This weeks Q+A comes from Jamie McDonough, currently working in Gibraltar following spells in Spain and with The FA in England.
Can you please tell us a little more about yourself?
I’m a coach and a Coach educator from Newcastle in England originally, but, I’ve been fortunate in that coaching has taken me all over the place over the last 17 years!
I’m currently the Head Coach of Manchester 62 FC in the Gibraltar Premier League and a Coach Educator for The English FA.
I started coaching as a 15/16 year old. Strangely enough, not in football though. I started as a swimming coach, because the money was good! It was only once I transferred those skills to football that I really started to take an interest in the details and processes involved in being a good coach. I have since then been fortunate enough, in combination with a lot of practice, to ply my trade in a variety of environments all around the world. Those environments, I feel, have shaped me hugely into the person, coach and manager that is still developing today.
The little football trip I’ve been on started in Newcastle in England. It has subsequently taken me to China, London, Iceland, Malta, Sri Lanka, Ghana, USA, Spain in a number of different guises and eventually my current role in Gibraltar. I think it was always going to be this way, travelling and football are my two great loves and once I learned you could mix them together I started dreaming. Plane ticket and an adventure? Where do I sign!?
It started as an accident really. I wasn’t one of those people who always wanted to be a coach. It’s continuing now as an opportunity to meet people who develop my understanding and ability. Usually without their knowledge these days!
What is it about your role that you love?
- PEOPLE. Person first, player second. I feel Very fortunate in the opportunities I have had to connect with so many different people from all over the world and have the opportunity to support them with achieving their success. Even more fortunate to have had the chance to learn from every one of them in some way.
- PURPOSE. I think I could do anything as a job and be happy, as long as there is a way to win and a way to lose and I have some control over it. As long as I understand the ‘WHY’ to doing the hard things day in and day out. A way to compete. I know I would wilt in an environment where I repeat the same things daily without a ‘way to win’. I remember working in bars as a teenager and, as ridiculous as it may sound, I would challenge myself to do everything in the fastest way. I would Reflect and analyse on my performance to make processes such as 2 pints and a rum and coke as quick and efficient as possible. At the time, I thought it was because I was lazy and wanted it to be over, now I understand I just needed to compete, even if it is was with myself! This is definitely reflected in my personal coaching process and how I implement that in a dressing room and on the training pitch.
- PRESSURE. Have I done everything I can to have a positive impact on my players results as individuals and as a group. Have I done my job, to enable them to do theirs? Whoever said ‘pressure is a privilege’ is completely correct. Sometimes in our world you find yourself out of the game and the daily pressures change from getting it done, to finding something to do. From personal experience, the psychological challenges of the second are far greater than the first!
- TEAMS. Without being too deep, I believe that social cohesion towards goals is what truly makes humanity special. In my experience, The feeling of accomplishment as a group far outweighs personal achievements. Innovations, steps forward and landmarks are rarely achieved by an individual. I relish working with teams of people towards a combined goal. The feeling when you win together conducts an electricity which is hard to recreate in other environments.
Differences to the UK
Every 10km is different in my experience, not just differences between countries. Working in London is very different to working in Newcastle. Life in China, on the other side of the world, had as many similarities to the UK as life in the North of Iceland – a mere 2.5 hour flight away.
I do strongly believe these differences have shaped me hugely, and I’ve always enjoyed the challenges as much as the benefits. Probably the challenges more to be honest.
I very much learned the hard way in terms of trying to mould a culture towards your own. Dumping energy drinks off a 7 hour away day bus is not welcome in the slightest!
I’ve learned that you need to bend towards the culture you work in as a foreign coach, with enough elasticity to bend it in directions you feel you need at specific moments. You can’t win as an invader wanting to change the colour of a flag, but if you can blend the colours you can create a masterpiece.
Challenges you face
I have a huge interest in global football. Based on a variety of potential opportunities, Relationships forged and a general interest in spaces where I think my own knowledge can support success. Gibraltar is one of those interesting environments with huge scope and potential.
From my own experience, Gibraltar is right up there in terms of challenges, but also the benefits those challenges provide! For example, there is not many places where you get to work and compete with international players weekly, or your players are aren’t in because they have the small matter of playing against France.
- 5 HGP’s (Home grown players) must be on the field at all times. Including if a player is dismissed, and if you run out of them then you must play with 10 players or forfeit the game. In a country of just 27.000 people, this causes a huge challenge for coaches outside of the top clubs who have the financial power to attract a majority of the strongest players. The national team squad is dominated by players signed to one club. With the challenge, comes the benefit of opportunity. Developing young players and providing opportunity can have an incredible effect on performance here compared with other environments. We have regularly given game time to 5 x 17 year olds in our first team this season, and we hope to provide them with the opportunity to grow in our environment in to top international players of the future.
- A 15 year monopoly of 1 club partly funded by UEFA European qualification money and exacerbated by challenge 1 above. Whilst it is a huge challenge, it is also an exciting one. I must say it isn’t of course just down to money, They’re a very well run football club and have certainly improved the standing and professionalism of football in Gibraltar… but having the biggest budget in a competition will always help!
- Brexit. And a fairly recently formed contentious geographical border that creates division and suspicion. No benefit here, still just political lunacy!
- Training pitches / spaces – Gibraltar has only 4 full sized football pitches, One is the national stadium, one is on top of a mountain, one is in an army base where 6 of my squad can not enter because they are under 18 and one of the other is actually a rugby pitch. I believe As a coach, adaptation and squeezing every drop out of your resources is pivotal to success. This is an excellent learning environment for me to do this.
- Language, connection and harmony. Integrating foreign players is essential in this environment and building a club and a culture which embraces its diverse cultural strength is a key priority for me currently.
- Referees. Having just completed a 3 game touchline ban, I won’t be saying any more!
Countries you would love to coach in…
This is a question I’ve been discussing openly since I was 18. I’ve since learned to divide them into personal and professional. And then subsequently combine them to find the ‘dream’, that probably doesn’t exist in football!
As I discussed before, competing is a major driver in my life and I want to compete at the highest level of the game. I am also a little bit of an outlier in the coaching world in admitting that there is life away from a football pitch. I try my best to ensure that football does not define my life. I work incredibly hard, but I also know that I am more effective in that hard work when I ensure time for other things. I need that reset button on a Sunday afternoon, or a day off once in a while. Some places allow that more than others, and provide that sense of fulfillment away from the pitch. So understanding that – on a personal and professional level I would love to work in the following. Only one of which is a specific country;
West Africa – The level of talent in this region through personal experience is absolutely terrifying. As a coach, working with players who have the technical ability to deliver on tactical process and strategy is a dream.
Oceania – can I bring my surfboard and football boots?
China – Incredible place. I would recommend It to anybody.
My own personal Current (dream) target;
SE Asia – My personal happy place away from the pitch, which can also provide the next level of the game from a professional perspective.
Ultimately, I know that football rarely works in this way. Opportunities need to be taken at the right time. I’ve always tried to live by the idea that most regrets come from saying no. If I say yes, and it doesn’t work out… what is the worst that can happen?
I am currently very happy in my role, I have a huge project where I believe in the target and trust in the how and the why. I work daily with an excellent group of players who have committed to a long-term process, and I also have the benefit of an exciting group of teenagers who we can coach towards competing at the level which we want. An ideal scenario. Equally as important, I have a very talented and determined team of people above me at board level, all pulling in the same direction, and we’re confident we will be able to compete at the top of this league and in European competition in the next 2.5 years.
I am, however, hopeful this is not the last station on the line! There are plenty of other pitches to explore out there! Besides, this is football, and you have no idea what the afternoon will bring let alone tomorrow!
PREFERRED STYLE TO COACHING
Honestly – not really. I would describe my style as ‘pragmatic’. Everything based on ‘HOW’ and ‘WHY’.
I think my players will tell you that sometimes Sergeant Major Jamie turns up, they get told what to do, how to do it, when to do it ..but always most importantly why they are doing it. Then other days, relaxed happy go lucky Jamie turns up and we have a laugh and a mess around. The pragmatism comes from the ‘why’. There is a purpose behind the way I do things. I know what I am trying to achieve with each variation on communication style, tone, pitch, character, persona, style, intervention strategy etc.
One thing that I do commit to is understanding that the players are people. They’re not computers who can receive an input of information and regurgitate and act on it. It has to be accessible, interpreted and then utilised in their own role. Before that process can even begin, they have to buy in to you as a person and a coach. Which goes back to understanding them as people, as human beings, and ensuring this underpins everything that I do.
What is your next step? What is your long-term aim?
My next step is always the next training session or game. I am fully committed to delivering on my job and in my job. I believe in the power of a process and in the coaching process. Coach impact should go up over a 24 month period with increased understanding and cohesion around culture and concept.
Medium-term my aim is to stay in the game as a head coach. Developmentally, I would love the opportunity to work as an assistant or first team coach at the next level at some point when I feel I have achieved what I have set out to do here. I am a huge advocate of the riddle “How can you ever fully understand, If You do not even fully understand what you do not fully understand”. Took me a long time to work out what that means for us in coaches, and in life I suppose! The opportunity to work for somebody else will definitely help me towards understanding more about myself, and my process as a head coach. I also think my personal superpowers lie in coaching on the grass and working with people. Two highly prized skills in the assistant role.
Long-term – To work at the highest levels of the game, as a head coach, in a wide variety of environments around the world in different cultures and with different people.
ANY TIPS FOR COACHES REGARDS TO COACHING
Always Keep your head high enough above the water to be able to see that this is still just a game, being played by people. You’re not effective when you lose sight of that.
Tips for coaching abroad specifically – When you first arrive somewhere new, Open your ears before you open your mouth. It might surprise your eyes.