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Millennial Coaches, Side Hustles, and Breaking into Full-Time Coaching

Millennials aren't young anymore. Depending upon where you look, most millennials are now over thirty, with the birth year ranging from 1981 to 1996. At the time of writing, that makes millennials between 26-41 years-old. As a 32 year-old, that puts me somewhere in the middle. We're not the young up-and-comers anymore. We're now a significant chunk of the workforce. However, millennials receive a lot of condemnation within public discourse as being lazy, entitled, and workshy. That's a misconception that requires debunking.

We're the most qualified and educated generation going. So much so, that a bachelor's degree carries very little weight in the current jobs market. In order to stand out, you need a master's now. And even that is carrying less significance than before, with many graduates simply resorting to postgraduate studies in order to delay entry into very competitive industries, with very few jobs available.

Millennials are lambasted and often ridiculed for not owning their own property, still living with parents into their thirties, or sharing apartments with adult roommates, like an extension of university years. When you see wages relative to house prices, it's completely understandable. I can count on one hand the amount of friends I have that actually own a house (in before I'm trolled in the replies by people saying I can count my friends on one hand). My wife and I, with our master's degrees, barring becoming the benefactors of some rich relative, will never own our own property. And this is the stark reality for many in our age bracket. It's also why jobs overseas are very attractive, because often they come with accommodation provided.

Millennials are also having kids at older ages than previous generations, or just not having kids at all. Marriage is down, property ownership is down, number of kids is down. We have more debt, less wealth, and to add insult to injury, Mark Zuckerberg owns 2% of all millennial wealth. Thanks Mark.

We've seen the rich get richer, pay themselves more and more, and then not had that reflected in our compensation packages. Is it fair that the CEO is paid three hundred times more than the average worker? I don't think you have to be a raving socialist to have problems with the morality of such a ratio.

Despite our relatively short life spans when it comes to competing for jobs, we have had to contend with a lot of issues. Perpetual war, climate change, recessions, inflation, cost of living increasing relative to wages, automation taking away menial jobs, the onset obsoletion of technologies we were brought up with, and now the effects of a pandemic, which will hold back certain parts of society for a long time. The true ramifications of this are yet to be seen.

Great. Now what? I'm not here to slag anyone off, go after politicians, blame it on baby boomers, or suggest we burn down society and start again. I'll save that for my private conversations. My intention here is to paint a comprehensive picture of the current situation facing us.

Millennials are often patronised when it comes to full-time work. The reality is, it's hard to get. Especially in a competitive industry such as football. We're also ridiculed for being educated without experience. All these fancy degrees with no time spent in the field. Well, why do we think that is? We can't get the jobs. And this is where the "side hustle" comment comes in. So many conversations I've had with friends and colleagues in the coaching industry revolve around how many jobs we need to piece together to make a living. "I don't like being back in England, because I have to wear a different tracksuit every day" I joked to one friend. "Every day? I'm often getting changed in the car from one session to the next" he retorted.

The laughter eases the pain. But it's true. One of the best things about working abroad is how you only get one pay cheque, and all that money comes from the same employer. If you're in England, working several part-time jobs, some on zero hours contracts, a lot of time is wasted submitting invoices, keeping track of pay, and also calculating your tax. It's not a dealbreaker, no, but it's added frustration and workload.

At the time of writing, I have several side hustles. It's actually hard to know which is my main hustle. Is it running BFCN? Maybe it's one of my two coaching gigs. Or it might be my part-time coaching job. I've also got refereeing to throw into the mix. Different outfits each day, with a different focus and mindset depending upon the role. And I'm one of the lucky ones. All my time is involving football. Many great coaches out there have had to get real jobs. And this is where the big question comes up, that many have been asking recently;

"Is it time I stopped chasing my dreams and got a real job?"

This question, or words to that effect, has been asked a lot recently by coaches on Twitter. For many, the compensation just isn't there to justify the amount of time, effort, and resources spent on trying to climb that coaching ladder. It's not an arrogance thing, like coaches feeling grassroots or JPL is beneath them, it's simply that such roles don't pay the bills. Coaches are round about their early thirties, married, with kids on the way, and that big break has not yet come. Bills to pay, mouths to feed. You can't take off weeks at a time to go on the next coaching course. You can't spare the thousands needed to pay for the next coaching licence. You can't put in the time and effort required to become really good and get ahead. We take our coaching seriously, and only have a limited time in our lives where we can go all out without the reward.

We want to be the first to arrive, the last to leave, spend hours planning, hours watching game tape (if we have it), and be the absolute best we can be. And for what? £15 per hour a couple nights a week? Maybe you can do this in your early twenties, but eventually it's not viable, and you begin to feel you may as well get a regular nine-to-five, and just work with your local U12s team once a week. The dream fades away.

This is why I so frequently see start-ups online. Many of which reach out to me for advice. Dave's Coaching Ltd or whatever, so that Dave can operate as a sole trader or business owner to legitimately charge for private sessions. Steve's Soccer Academy, a glorified grassroots team that runs development sessions on a Friday night in matching tracksuits, running through a series of ball mastery drills with the kids of overly ambitious parents that think Little Johnny has what it takes to make it in a real academy, just nobody has spotted his talent yet. Instead of letting him be a kid on a Friday night after a long week of school, they drag him to one of these sessions. No offence if there is a real Steve's Soccer Academy or Dave's Coaching Ltd out there. The names often aren't very creative.

If it's not coaching, it's podcasts, session plans, PDFs, mentoring, and even notepads. Twitter has become saturated with large groups of people, doing pretty much the same thing, all with generic and similar names. This is the reality of having some extremely talented and knowledgeable coaches out there, who are doing what they can to make ends meet. The part-time hours are topped up with a side hustle. Another objective here is to stand out relative to other coaches when it comes to job applications and applications for coaching courses.

"Why should I get the position? Not only am I a level X coach with Y years of experience, but I also own my own coaching company ABC Coaching! I have Z thousand followers on Twitter, because they like my..." you get the picture. As a consumer, it's all becoming a bit samey. What differentiates Dave's Coaching Ltd from Steve's Soccer Academy? They all offer a lot of value. We're encouraged as coaches to find our unique selling point, and yet, ironically, many of those USPs are becoming the same.

Similar to needing a master's now, as a bachelor's has less shine, the UEFA B licence has also become less impressive. It's great for us as a nation to have more qualified coaches, but it does mean from an employee perspective that you are less special, because more and more coaches have them. And then there's a large group of coaches stuck on their C licence/level two, unable to get on the next course. Exacerbated, of course, due to pandemic delays, and the backlog that has caused. You wait, and you wait, and you wait, and now you're older, unable to progress, and you've been on the same underwhelming wage for years now, because you just can't get onto that next licence.

British coaches are battling with the Sunk Cost Fallacy. You've spent years of your life working hard for this goal. You've sacrificed, dedicated yourself, and spend a fortune on education. It just doesn't make sense to give in and think that all the above has been done... for a hobby? No way! You have committed, it has become your image, but at what point does it start to hurt and inhibit you as a person? Let's look through the steps.

  1. Avoiding pain over gain. It would be painful to admit full-time coaching, that senior pro job, that academy job is beyond you. Self-efficacy and reputation are on the line. You're a coach. To not be a coach would cause emotional distress.

  2. Quitting is for losers. It may be tough now, but it will be worth it in the end! If you're going through Hell, keep on going! The toxicity of grind culture shares much overlap with coaching. Did you not get up at 5:00am today to run your 5K PB before a breakfast of kale, and then read the entire works of Jorge Sampaoli before your protein loaded lunch, followed by intense session planning, match analysis, turning up an hour early for your session to sniff the corner flags and be at one with the grass, and then after the session dissecting it piece by piece for two hours, and then recording your thoughts on a voice note on your phone to listen back to as you drift off for your evening power nap to aid session reflection? Well, if you're not doing all that, can you really call yourself a coach? That's the mentality that permeates some areas of coaching, and that peer pressure of such expectations can reek havoc on your brain.

  3. Admitting mistakes hurts reputation. When coaching is part of who you are, any loss, setback, or criticism can be taken really personally. Especially when in front of crowds (or just overly involved parents.)

  4. Past success deludes future investment. Well, I already paid for that course, and I'm still working at the same level. Perhaps I just need to pay for this other course? How about that book or CPD event? Still nothing. Maybe I should go over to Spain for a study visit? That will surely set me apart from the other coaches!

  5. Information bias. We don't know the full picture of football, coaching, the competitiveness within the industry. I'm certain most readers would have applied for a job in which they tick all the boxes, and fancied their chances, only to be completely ghosted and not even receive an acknowledgement, let alone an interview. We can all be guilty of thinking we are better or more regarded than we are.

  6. Emotional connection over a rational one. We love coaching. We love football. It's brilliant. And the best coaches genuinely care about their players. After a good session, a good game, or seeing genuine progression within the group, there is no buzz that can top it. We live for that high. When my team has played well, when the training session has gone smoothly, when the players are laughing or joking, I feel like I could fly. Although, to be fair, I also feel like that on new kit day.

  7. False sense of hope. Maybe you're one job or one licence away from making it. Maybe you just need another year. You've seen others like you do it, so why not you? A guy from your level one went over to Sweden, got married, and is now an assistant coach in the second division over there. That could easily be you, right?

Millennials change jobs more than the previous generations. So many factors contribute to this. One being that we have lots of part-time jobs, that we try to fit around other jobs and commitments. If your priority job changes, or a new commitment comes up, it can edge out one of your side hustles. Many want a full-time job, having to settle and make ends meet with a web of part-time jobs and study commitments. Another is our needs and expectations of jobs.

Why do I need a flexible work schedule? To fit around my other jobs and commitments. Professional growth is also huge for coaches. When I go abroad, I need to know there will be support, within house CPD, and opportunities to take coaching courses. Millennials are always looking at self-improvement and how to climb ladders, so it helps to either have that as part of the job, or work in a job that allows you the flexibility to do it off your own back. Company culture is huge as well. I have left a handful of jobs within days due to the culture being completely wrong. When you realise you're working for someone who you find abhorrent, it's hard to put the effort in each day, wearing their logo, and working hard to make them richer. I feel this is because as a generation, we were conditioned to not tolerate abuse from authority figures. Our parents regale us with tales of being scared stiff of their teachers, who would beat them within an inch of their life. Or steely, unrelenting bosses, who were Hell to work for. We're a more democratic generation that expects respect, and will not tolerate abuse from aggressive zealots. We've all heard the accusations of millennials being soft, being called snowflakes, yet ironically these are brandished by people who were too scared to share water fountains with black people back in their day.

We've also seen all the memes about how millennials are lazy, entitled, and are killing industries.

Millennials spend less on dining and entertainment now than past generations have. As such, many restaurant chains, shops, foods, and hobbies are losing significant amounts of business, and are having to close.

Some say it's our shift in values, in that we're more liberal, more conscientious, and care more about the environment and sustainability. Perhaps. But I feel this graph makes a stronger argument...

We're skint. Across the developed world, we're seeing a trend, being that Millennials, despite having more jobs and being better educated, are the first generation to be worse off financially than their parents. Perhaps we'd like to go to Applebee's, but don't have the money left over in our wallets. Plus, after spending several hours as an Uber driver, then coaching, and maybe catching another shift at your other job, you might not have the energy left to go to Applebee's.

Some say it's because we're lazy and workshy, however...

Millennials actually work quite hard, and are very productive, yet aren't compensated fairly when compared to other generations. So we are educated, hard working, but have our pay stifled by CEOs who make 300x our wage, resulting in less disposable income, and then without a hint of irony, are blamed by those bosses for killing their businesses.

The likes of Jeff Bezos are heralded as being financial geniuses, yet their empires are built on undercompensating and overworking, and even abusing their employees. And then people have the audacity to claim millennials are workshy and entitled. Too many "back in my day" stories are offered, completely unsolicited, neglecting the fact that life is now very different. The odds are stacked against us, and we're given advice by those who are completely out of touch. Have you ever been looking for work and told to walk down to the high street with a bunch of paper copies of your CV, handing them out in every shop? That's not how it works anymore. And the person offering such advice will likely have echoed many of the following statements from the below "Old Economy Steve" memes.

Someone who, without an education, got a job right out of school, worked a consistent nine-to-five, could afford a house on their average salary. We don't begrudge the generations who went before us. I'm young enough to not have to have suffered 80s music. When I say we have the odds stacked against us, it really feels like millennials are losing autonomy. Millennials in the US voted overwhelmingly against Trump in the 2016 election. Back here in the UK, Millennials voted overwhelmingly against Brexit. So the odds are stacked against us, and we can't even vote in the politicians that we think will help. The median age in the UK is 40.5 years-old. That's now in the millennial bracket. Yet this is not reflected in the old farts who govern us within politics. They can't relate to millennials. They haven't experienced this, and any solutions they provide are based on outdated values and insight that isn't always appropriate to the needs of modern day issues.

It's insulting. Yet many lap it up. Such is the grind culture perpetuated by Instagram influencers. "Look at what I have. You don't have this? Probably because you don't work hard enough. Anyway, always remember to #BeKind and take care of your #MentalHealth." Our mental health would be a lot better if we could afford things, pay bills, and didn't suffer a consistent existential crisis from a cocktail of inflation, social justice issues, pandemic, and climate change, but yeah, I probably need to have a hot bath, do a little yoga, and have some "me time." That will solve everything far better than lowering petrol prices, halting inflation, bringing down the cost of my weekly grocery shop, or just straight up adding an extra £15,000 to my annual salary to reflect the true worth of my qualifications and the work that I actually do.

The #MentalHealth discourse has really annoyed me over the last few years. We talk about it, but change nothing. We have group chats, and applaud men for hugging, but do nothing to attack the root causes of the rising levels of anxiety and depression that are actually causing this mental health crisis. If more people could pay their bills, and felt some kind of worth and purpose in their lives, most mental health issues would disappear over night. Instead, we try to fix the crack in the hull with duct tape solutions like yoga and hot baths, rather than paying someone a living wage and making them feel valued as a person. Treating the symptoms, not the cause. Yoga might calm you down for an hour, but it won't make that £500 you desperately need to afford rent next month appear in your wallet. Have you tried avocado toast? That might relieve the symptoms!

"How awful are millennials? Can't believe they don't want to work for free!" This coming from the people that will often tell the likes of artists and musicians to get a real job. Sometimes, you just can't win, and some people are always going to blame the victim.

Millennials are a generation that, from day one, have been told to follow our dreams. The Disney ethos has permeated our cultural zeitgeist, and anybody can be anything they want if they just believe! Yet that's not true. The numbers don't add up. Especially not in a competitive industry such as coaching. What if it's your dream to be England manager? If we're sticking to just men's football for now, then there can only be one England manager at a time. They typically last for around four years. If you live for eighty years, that's twenty England managers in your lifetime. What are the changes you'll be one of them? It's a very exclusive club. All you need to do is get your UEFA Pro License. Simple. But wait, (as far as I can tell) the English FA only does one course per year, with only 25 candidates admitted. Rats! And most of those have an extensive playing and coaching career. I doubt anyone reading this article will be able to draw upon ten years of Premier League playing experience, five years of senior pro coaching experience, and references from the biggest names in football in order to aid their Pro License applications.

Within many of the clubs and organisations that have had the misfortune of employing me, there have always been a handful of coaching and admin hybrids. They do less coaching, with lots of sales, marketing, and admin work to make up the hours. The pay is slightly better, the hours more consistent, and the career progression more evident. We used to call them desk jockeys, thinking they were sellouts. In our eyes, they'd sacrificed ambition for comfort, hiding behind "football business" type ambitions, when in reality they were cold-calling parents about summer camps, and trying to sell t-shirts. "They didn't have the bottle to go all out and become proper coaches."

A decade later... maybe they were the smart ones? The vast majority of my coaching colleagues from ten years ago have little to no involvement in football anymore. The desk jockeys, however, are doing well for themselves. They still coach a couple teams, and have had no need to progress beyond their basic licensure, but they're happy, have steady income, and progressed well within the company and/or industry. Did they give up on their dreams? Did they have dreams in the first place? Did they see the game for what it was and make an educated decision to play the odds? It works for some, and everyone is different. For me, I can't think of anything worse. I believe that if you do a good job, you'll make money anyway. I'm not motivated by money, but then I suppose my relatively privileged upbringing has meant I never had to be.

There are a plethora of hidden, often taken for granted, advantages and disadvantages out there. Education is a massive one. Can you afford university? Can you afford it without debt? Can you focus on getting into coaching, or does your time need to be spent working real jobs to make ends meet? Are you able to acquire a car? These, and many more factors, put people on different starting blocks. Although it doesn't guarantee you'll win the race, the odds are more in your favour if you have a head start. There is kind of a "Goldilocks Zone" of optimum privilege, as we only need to look to the USA to see that with all the best facilities and resources in the world, 90% of their youth talent pool comes from the middle class. The US men might be a real force if the working class and the poor had access to those same opportunities. We're seeing similar things happen with young boys and girls in England at pay to play academies and development centres. Are these the best kids we can find, or are these a bunch of decent kids whose parents can afford the fees? And coaching has these parallels.

I'm starting to see three main groups of coaches on BFCN. Probably more than 98% of them being men.

  1. Young nobodies. Young coaches who started in their early twenties or late teens, who went though formal coaching education via FA courses and a sports or coaching degree. This group will have a decade of experience by the time they turn thirty. Their biggest flaw is being overly ambitious, and not knowing the market well. For every level headed coach making steady progressions in their career, there's always another who wants to achieve their pro license by the time they turn twenty-two. Frustrations brought on by not achieving those incredibly lofty goals cause early burnout.

  2. Nobodies with families. This group get into coaching later. They've had a normal career for a while, started a family, and now think that coaching might be for them. Maybe it was always in the back of their mind, or maybe they took their own kid's U8 team for a while and wanted to explore it further. This group is at a disadvantage when it comes to potential, as they are behind coaches who are younger than them who have been doing it for longer. However, they do have one massive advantage, in that they know how the world works. Their heads are screwed on, and are viewed as more trustworthy than many younger coaches, who may or may not still be the flaky cowboys that give us a bad reputation, particularly in the US.

  3. Ex-pros. Varying degrees of having a paid playing career, but not household names. Fast-tracked through coaching courses via inhouse courses for players approaching retirement. Rarely have a degree, as they were too busy playing. Great football knowledge, although often outdated and not progressive, due to having played for British managers whose reference points for football are the 1960s. Their big advantage is their connections in the game, which opens many doors for them. Their drawback is that they lack diverse experience, and tend to only be able to coach in specific environments that align well to the environments of their playing days. These guys aren't suited to run the after school club for U8 girls, introducing them to football.

Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Now that I'm in a great position to watch and observe the industry, seeing who gets what jobs, and how they get them, it cannot be stated enough how much connections matter. This has been a double-edged sword for me, as a recluse that used to really struggle socially. I didn't make good first impressions (probably still don't). Other coaches would hit the ground running, while for me, it would take so long for colleagues and employers to ever warm to me, I'd sometimes be out the door before that could ever take place. And my strong moral stances meant that I ended up burning a lot of bridges. It wasn't a good thing at the start of my career, but now I am older and have more knowledge and responsibility, my moral stances are respected, and my opinions carry more weight. Just because I'm now older and my CV is a couple pages longer. Which is ironic.

We can't get the connections that ex-pros have. That's ten to fifteen years of football involvement that we cannot rival. But all is not lost. Communication technology allows us to reach all corners of the globe. Having a strong social media presence will get the word out. When you apply for jobs, people will have seen your Twitter account, watched your YouTube videos, interacted with your LinkedIn. They will have seen the face and the name, making positive associations with you, that they won't have been able to do with the other CVs and application forms that are submitted. Sharing ideas, showing samples of your work, making poignant contributions to discussions will increase your stock.

It is hard for coaches to juggle everything we're supposed to do; read, CPD, podcasts, keep fit, plan sessions, watch games, football related admin, and constant texting people to find out basic information such as "can you play this weekend?" I'm sorry, but in 2022, there's no excuse for not responding to a yes or no question in regards to game or training availability. There's even apps for it like Teamer and Heja, with constant notifications, and some people still can't even reply. It's instant communication, many other people depend on you. It's the height of rudeness. Rant aside, it's a full-time job for part-time pay. For years, working abroad, coming home, working abroad, it would always be a point of contention how I'd be doing the same kind of hours, with similar tasks at comparable levels of play, and yet I'd be earning around three or four times my typical English wage when working abroad. If you're looking to get into full-time football, I cannot bang this drum enough.

Coaches are having babies, and having to drop roles, or go on a coaching hiatus. Such is the draw of coaching, that these coaches still view themselves as coaches, even when they haven't done it for months. I may have had to get an office job and give up my coaching hours since the baby arrived, but I'm still a coach! I'm not having a go or making fun at all. This is simply what coaching does to people. It's a calling. For millennials, the decision of whether to persist with dreams in the face of diminishing or absent reward is often made for them when that pregnancy test turns positive.

Do you have the experience to match your education? It's always a toss up, and if you have more of one, you want more of the other. It's an age old teetering of education balanced with experience. I was a coach who rushed through coaching licenses. I did as many of the smaller courses as possible to pad out my CV and gain insight into different areas of football and coaching. I did plenty of bigger courses too, regularly climbing up different ladders. It fried my brain. Each organisation has a different philosophy. Before I'd mastered one philosophy, I'd have gone on a different course and had to learn a new one. Sometimes, the qualification I went for wasn't always appropriate for the environment I was coaching in. It was knowledge gained so I could progress up the coaching ladder, but I was never really able to consolidate it that well because of the situation I had created for myself. We really need to get the right mix and become "pracademics," becoming academics while also being practitioners within the field of our study. The Bielsa and Pep books are great. Are they relevant to you if you don't work in a professional environment? How much can you get out of them if you're not able to actively apply the knowledge within those pages?

So much more of coaching opportunities and career progression is luck and circumstance. Way more than we'd like to admit. We want to view life in an idealistic way that has a direct correlation between work and reward. If you input 1 work, the output is 1 reward. If you input 2 work, the output is 2 reward. If you work for it, you'll get it. In our minds, it needs to be like this to make everything seem achievable. When it comes to being successful in anything, you almost have to be in this weird juxtaposed state of deluded but realistic. I know what I need to do in order to succeed, and I know that if I do the work, I will get my reward. If we actually paused for a moment and looked at the odds, we'd give up immediately. It's that deluded belief that we will succeed that shields us from the pain and disappointment we regularly experience, acting as a defence mechanism against reality.

Successful coaches are hard working, knowledgeable, resilient, driven, and prepared to run through brick walls to succeed. Yet the number of coaches who match that description that work outside the upper echelons of football far exceed the number of those who match that description working at the top. It's like a pyramid with a very wide base. This is not an attempt at detracting from those coaches. They have the merit and deserve to be in their roles. But so do so many others, but for whatever reason, have not had their break yet. We regularly see stories of coaches being brought on board by someone they sat next to on a coaching course, former colleagues recruiting each other, or even family connections. Football is still very much a "who you know" game. Without those connections, it becomes harder and harder to progress up the coaching ladder as the years tick by.

There's a question that gets asked a lot in self-help books and career advice guides. We talk about unique selling points, what sets you apart, what makes you special. In a world of coaching licenses required for employment, the knowledge and experience the pool of coaches have is fairly homogenous. So what's your USP? Why should you get this job over other coaches? It can't be hard working, committed, forward thinking etc. because all the other coaches have those attributes too. What experience or knowledge do you have that they don't? If you've only been down the standard coaching course pathway, it's not your licenses that set you apart.

This is why I spent my twenties globetrotting. With no pro or academy playing experience to draw upon, and no connections in the game, I saw the best way to progress as being to gain divergent experiences. I worked at different levels, in different roles, with adults and youth. I've been a referee, goalkeeper coach, futsal coach, first aider, analyst, worked at grassroots, academies, men and women, boys and girls, as head coach and assistant coach, as first team coach and reserve team coach, I have educated coaches, written curricula, and much more, across seven different countries. There's a lot of strings to my bow, and this is the advice I give to younger coaches. You learn about yourself, what values you have, see a lot of good and bad examples, and ultimately discover what it is in life you really want to do. Compare your ambitions as a ten-year-old to that at twenty, and then again at thirty.

The question then evolves into finding your purpose in life. For some, it becomes; what wouldn't get done if you weren't around to do it? Essentially, what does the world need you to be? Coaches are ultimately servants, whose entire purpose is to benefit others. How are you changing lives and making a positive dent in the universe? How can you use your knowledge, ideas, and skills to improve football? You don't have to change the world, but sometimes you can change the world for one person, and that's enough.

For me, it's been the futsal team. Futsal is underdeveloped, women's sport is underdeveloped, and there were no opportunities in the area. I left England for a few years, came back, and nothing had progressed. There were players out there that were hungry to play, and footballing skills that needed to be put on display for others to enjoy. So the Southampton Aztecs became my purpose. Yet I couldn't have done it without luck and connections. Without having a business, I don't get the loan, which is where BFCN comes in. If Matt didn't want to sell, I have no business, and then there's no Aztecs. If I didn't know former players in the area, nobody shows up to sessions. If I didn't connect with another coach on Twitter, we don't have our assistant coach. If anything was different, the delicate balance of what makes this team is broken. Sure I'm committed, hard working, and knowledgeable. But all that would have gone to waste if I didn't have luck, connections, and circumstances on my side. If I decided to wait a year, we wouldn't have got into the National League. If there weren't disruptions to indoor sport, the league would not have been willing to accept our initial application. It's a great thing that has happened for us, and we are loving every minute of it. We work hard, sacrifice a lot, and take it very seriously, but it's like the stars aligned for us.

Unique selling points aside, it feels like there's a lot of cat and mouse games played between employers and employees. Recently, I've talked to coaches who were set to go to Australia and Dubai. All but signed the contract. Ready to go. And then the employer stopped contacting them. Ignoring emails, not responding to phone calls. Just completely ghosted these coaches. These jobs are life changing. Many who work in Australia never come back, because they love it so much. Imagine being at the precipice of this huge step in your life, only to be left standing alone, with the path in front of you disappearing without any idea why. Likewise, I've had similar complaints about coaches from employers. One employer in Dubai was telling me how he is regularly let down by flaky, lazy coaches, missing family and going home after days, or not wanting to put the work in. Untrustworthy employees who treat coaching abroad like lads holidays. What can we do to pair the good coaches with the good employers? How do we screen and vet an entire world of possibilities?

Something I've been hoping for a while is to see a change in how we do things as a society. Many progressive countries are trialling the four day work week. Surely we weren't put on this Earth to work forty hours a week and then die? Everyone has to contribute for the betterment of society, yet it seems as if it is heavily skewed in that those who are putting in the work aren't always those who are getting the reward. Despite all the fears of the pandemic relating to productivity, we're seeing that these have not manifested. Eight hours in an office becomes ten hours when you factor in travel and preparation. Maybe another when recuperation is considered. And it turns out only around five of those eight hours are actually useful. Humans cannot produce high quality work for extended periods of time. It's why in football, goals are more likely to be scored in the last fifteen minutes of each half. Fatigue sets in, concentration diminishes, and mistakes are made. Mistakes cause goals.

The people I have talked to who have these traditional office jobs say they could get most of their work done by lunch time. Let's look at the positive effects of this; less pollution due to fewer people travelling, more time spent with family, less money on fuel or transport, ability to eat three meals at home, thus saving more money, and the ability to work in your own private space without pressure and constant scrutiny. The quality of work has not declined, family time has increased, people are able to relax more and stay healthier. We're starting to see through this #RiseAndGrind façade. It's the definition of work smarter, not harder.

Being in Mexico when the pandemic first started, I witnessed this change in attitude with my wife and her colleagues. She would have to wake at six in the morning, spend an hour getting ready (office standards, plus societal expectations placed on women, remember that women who wear makeup to work are paid more), spend an hour in traffic, often paying a lot of money for a taxi, eating a rushed breakfast, and not really being fully rested or energised to do the job properly. When the offices were closed, suddenly they were getting out of bed at 8:45 for their 9:00 start, attending video off meetings in their pyjamas. The quality of their sleep improved. They ate better meals, they saved money on travel, they had more time for hobbies and exercise. Funnily enough, they were happier and more productive. Amazing! Better diet, better sleep, better exercise, more refreshed mentally, more disposable income, somehow, magically, makes for better workers.

I know some people say that working from home will allow some people to take the Mickey. But don't they do that already? People are not as lazy as employers like to make out. It's a lie perpetuated by those who need things to be this way because it allows them to maintain control. Like how billionaires evading paying tax tell us it's the refugees or the benefit scroungers that are ruining our country.

It also feeds into the mental health movement that has become a catch-all phrase that has now lost a lot of its original good intentioned meaning. For many, it's now synonymous with being a bit sad or annoyed. If we view it like physical health, my legs get tired after going for a run. It doesn't mean my legs are unhealthy. In fact, quite the opposite, as I've had an appropriate physical response to stimuli. Think of it like weather and climate. England is typically mild, cloudy, and a bit windy. That is the climate. We occasionally get days which are very warm and dry. That is the weather. Moods are like the weather, and personality is like the climate. And it is my view that mood has now been conflated with mental health.

Of course none of this is to diminish what are genuine, and justified feelings. Nobody gets to tell you how you feel. It could be the most irrational reasoning going why you're upset, but you're still genuinely upset. That is real. Yet it's mood, not health. However, like with legs feeling tired after running happening way too much or not recovering, then perhaps there is an issue, and that then becomes health, not mood. It is my genuine belief that a lot of mental health issues are exacerbated by the societal constructs we have created ourselves. The below meme explains it better than I can.

We have the means to end suffering on a national and global scale, yet choose not to. We're tricked into playing an "every man for himself" style zero sum game. Our legacy as a generation could and should be to provide a better world for those who come after us. Your enemy isn't the Syrian crossing oceans on a rubber dinghy to escape war. The enemy is the politicians that keep choosing to drop bombs on that Syrian's home. The enemy is the politician who uses jingoist rhetoric to guilt trip you into clapping for the NHS, while cutting their funding. The enemy is the politician who banks in Panama or the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes, and sells government contracts to his friends, while telling you it's that foreign family who moved in down the road that is ruining this country.

You see it happen all the time without being aware of it. Like how a debate has emerged about how cancer patients (serious!) have been neglected in favour of coronavirus patients (just the flu!), when in reality, in the world's sixth largest economy, there shouldn't be a choice. Maybe I could understand if it were a war-torn poverty-stricken nation, but we're not. We're one of the richest, most developed nations to ever have existed. If one type of patient is being prioritised over another, it suggests someone somewhere is sabotaging the system for personal gain.

I'm also hoping this pandemic will teach people that there is no set path, and the only approval you need is your own. In the past, people have been too scared to be themselves, to be what makes them happy. Much of this is around the stigma with race, gender, sexuality etc. These attitudes permeate our society, even in very small ways, often noticed in soundbites. "Men don't cry," "man up!," "that's not very ladylike" etc. We're telling people how to behave like there's some cosmic script to adhere to. Be what you want, and be with who you want. If you've found the love of your life at eighteen, get married. If you thing marriage is a ridiculous outdated concepted meant to enslave women in subservience, don't get married. If you married the wrong person, leave them. If you don't want kids, don't have them. If you want to move to a strange part of the world, take up a weird hobby, try new things, change careers, give it a go!

No matter how many times people comment about how you need to settle down, and remark that you're getting old and missing out on valuable time you could be having children, ignore them. There is no script. Do what you want, in your own time, and don't try to appease the benign expectations of others. In my experience, these types of "helpful suggestions" offered by friends and family come from a place of resentment and envy. They themselves have given up on their dreams, have anchored down in a location for which they hold much disdain, and are noticing the flaws of their chosen life partner with growing frequency. To them, life has to be this way, and the fact you're not adhering to that is an affront to their being.

Now that we're getting towards the end of this article, you may be searching for closure in the form of solutions or a conclusion. Unfortunately, I can't offer that. So what was the point in writing this other than to whine and complain? There was that, and it is therapeutic, but it's more to show other coaches that so many others out there are along similar paths, facing similar problems. It can feel lonely and very difficult. None of my friends or family are coaches. None do anything similar. Very few would even begin to understand. And no, I'm not trying to say life is harder for us than anyone else, or that what we do is difficult or unique. We aren't doctors or nurses.

It's just that coaching is at a strange crossroads between ambition and servitude. As individuals, we want to go far and be the best we can be, while as leaders, we devote ourselves to benefitting the players we serve. There are stresses and pressures associated with it. Yet, as much as I plan, fantasise, think, and prepare for the game this weekend, it's actually not that serious. It's serious to us, meaning myself and the players. And it's great that we can take it so seriously. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not that serious. We aren't fighting a war, feeding the hungry, curing diseases etc. We're coming together to give a sport a really good go, and win or lose, it's so much fun to be on the journey, and there ain't nothing that I'd rather do.

And that right there, is why coaches keep going. When it looks like the academy job will never come. When that jump into full-time coaching may be a step too far. When kids are on the way and you need to spend more time at home. When you're pushing thirty and still earning a part-time wage. When you can't get on the next license. When the partner at home is nagging you about being out every evening and away every weekend. When the car smells of wet football boots and the hallway is sprinkled in rubber crumb. When the grassroots parents are launching another inquisition into your coaching methods. When you keep getting passed up for jobs despite meeting the requirements. When that other coach you know who started at the same time you did is doing so well for themselves. When it seems like your relatives are bugging you to get a real job and give up that silly coaching thing. When that dream of making it as a coach is fading away, why keep going? Because we live to serve. We experience no greater joy than providing for others. We love our players. We love being in a position where we can make a positive impact in the lives of others. We want to make a difference in the world, and football is how we do it. Ain't nothin' I'd rather do.

Thanks for reading.

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Rob Ryles
Mar 02, 2022

You should be congratulated on this article Will. Well done sir. Empathy +++++.

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