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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 little inconvenient to continue my coaching pathway with the English FA. However, having said that, there are plenty of opportunities here for me to learn from coaches that have been qualified back in the UK. As I mentioned previously, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from people like Alan Walker (Irish FA coach educator), the staff from Glasgow Rangers among many others. I am in a very lucky situation that APSS runs lots of really good CPD events to help their coaches develop and can bring over coach educators, many other coaches in Asia and other parts of the world aren't so fortunate. There are opportunities to develop, however there is a distinct lack of any sort of courses being run by the English FA that I’m aware of that could help me.

Do you feel you need to move abroad to coach to work in football?

The salary that I would earn if I was coaching back in the UK would be a lot less than what I earn overseas. I think there are limited opportunities for coaches to find employment back in the UK too. As such, I made the decision not to go back to England and coach but instead stay where I was in Asia and coach. While it’s not impossible to find work in the UK, coaching out here offers you the opportunity to develop, gain experience, and further yourself as a coach while earning a decent salary and having the amazing opportunity to live somewhere new, different and exciting. I don’t think it’s an absolute must to move abroad in order to coach, but I think if the opportunity is there why not take it.

How are British coaches viewed abroad?

There's a large amount being said at the moment amount about how there aren’t enough English players coming through in the Premier League, I think the same is true of English coaches, if you look at the last few years in the Premier League most British coaches have actually been Scottish, or certainly from elsewhere in the UK, with only a few English managers, mainly Big Sam, Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp (If you go back a little further). Lower down the leagues you get more English coaches, but with the ‘top’ jobs all going elsewhere it’s tough to change any perception of English coaching.

I think the problem is that English coaches are seen as being slightly behind the times. My favourite example of an ‘old skool’ coach is in the movie Kes. If you haven’t seen it you can find the scene on YouTube in the following link and it’s always good for a laugh

Obviously coaching isn’t like that but I think that often English coaches when compared to others from around the world are seen as more similar to this than their counter-parts.

In terms of my own personal development, I think the best thing to do is to continue coaching overseas, developing myself and learning all I can from others and hopefully should an opportunity arise to coach in the UK then my experiences will show me as a more well-rounded coach who can draw on many different attitudes and styles of the game in order to achieve success.

Where do you see your future?

Short-term (the next 5 years), I want to develop myself by taking on more coaching qualifications up to at least UEFA A licence and possibly a few others in their as well such as the FA’s youth coaching modules, GK and Futsal qualifications. Long term, it’s hard to say categorically where i'd like to be. I have a few targets in mind, for example I’d love to coach in other countries (possibly in Europe, but alsoSsouthern Hemisphere - places like Chile or Argentina). I think the main thing is to just keep moving forward, continually develop and continue to further myself. Learning from the experience of coaching at different levels and age-groups is probably my immediate aim though.

What is your biggest inspiration?

For me, the biggest inspiration is the sheer enjoyment of what I do. I love waking up in the morning and going out on to the field and coaching. It really doesn’t get much better than that. The reason I started following football is because of the way I watched Arsenal play football in the mid 2000s. It really was the beautiful game, now you have teams like Liverpool & Man City that have taken it further as well as obvious teams like Barcelona. My players are nowhere near the technical level of those players but when we play matches, if we can show a little of what we try to work on in training ie. not playing long ball, patient build up, good team shape with a few key passes then that’s what it’s all about for me. As long as I see development then that inspires me to go and do more. If I don’t see development then it inspires me to find what’s wrong and change to achieve the development in the player that I’m looking for. Levels of perfection are different for everyone, but my inspiration comes from trying to be as close to perfect as my team & I can possibly be.

BFCN Says: ' Another example of changing career path to make a start in the coaching world. What are YOU waiting for'?

Take a look at some 'Turning & Running with the Ball Activities below'.

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