This weeks post again comes from Scandinavia, with Alexander Chiles answering the questions. Alexander is currently working in Denmark at FC Midtjylland as Individual Development Coach.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Alexander Chiles. I am 26 years old, and I am currently Individual Development Coach (U17-U19) at FC Midtjylland in Denmark.
I started coaching when I was 16 years old and have held coaching roles at Fulham FC, Southampton FC, Everton FC, and Liverpool FC Foundation. I hold a Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Master of Science (MSc) in Sport Coaching from Southampton Solent University & Liverpool John Moore’s University, respectively.
Since 2018, I have been coaching abroad, first spending two years working for Cardiff City FC as International Development Coach in China. A fascinating role only cut short due to COVID-19 which meant I went searching for a new international coaching role.
I then embarked on a journey to Africa, joining Ascent Soccer as U17 Head Coach in Uganda, whilst also spending time coaching in Malawi at the academies’ HQ. During my time in Africa, I worked with youth international footballers including Malawi U17/U20 & Uganda U20/NT. Another role unfortunately cut short due to COVID-19 which meant I was once again exploring new opportunities.
In 2021/2022, I joined IF Gnistan in Helsinki, Finland as U11 Head Coach. A new country and a new experience for me to be coaching in Foundation Phase having just been involved at the other end of the spectrum in Africa. During this season, I also undertook my UEFA B Licence. At the end of the season, an opportunity came up at FC Midtjylland in Denmark, which is where I am currently involved.
What is it about your role that you love?
I love the opportunity to work with both the U17 & U19 age groups and to have an impact on the pathway between the groups and into the 1st team. My role is also interesting as there is a huge trend of clubs hiring specialist/position-specific coaches with more and more clubs looking for ‘defensive,’ ‘midfield’ and ‘attacking’ coaches.
In my role, I focus on the individual development and coaching of players in the U17 & U19 age groups. In practice, this means I focus on working with the players with their individual development plans, and delivering individual, unit and team-training sessions.
I am passionate about the development of players but also the person; I believe in a holistic approach to player development by focusing on the social and psychological components as much as the technical and tactical components.
At FC Midtjylland, I am privileged to be in a role where I am involved in the whole coaching cycle for a player. This includes providing feedback through video analysis sessions where we can discuss moments from training and matches.
In my role, focusing on the individual is just that. Individual. Not every 1:1 session will look the same. Players learn differently. Some players may learn better by watching a video of a specific skill/movement; for some, they need to be shown on the pitch. The key to effective coaching is understanding players as people, building a connection with them, and individualising our approach to meet their needs.
What have you found different from coaching in the UK? Are there any challenges that you currently face or have previously faced from coaching abroad?
It is not your coaching methods that will determine your success abroad, it is understanding the culture you are working in, having patience and being adaptable. It is important to realise that people have not had the same experiences and upbringing which leads to different perceptions of the world.
Language barriers can be an obvious challenge when coaching abroad, however this can also lead to you adapting your coaching approach, style, and methods. In England, Q&A might work effectively, however, working in China you appreciate the power of demonstrations especially at the younger age groups where English language is not always prevalent.
Coaching in less developed countries in Africa, you will also not have the same luxuries you might have back home; it is important to be humble and embrace where you are to get the most out of your experience. At Ascent Soccer, we aimed for players to progress into a professional pathway and/or an opportunity as a Global Scholar at universities in US & Canada. The opportunities for the players abroad are life-changing and you realise the impact of what you are doing. It is more than football.
Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why?
Having already coached in England, Wales, China, Uganda, Malawi, Finland & Denmark, I am running out of countries! I am open to coach anywhere and everywhere. I am intrigued with how football is played around the world and how coaches manage their players in different environments. I would also love to coach in every continent.
Do you have a preferred style to coaching?
I wouldn’t say I have a preferred style to coaching. There is a time and place for different coaching styles depending on the session/team/environment. The most important aspect for me is to be ‘adaptable.’ Adapting to the personalities of individual players within a team. Adapting to the opposition. Adapting to the player’s strengths/areas for development. Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
I also believe you can always improve best practice, with good coaches always learning and trying new things. The most important thing in coaching is understanding how you can connect with the players. You need to establish a partnership. Not a dictatorship. You need to build a relationship with the players. Every player has a unique story of how they have ended up in your team. The more you understand about their life, who they are and where they come from, the more you can gain trust and buy-in.
What is your next step? What is your long-term aim?
I am very happy in my role at FC Midtjylland, having joined five months ago in August 2022. I would like to build on my current role and further support the pathway of our academy players.
My long-term aim is to continue to work in professional football and to continue to shape the lives of promising footballers. I would also love to continue travelling as a coach; I am a firm believer that ‘travel broadens the mind’ and teaches you so much about the world by experiencing different cultures. Since first moving abroad in 2018, I have travelled to 34 new countries taking my personal tally up to 57. Still a long way to go to reach all 197!
What about tips for coaching abroad?
I wrote an article in 2021 on “Five Tips for Coaching Abroad” for Soccer Coach Weekly.
- Stand out from the crowd: Focus on what makes you different from other football coaches. Do you also have experience in scouting or performance analysis? Perhaps you have qualifications in a gym-based setting, or you are also a qualified teacher?
- Build your network: Networking is key in every industry. Research coaches who are already working abroad and do not hesitate to send them a message enquiring about their specific journey abroad. Remember, ‘your network is your net worth.’
- Do your research: Research the country you want to work in, to find out what you will need to be a success. Depending on which country you are looking to work abroad in, learning the language could be especially useful. Learn the basics, and be prepared to have lessons, possibly before you go, or when you are in the country.
- Be Adaptable: Recognise that it is not your coaching methods that will determine your success abroad, it is understanding the culture you are working in and having patience. It is vital to bear in mind that your living conditions and lifestyle could be drastically different depending on which country you look to move to.
- Enjoy it! Once you have secured a coaching role abroad, the most important thing is that you enjoy it! You will be challenged by people who will not have had the same cultural experiences as you and who might want to understand why you do things in a certain way, leading to interesting conversations! There are a vast amount benefits to working abroad, including the fact that many coaching jobs abroad offer accommodation, which can be extremely useful for saving money to do other things in your time off.