Tom Cole – From Teacher To Coach in Hong Kong

Name, age, where you are based?

Thomas Cole, 31, Asia Pacific Soccer School in Hong Kong

Tell us a bit about your current role and qualifications..

My role last season was coach of U9 boys team & U10 girls team at KCC (Kowloon Cricket Club) in Hong Kong as well as taking many of the companies 'open classes'. As of the new season I will now be in charge of the Gold Coast and Tuen Man area which we will be looking to develop it into one of the key areas for the company Asia Pacific Soccer School. I also work with a charity called Sprouts, it is a charity aimed at providing experiences for children from low Income households that they may otherwise never have. I work with APSS to provide 90 minutes of coaching to about 15 kids per week. In terms of qualifications, I have my level 1 through the English FA and have just completed the practical side of my UEFA B part 1/Irish FA C licence.

What is the standard of players like?

The ‘open classes’ are more beginner based and for those the quality is sometimes lacking in some regards, but the attitude and enjoyment are always excellent.

In terms of the squad teams we have here, the quality overall is pretty good with a few very standout players. There’s a real mix of nationalities here in Hong Kong and so as you’d expect there’s a good mix of nationalities in our teams. The company tries to offer training sessions twice a week to our squad players and while I try to focus on the kids learning through enjoyment and by simply playing the game, we structure our schedule so that the syllabus follows on from the previous week. For example, if last week is passing, next week might be focused on receiving and/or turning, then the next week might be dribbling or running with the ball. Within those topics there’s obviously a lot of scope for you to then focus on more specific ideas such as turning in high pressure situations/in the final 3rd and so on. Depending on the ability of the squad the expectations can vary, but the company have a good reputation in Hong Kong for winning things and we also have had success in overseas tournaments.

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

Learning from other coaches has been massive for me. Growing up I played with friends at school and played in the school team, but my emphasis was on athletics not football. So having never grown up with a so-called ‘footballing background’ I’ve learnt so much from the coaches I work with. Either by observing their sessions or Q&A sessions. As well as those, the coaches that I’ve met when going to courses or lectures have also been great. Everyone has their own philosophy on how football should be played, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, so it’s been great for me to be able to speak to other coaches and learn whatever I can from them.

What things have been testing for you?

If we’re talking specifically about coaching then I haven’t really had many testing moments as of yet. My company has been great in offering me support and I've had opportunities to learn from some great coaches. I guess the hardest thing I have come through was the transition between being a school teacher and becoming a coach. I had a pretty secure life as a school teacher, made good money and was working overseas. It was a bit of a gamble to move into coaching and give that up, but so far I reckon it’s paying off.

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

As I mentioned before the company I work for have been great at getting different coaches to come out and give us lectures or run sessions to help develop us. We’ve done a couple of workshops with the U21 coaching team at Glasgow Rangers. Alan Walker, who I just did my UEFA B1 Course with in Northern Ireland, has been out to run some sessions with us all too. We also had a coach from the academy at Hannover 96 in Germany come to Hong Kong.

I have to say that had I coached in the UK I don’t think I would have had the opportunities that I have had here in Hong Kong. Not only that but coaching kids of different backgrounds who all speak different languages has made me develop my style of coaching to try and ensure all the kids are understanding and getting the most out of the sessions.

Has your FA back home been supportive of you working abroad or have you had to seek alternative options?

I did my Level 1 coaching badge with the English FA, but since then I haven’t really been able to study with the them as their Level 2 is done in modules, each a few months apart. Living in Hong Kong that isn’t really feasible as I’d have to fly back at least three times a year. Instead, I’ve done a few workshops with the Hong Kong FA.

I have just done my UEFA B1 in Northern Ireland (Belfast) as a residential course. It is a one week, intensive course, meaning I only had to fly back once, and it was during the summer which works out with my holidays. This is a fantastic course for British coaches that are based abroad and once on it you have a pathway to high coaching qualifications which can be done intensively.

What do you feel, could help open more opportunities for development in the UK?

If the English FA did a similar residential course that would be great for me. It’s not just sensible from a time and money standpoint, but also having it as a residential course you spend a lot more time with other coaches, discussing things and learning from each other all the time. Equally, I think it would be great if different FA’s did some overseas workshops. So many nations have different beliefs on the way to play football it would be great to study on a small course or workshop run on possession play with the Spanish FA, then a defensive workshop with the Italian FA. Something like that would be great for all coaches.

Are current pathways suitable to help bridge development gaps between home country and current country of residence? If needed, how could these be improved?

Being out in Asia is a little different to if I was working in Europe and close to the UK. I think it would be fair to say it’s a l