I have long had an obsession with learning a second language in order to develop my coaching qualities.
It started as a young coach at Chelsea. I had a fantastic experience at the club and learned so much during the time I was there.
I was fortunate to visit many European tournaments with the various academy teams and had the pleasure of travelling to countries such as Italy, Holland, Ireland, Turkey, Russia.
This led me to playing against all the big clubs in Europe and learning so much about the players I was working with, youth development, tactics and the level of English players to those in other countries.
World class managers
During the time at Chelsea, we had world class managers arriving at the club on almost a yearly basis.
I wasn’t remotely close to any of the managers – but, our academy manager (Neil Bath) was excellent at drip feeding the managers ideas and vision down to the academy staff. We also had opportunities to go across and watch training from time to time and these moments stayed with me forever as learning experiences. On one occasion, Carlo Ancelotti did a Q+A session which was just outstanding on his philosophy of play at that time.
There were also outstanding coaches at the club working either at first team level or in the academy that have gone on to have big careers.
Henk ten Cate
During my time as an u14 coach, I also started to have access to more foreign players in my group. Coaching them was different, they come from different cultures and this has a big effect on their personality and how they see/play the game. I was fascinated by this and also being a full time coach, I was able to watch the u18 or reserve team train and see excellent young players at work. I was intrigued and wanted to pick their brains to understand the differences to how they see the game compared to english players.
This continued when I moved across to Liverpool and worked under Brendan Rodgers (who is fluent in Spanish) and Jurgen Klopp or alongside people such as Alex Inglethorpe, Pepijn Lijnders, Rodolfo Borrell etc
As I was on this journey, I was beginning to look closely at the people that I admired and the reasons why they were outstanding (in my opinion).
One thing linked the majority of these men together – it was the ability to communicate in a second language.
“Not all of the coaches could speak a second language – but there was enough of them for me to feel under qualified”
Therefore, it was essential for me to start learning as I was scared that my goal of working in the best clubs or working outside England, was going to be very difficult.
“If we look across the premier league we will see world class coaches who are all working outside of their country and in a second language. The ambition and growth mentality of these coaches is very evident”
So – how is it going
Well It’s not easy!!! And it’s certainly the biggest challenge I have taken on in my coaching so far.
I started to learn Spanish around 6 years ago when I was at Chelsea. I was alongside another talented coach at that time, Joe Edwards, and we both wanted to learn the language. We used to have weekly lessons at the academy and Joe was better than me for sure.
What I found out quickly was that I “WANTED” to learn a language but, my daily work was getting in the way and I wasn’t completely obsessed with the “NEED” to learn. Therefore, I needed to dedicate more time and energy.
At this point, I set myself a goal in terms of age when I wanted to be able to speak a language. The aim being – to take a full coaching session in a second language.
My parents live in Mallorca and my sister is almost 90% fluent in the language after going to live with them for 6 months. On speaking with my family and friends, I knew that one day I needed to put myself inside a country to learn. It wasn’t as simple as taking a few lessons.
Ideally, this opportunity would coincide with working in a new country and football culture that would develop me on a number of levels. But if that wasn’t possible, I was planning to take a break from coaching in order to study Spanish for 6-8 months by living with my parents and following the path of my sister.
“To have an experience working outside of England has always been my big aim”
I have to say, the opportunity to come to São Paulo was completely unexpected and I wasn’t looking for a move at that time. However, São Paulo FC is an amazing club that any coach would work for and an honour for me to represent. A wonderful experience.
Obviously – the language here is Portuguese, so my prior studying of Spanish wasn’t much help!!
I never knew one word of Portuguêse when I accepted the job and quickly had to take 18 hours of private lessons in a two week period before arriving in Brazil.
Five months later and ……….. well I haven’t continued with lessons but everyday I am sorrounded by people speaking the language and I am coaching each day in Portuguese. I am helped by the staff and have made many mistakes, but each day I am getting better both inside the club and in my general life.
I don’t think I will ever speak Portuguese perfectly but, football communication is much easier and similar to using Spanish (which I used a little on the training pitch at Liverpool). I am getting better and better each day for taking this challenge.
The thing I didn’t realise before was that living each day (thinking/speaking) in a second language is a really exhausting thing to do and at the end of each day you are mentally very tired – but the speed in which you learn is fantastic.
One thing that is important to remember is that I’m not solely here to learn a language. That would be wholly unprofessional. The fact of learning is to show respect to the club and country that I now live in.
But – You are hired due to your football knowledge and experiences. The football expertise comes first and is the key to being good at your job.
Adding the language – is a bonus and is the next task. A very personal one for me.
“In England, we are a nation that is not obsessed with languages and this maybe holds us back in a number of industries”