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Sam Hough - China ClubFootball Academy



British Football Coaching Network’s latest interview is with 22 year old Sam Hough who coaches for China ClubFootball in Beijing, China. He tells us his experience living and working in a foreign country and how he’s learning to overcome barriers such as language.

Tell us a little bit about China ClubFootball…

China ClubFootball is the largest grassroots football organisation in China. The company is managed by UK nationals and has a coaching team of 16 full-time coaches from England, Scotland and Ireland. We have a football development programme for Chinese and international children in Beijing, operate junior league competitions for over 120 teams, and also design and deliver coach education programmes for local coaches and teachers. ClubFootball has also provided an on-the-ground presence in China for partners including Nike, the Premier League, Manchester City and the British Council.


What are they like to work for?

China ClubFootball is a fantastic company to work for due to the learning opportunities provided for coaches. The coach management team put on regular in-service CPD sessions and are always trying to develop the coaches both on and off the pitch. The team of coaches also get along really well. We are all from similar backgrounds and of a similar mind-set in that we all want to improve – and that process is something which is in evidence every day.

What age groups do you coach and what is the level of the players?

The players that we work with are a mixture of Chinese and International. We have a development pyramid which starts with the MiniSkills (3-5 years old) and then leads players though Skills programmes (6-12 years old), Skills Leagues (8-15 years old), League Teams (6-15 years old) and an Elite Development Programme (15-18 years old).

MiniSkills and Skills programmes run on a weekly basis and each session is based around creative learning and fun games. Each session is also based around developing motor-skills, balance and coordination.

The Skills League however, is 50% technical training and 50% coached match play to give young players their first experience of competitive football but in a positive and friendly environment. Team formations and patterns will be introduced to players during these sessions. League Teams will train 3 times per week, here there will be more emphasis on advanced skills and tactical training as well as playing competitively at weekends. Select teams also get the opportunity to compete in tournaments around Asia.


How do you find living in China?

China is a wonderful place to live with everyone being so friendly and approachable, although the language barrier can be an issue at times. Every Chinese national appreciates a foreigner trying their best to speak Chinese, even though the pronunciation may be wrong resulting in you at firstly being given something completely different to what you actually wanted. After a second attempt at speaking aided by some miming and demonstration, everyone ends up laughing and you get what you want!

One fantastic aspect of living in China is the opportunity to travel to different places, over the past year I have travelled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xi’an and Seoul, all providing me the chance to meet new people and explore different cultures. Beijing is a great base for travelling and seeing different parts of the world!!

What things have been a hardship or testing?

The main thing that has been testing is the language barrier. Here at China ClubFootball, we have Chinese assistants that come with us to sessions and translate our information. We are also privileged to have weekly Chinese lessons so after the first few weeks the language barrier becomes easier. Learning a new language is an exciting thing to do and great for future career prospects too.

It is testing living away from home in a different country where English is not the first language. However, China ClubFootball are very accommodating, and coaches and management are always on hand to help and support if I ever feel too far from home.

Tell us a little bit about your background of coaching…

My past roles include being head coach for a local U12s grassroots club in Preston, England. I was responsible for planning and delivering sessions on a weekly basis, as well as coaching the team on match days. I also embarked on trips to America during the summers of 2015 and 2016 coaching on soccer camps for 2 months during the university break. Whilst I enjoyed my time in the US, if I was to advise others now, I would encourage pursuing work experience which is a little more developmentally beneficial.

During university, I always had the passion to coach football abroad and deliver my knowledge to children of other countries. When the opportunity to come and coach football in China came along, I didn’t think twice as I knew this would be a fantastic opportunity for me to grow and develop as a person and a coach. I believe I was right on both counts.


Which qualifications do you currently hold?

  • FA Level 1 Award in Coaching Football

  • FA Level 2 Award in Coaching Football

  • FA Module 1

  • FA Module 2

  • FA Safeguarding Children

  • FA Emergency First Aid

What’s been the best thing for your personal development?

The best thing for my personal development has been the environment at China ClubFootball. Each coach has had different previous experiences which is excellent for session planning and discussions around coaching. I have learnt so much around planning and delivering sessions and the different approaches/techniques that can be used to create the best learning environment for players.

We are encouraged to regularly reflect on our plans and share ideas of both successful sessions, and the slightly less successful ones, with the rest of the team to enable a high quality standard of coaching is being shown by each coach and learning is constantly taking place. Positive, fun and engaging learning environments, player ownership of their own learning and development over winning are some ideologies that CF are passionate about.

Has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?

The level of expertise that each coach here in China holds is a fantastic way to learn new ideas, skills and the content of each session. I also feel that because the ability is so vast here then this provides you with experience working with talented players as well as those taking their first steps into the game. This is more prevalent here than in the UK as football in China is becoming more popular, whereas in the UK it has been popular for a very long time. I feel I am being exposed to challenges both on and off the pitch that perhaps I wouldn’t back in the UK.


The Future -What’s next for you?

I would like to stay with China ClubFootball for a few more years as the football industry is growing here and feel this is a huge opportunity for me to develop further as a coach and learn more. This will be very beneficial to me as I am very young and have lots of opportunity to develop. We are always looking for talented coaches to join our coaching team so if anyone is interested in joining us then they should get in touch!

Any words of advice/inspiration for others?

One thing I would say is take every opportunity that comes your way, no matter how big/small and work your hardest to become the best you can be.

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