Grassroots football in China

My first step on Chinese soil, the first thing that hit me was the early June hot weather. I bent down to the ground and touched my hand to the ground for my belief that this would be my interesting adventure and a stepping stone for my development in teaching soccer and also learn more about myself and the country that opens to the outside world.

Before I came to China, I had traveled to four countries teaching players from all ages and abilities. From my experience here, I feel that China is quite a different country with its own special culture and its long history. But young people here just react similarly to their peers, the same as the other parts of the world.

My approach is to be open-minded entering into a different world and being able to build up a rapport with the children and staff. I hear that people in China are keen to learn English, and some of them are very good at it, which makes it easy and convenient for me to communicate with the players and teachers. The only thing is that I must become part of them.

I have been involved in grassroots football for almost fifteen years and before that I had a good footballing career and learned from many good coaches from professional clubs. I started coaching experience in my hometown of Leicester, England. I traveled to many cities in England arranging trial games against professional clubs. We selected good players from communities and played against youth teams from professional clubs to discover and introduce talented young players to professional clubs. I have coached players in the communities, schools, clubs, special needs and girls/women football in America, Canada, Holland and Belgium, which are all developed countries. Now for me this was the right time in my life to go to a developing country like China – they are developing and there is much room for improvement. We all know that football here is going through a transitional period. I am positive that where there is a problem, there is a solution.

My first coaching experience was in Nanjing where I coached the players who came from Beijing, Chengdu, Changsha, Nanjing and Dalian. The players came to the city to take part in the First National Middle School Football Tour to Germany. The coaching programme started early at 6:00 am until 7:30 am and in the afternoon 5:00 pm until 6:30 pm. It went on for three weeks. And from the sixty players, 25 were selected to go to Germany to play against youth teams from professional clubs. My relationship with the players made a deep impression on the field. I was their coach. Once the training was finished, we acted as friends. Some of the players understood what I said but I had a Chinese-English interpreter to help me to get the message to players. This was important to establish a special rapport with the players. There was a good support from the parents who came to see their sons in the trials and also see a foreign coach coaching them.

My first teaching programme at middle school was in Nanjing No 4 Middle School. As a football coach, my duty was to plan and design the training programme for different age groups for different skill levels and also help the Chinese PE teachers and assistant coaches to improve their knowledge in advanced coaching. Again I used different styles to set the training easy for the players to understand – one was practical and the other through theory and watching coaching videos on what they had done the previous weeks of training. These methods worked because at the Fifth Middle School Football Competition of Jiangsu province held in Pizhou, the school football team won the championship of the tournament with my advanced training methods.

My good rapport with the players, PE teachers left a deep impression on the people of Pizhou who came to watch. They sang high praise for our good sportsmanship and fair play. The headmaster complimented my football team as the best among all the teams for their discipline, dedication , determination, fitness and skills. On this occasion, the headmaster wanted me to teach his students. In April, 2005, after my expiration of the contract with Nanjing No 4 Middle School, I was employed in Yunhe Middle School, Pizhou of Jiangsu province, where I have been teaching spoken English to both the students and teachers. I have set up a mini-soccer league and introduced the fundamental basics of football which is well appreciated by the teachers, students and parents.

Up till now I have stayed in China for more than a year. And I have learned more about China and the Chinese people. When I first came, everything here seemed so different from what it is in England. My life at the beginning took me time to settle because of the new surroundings – the places, food, traffic and weather. I couldn’t even use chopsticks. However, by long time, you can improve on many things, which I have now. I have experienced the Chinese people’s friendship, helpfulness, kindness and hospitality, which are all the reasons why I want to stay in China for a longer time. I think China is a very good place for me to improve my personal and professional development in life and also broaden my vision of football development. I am positive about the Chinese football future and I would like to do my bit for the Chinese football development.

The author is from Leicester, England, and he’s been working as a football coach in China for over a year.

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