Coach Development

Blaine McKenna

This weeks Q+A comes from the brilliant Blaine McKenna, coach, football professional, author and keen world traveller! Blaine covers his experiences of coaching abroad, tips on finding those jobs and his approach to football.

Blaine also recently released a book that covers 8 coaches who followed their dreams to coach abroad, sharing tips to emulate their journeys. “Coaching Abroad: How 8 Coaches Got Jobs and Succeeded Worldwide” can be found here.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’ve always loved football but didn’t believe it was a real career due to the lack of opportunities in my country (Northern Ireland) at that time. That all changed once my university offered the opportunity to coach in the US and Canada one summer. I saw so many foreign coaches working there which led me to believe it could be the career for me. That sparked a love of travelling and showed me there was a world full of opportunities out there. It led to coaching in 11 countries on five continents. I’m currently based in Phuket and have recently released a book. I also work online with professional footballers and athletes from multiple sports, alongside coaching on the island here in Phuket. 

What is it about your role that you love?

The energy and positive feeling I get from the people I coach. Coaching allows me to live my values of being caring, curios and creative every day. As coaches we are so lucky to be in a position to impact the experiences people have playing sport and to share the tools they need to thrive and become the best version of themselves on and off the field.

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?

I have encountered countless challenges abroad which has made me more adaptable and a better coach and person. In my first academy director role at a professional club in Thailand I was the youngest member of staff but I was in charge. You had to deal with the age hierarchy which is prominent in Thailand and people don’t always tell the truth to people above them in the hierarchy. Only once you understand the culture can you find solutions and ways of getting the best from the local people. You can’t succeed without getting the locals onside!

Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why? 

I’ve coached all around the world which was perfect for helping me identify what different regions have to offer and the best country to base myself in. Thailand was the country I enjoyed the most as the people are so kind, they love football and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. All the travelling has satisfied my wanderlust and I’m very happy where I am.

Do you have a preferred style to coaching?

Coaching abroad teaches you to be adaptable as you need to understand the culture before you decide which approach works best. Initially, you may need to be more autocratic in countries like China and Thailand as that is what the players are used to. If you start asking questions you’ll be met with silence as it’s not a common approach in the education system or daily life there and they don’t want to lose face by getting it wrong in front of the group. They will also wonder why their coach is being indecisive as their idea of great coaching is someone who has all the answers and is the dominant figure. You can take steps to move towards a more democratic coaching style by helping them understand the value of it and making them feel comfortable answering questions in front of the group but it takes time. The best style is the one that gets the most from the local people you are working with and will differ from country to country.  

What is your next step? What is your long term aim?

My whole life used to revolve around long-term goals which meant I was never living in the moment. Working in football is so unstable and you never know what the future holds. During covid I had so many opportunities come and go, including being Assistant Technical Director in a country with over 100 million people. All of them fell through and caused me so much negative feeling. Now I live my life through three values. Living the actions linked to my values is what brings happiness and will lead to a brighter future. For the first time in my life, I’m happy with where I am and long may that continue.

Any tips for other coaches out there in regards to coaching? What about tips for coaching abroad?

Do your research on a country you would like to work (and live) and book a flight there as doors open when you land. I wrote a book called Coaching Abroad: How 8 Coaches Got Jobs and Succeeded Worldwide (kindle and paperback available on Amazon and Book Depository etc). Five of the coaches moved to China to work in grassroots when the Chinese Super League was beginning to boom. Once they got their feet on the ground and showed the quality of their work, they were able to progress into professional clubs in Asia and around the world. From their homelands this would have been impossible as no one knew them or what they were capable of.

Inside the book, you’ll also find stories of coaches going from a full-time insurance job to National Team Head Coach, title-winning seasons, transforming footballing nations, getting sacked, corruption, playing in front of 100,000 fans, five-figure monthly salaries (USD), managing million-dollar budgets, demanding owners, and working alongside – and competing against – the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Fabio Cannavaro, and Marcello Lippi. All this whilst having unbelievable life experiences and living in some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Coaching abroad can offer a more realistic pathway into the professional game and the opportunity to get paid to travel the world. It’s not for everyone but if you don’t try you’ll never know. If you don’t like it, you can always go home. Regardless, you won’t regret it and it could be a life changing experience!

Thanks Blaine!

Twitter: @LloydOwers
@BlaineMcKenna77 – book

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