he wasn't identified until he was eleven. Funnily enough, when top scouts were asked at what age they believe they can identify a future pro footballer, the average age was 13.6 years old.
What's at play here? Scouts have admitted a bias towards height, speed, and lean muscle mass. There are two really, very important factors here which determine why one player may have more of those attributes over another. I'm sure you can guess what they are.
The first is our old friend, Relative Age Effect (RAE).
That's how these two boys, who are the same age, can play for the same Fulham team.
This now infamous photo plays out in similar fashion in the graph below, showing how the majority of 2019 U17 European Championship players were born in the first three months of the year. It doesn't have to be January. Dates are arbitrary cut-off points. In England, the season is September to August. You'll see a lot of the better players celebrating their birthdays in September, October, and November.
We know this is not a hard and fast rule. It's just a bias. Those kids have spent a little more time on Earth, growing and maturing. They're slightly bigger, and slightly more experienced. Of course you'd expect them to do well.
The next factor would be puberty.
Kids grow at vastly different rates. Those who begin puberty sooner, or who have large growth spurts at the beginning of puberty, will perform better regarding speed and strength. They will look closer to the finished article, and will therefore be more appealing to scouts. In some cases, it's literally men against boys. What we don't know is what their physical attributes will be like when they are twenty. Academy football appears to be a series of safe bets. We'll take the kids that are bigger and faster now, with the likelihood being most of them will still be the biggest and fastest when they reach adulthood.
Academies are Just Finishing Schools
Locally to me, I have a few clubs of different stature, each of which have overlapping catchment areas. Southampton, Portsmouth, Reading, Eastleigh, Aldershot Town, Gosport Borough, Winchester City (to name but a few). Naturally, any young player showing potential would be sought after by all of these clubs. But these academies, what they can offer, and what futures may lie ahead, vary differently. If you have a choice between Gosport Borough and Eastleigh, Eastleigh would likely win. If the choice is between Eastleigh and Southampton, Southampton would win. The best kids always go to the club that is higher up.
If you were a kid in Spain, and your choice was between Barcelona, Espanyol, Girona, or CD Diagonal, which club do you think you would choose? Exactly. That's not to say that Southampton and Gosport, or Barcelona and Girona offer the same academy experience. Of course they don't. The EPPP criteria shows as objectively as possible that some academies are better than others. But that does not negate the fact that the best kids go to the best academies.
When I was in St. Louis, Josh Sargent was with Werder Bremen. Everybody knew him and had a story to tell of having played with him, against him, or seen him on the fields of Missouri. And the local second division pro club, St. Louis FC (before the MLS team) were given credit for his development. Yet Sargent went there at fourteen, and left for Germany two years later. Reading that, just how much credit can STLFC actually be given? Not only was Sargent good at fourteen, but he'd been kicking a ball for ten years before STLFC came knocking. What did they do to make him the player he is today? All they were was the only club in town that had a pro pathway. And by virtue of this, all kids who wanted to go pro had to go through their system. In such a system, their training methods and their coaches don't need to be good. They just select the best kids from grassroots clubs, then hold onto them long enough for one of them to be good.
If you ban Burger King, McDonald's will have the best burgers around by default.
And never forget about non-linear development. Kids don't grow in straight lines.
How do football clubs make their money?
It will vary from club to club, but the sale of players can provide a large source of income. We can all identify a selling club, with Southampton being a great example. Their fantastic academy and scouting network allows them to cultivate and identify players, who they then sell on for a larger fee, making substantial profits.
With the imbalance within and between Europe's big leagues, several huge clubs have now become selling clubs, with Benfica and Ajax being prime examples. But did you ever think of Real Madrid as a selling club? In the past decade, Real Madrid have made three hundred million Euros by selling players to have come through their youth teams.
The buying and selling of players is like cattle trading, or likely stocks to be more apt. The big clubs are able to identify, track, purchase, and then hoard any player that shows a glimpse of potential. Like Chelsea have done with their loan army.
A small handful of these players will eventually achieve something with Chelsea. Others will find their success elsewhere. But the vast majority will long be forgotten. That is of little concern to Chelsea, who see the financial benefit of player hoarding methods like this.
Should academy success be determined by first team contributions or by money made via sales?
The above graphs tell some pretty important stories.
When you're trying to win trophies, you don't care where the players come from.
When you're trying to avoid relegation, teams will accrue mercenaries to get the job done.
Insane amounts of money are being spent on players to provide instant success, because the competitiveness of football and the high financial rewards do not allow for patience and time to embed young players into the squad.
Clubs like Ajax, Benfica, Sporting, Feyenoord may be some of the biggest, most successful clubs in their own country, but their business models are now to sell to Europe's richest clubs.
Cream always rises to the top, in this sense meaning talented youth players head to the academies with the biggest names.
The amount of money being spent on players rather than coaches shows where the priorities of clubs lie, how the view the player development process, and how little they value coaching.
It's a crapshoot, and they're indifferent to you
There are so many factors involved in identifying and nurturing young players, that even with our best methods, it is difficult to tell which players will amount to something serious. This is why the money is spent on recruiting and hoarding, rather than bringing in the best coaches to nurture and develop. It's as if the level of coaching has reached the ceiling, or is there or thereabouts, and so now the marginal gains are harder to find. If having a player like Messi come through your ranks is like winning the lottery, the big clubs have seen the most effective method is to buy all the lottery tickets. They don't believe good players can be developed on purpose, and there is still a lot of randomness and luck involved.
So if you want to coach football, take the £15 p/h job on your A license and shut up. Help them recruit and hoard, and try not to mess up the players they give you.
When observing the above graphs, you just have to follow the logic. Clubs are global corporations that exist to make profits. They buy better players to fill stadiums and gain sponsorship. It's bums on seats, brands on shirts, eyes on TVs that matter the most. By being able to present an attractive product, be it the experience in the stadium, the thrill of following a winning team, or stanning for your favourite player, brands like Nike or Adidas jump on board to complete the picture. An attractive brand with global reach can make millions by selling shirts all around the world. Clubs can make way more money performing tours of Asia or North America than they can sitting at home and playing a few pre-season friendlies in front of half empty stadiums.
If you're a big club, the prize money and transfer money is reinvested in the playing squad. You need Champions League football and to be competing for trophies domestically to maintain relevance with fans, sponsors, and TV companies. A selling club will invest their income into the players their scouting network has identified. Maybe the best player in Czech Republic, or a mid-table team in France. A club with little financial leverage, who you can easily lowball them for their prospect. You give this player a couple years in the Premier League to raise their stock. Then Liverpool or United buy them from you for six times the price. The big clubs won't take risks on unknown nobodies, which is why clubs like Southampton exist, as they provide (or provided) the stepping stone into the Premier League, proving to the big clubs that this player can do the business in the PL.
As for relegation threatened clubs, their money is thrown at mercenaries. This can be players or managers like Big Sam, with the ambition of staying in the Premier League. It doesn't matter that these players and coaches are a bad fit long term. In the short term, they need to finish 17th or above to hold onto that Premier League money. They can figure out the next steps over the summer.
You'll often see clubs like Man City or Bayern Munich purchase a player just to prevent a league rival from having them. It's ruthless, and essentially anti-competitive. Many of the world's biggest clubs are in huge amounts of debt, and are still spending large fortunes on player transfers and salaries, because as soon as they stop, their rivals will get ahead and stay ahead of them.
Where do you fit in all of this?
You don't. Clubs use the badge to attract players to their academy, knowing most if not all of those players will never feature in the first team. Your job is to wear that badge. While wearing that badge, you'll teach the players the same stuff they would have learned at most other academies. You'll monitor their progress, and methodically replace the ones who are falling behind. Your job isn't to develop or cultivate. Maybe they tell you it is, but the numbers don't lie here. Keep the kids in the system until they no longer serve a purpose, and then sell the ones that come out the other end to reinvest that profit back into the club.
Maybe you're a better coach than the applicants who were rejected. But do you really think you're more than a drop in the ocean in regards to all the factors that make a kid a pro footballer? Clubs know this. Which is why they pay you what they think you're worth. And what's even better from their point of view, is how you have spent a small fortune on your coaching courses to get you to this point, so they didn't have to. The clubs also know how the sunk cost fallacy works, meaning they know that if you've spent X amount of money on coaching courses to only acquire a job that pays £Y per hour, they know you've been mugged off, and are happy to continue to be mugged off, because you're blinded by chasing a dream.
It's a cynical outlook. But clubs know you are one of thousands of very similar candidates. If you don't fancy being overworked and underpaid, someone else will.
In the jobs market I see an academy job for £15 per hour at a League Two club receive hundreds of applicants, yet a £15 per hour job as a university second team coach will go unfilled. Why?
Overworked and Underpaid
"The picture of the typical coach in the survey is of someone who is young, single, childless, underpaid and overworked - but nevertheless happy in their role."
This excellent article from Training Ground Guru delves into research regarding job satisfaction of academy coaches in England. Give it a proper read, as the findings are fascinating. My main points focus around these graphs.
Credit: Training Ground Guru.
Just look at how very few coaches from this survey are earning an alright wage.
Credit: Training Ground Guru.
The government says we shouldn't be working more than 48 hours per week. Football coaches notoriously burn the candle at both ends.
The thing that concerns me, and again, definitely read the article as it provides more context and insight, is the amount of coaches that claim they are happy doing this. Despite the hours and the meagre reward, they are happy. Why is this? And why am I bothered?
Is it because if we like what we do, we are therefore more okay with being exploited? Similar to how you'd go above and beyond for loved ones. Is football having the same effect on us?
Is it because we don't know any better, and most of the respondents to the survey have been in football for so long that things are the way they are, and nobody bothers to question if it is okay?
Is it perhaps a form of Stockholm Syndrome? A coach has invested so much into themselves and their education that they have to believe it was worth it?
Is it a sense of relief? After spending thirty grand on your education and grafting away for ten years, it has finally paid off because you have a £20k a year job at Leyton orient?
How happy can a person truly be if a profession prevents them from starting a family? Or even having a normal social life?
What is your honest why?
I'll finish off with a current example that I'm going through now. Many of you may know I'm the head coach and founder of Southampton Aztecs Futsal Club. I have also been the main sponsor for the past two years. Yes, that's right. I'm not even a volunteer coach. I actually pay to coach my own team. The league in England has increased the requirements, meaning that head coaches need to have a futsal UEFA B. There has now been a mad dash to get on courses and become eligible. To begin with, there will be some leeway and patience, but we want to get on the courses before the door shuts and teams start to receive fines.
Naturally, the course dates only affect the women's league and not the men's league, taking place on Saturdays. If accepted, I then have to pay £740 to get on the course. As a volunteer coach. Surrounded by other volunteer coaches. Where are any of us supposed to get that money from?
So the very reasonable question is... why? Why am I doing it?
Part of me feels like all coaches are drowning, and we are desperate to keep our heads above water. In such a situation, it's very hard to help other coaches. The threat of drowning here is summarised metaphorically;
If I don't get on the course now, I probably won't get on the next one.
There's a lack of UEFA B futsal coaches, and without one, we won't be able to field a team next season. That's a lot of players being let down and money being wasted.
Futsal is growing in England, and several of us are riding the wave right now. By getting on the course, we continue to ride the wave. Whether it's first division status, competing for trophies, getting England jobs etc. that pool of available coaches will eventually expand, and if we're not careful, we may fall behind.
I want to get better at what I do. This is only natural. But a formal coaching course is not the only way, yet is perhaps the most expensive method.
Belonging. I think deep down, we're all searching for a purpose. Football gives us that. We'd be lost without it. And if being underpaid and overworked is the price of admission, many of us will keep paying it.
There's something magical about being part of a team. There's something magical about working with a group to achieve long term goals. There's something magical about experiencing the highs and lows with a group of people you trust. Making memories together, whether it's experiencing setbacks, or achieving goals, you've done it with a group of people on that same path. This is perhaps the biggest reason why we take the abuse and the heartbreak, and perhaps the biggest reason why, despite being intellectually aware of this, we'll keep doing it.
There's nothing quite like football.
We all have our why. It may seem irrational. Others won't get it. But then others haven't worked on something in training only to see their team pull it off on live television. That's a pretty special why.