This weeks interview comes from Ian Brooks, currently living in Aland… enjoy!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My journey starts similarly to others loving the game but not going to be a player so taking my level 1 and 2 before 17 alongside a BTEC in sport and working for Chelmsford city FC in the community. A move from Essex to Cornwall was next whilst studying a foundation degree in sport science and continued to coach casual hours struggling to make a break through. After moving back to Essex I fell back in love with goalkeeping having played in goal and out as a youth and completed my level 2 GK award and youth Modules 1 and 2 before returning to university to top my degree to sports performance and coaching. I had 4 years as a PE teacher before working in accountancy, customer service and careers advice whilst coaching on the side in roles with Plymouth Argyle Academy GKs, and community project, Cornwall FA, I also completed my UEFA B and MOD 3 and youth award.
I was lucky to gain a role as head coach for the FA’s women high performance goalkeeping centre and a role as GK coach with Plymouth Argyle ladies as GK coach, these were delayed over covid but I also realised how much I missed coaching during that time when the coaches in the pro game were still working, these two roles gave me a belief I could still make it in the game, and I gained a place on my UEFA B GK award in 2022, before also becoming a UEFA C coach developer for the FA, and working with goalkeepers on the lioness pathway
I had started looking to options away from the UK in 2022 and with a major life event it prompted me to start looking, and putting out a post on linkedin led to conversations which led to my current role.
What is your current role?
My current role is as Full time Goalkeeper coach but across three clubs, the majority of my role with Åland united in the kansallinenliiga as GK coach, but I also work as GK coach for IFK Mariehamn FP and YDP whose men’s play in the veikkausliiga and I run a junior and senior session for males and females for local side Jomala IK whose senior sides play in the fifth division.
What is it about your role that you love?
I feel very privileged to have a sole focus on goalkeepers, it is a unique position, so it is great to be able to focus on my craft and develop in this area of the game. Being with the Women’s first team is the best part being with a great group of goalkeeper 5/6 days a week to develop them and look for success in the league campaign is fantastic, I am quite person centred and believe that is why I enjoy working with goalkeepers so much as you have that close knit group to focus on and impact. Working in the top division of a country is a great position to be in, my knowledge is also expanded by the weekly meetings and having access to video footage off all sessions and games and great planning and analysis tools such as XPS, Wyscout and Spiideo. The work with the other clubs allow me to have an impact on the youth coming through but also keeps me grounded and continuously developing my skills. Åland is a Swedish speaking Archipelago off the Finnish mainland and very unique, so it is a wonderful place to be with outstanding nature, but due to its size the clubs support each other, so as well as the key staff I work with I am welcome to watch IFK Mariehamn’s sessions and have a good link with the goalkeepers especially within the club too, so I am also learning my craft and outfield knowledge further being around and working with several pro licence and A licence coaches.
What have you different from coaching in the UK?
The biggest difference I noticed immediately was the style of goalkeeping, I am a firm believer of players working to their best and their own style, but also looking for ways of continuous improvement and giving them as many tools as possible, finding the balance between what they knew and the nations style and my beliefs for how they could improve was a difficult challenge but giving the ‘why’ and allowing flexibility has helped too.
In the outfield sessions in the younger academies there is a greater focus on physical development and capabilities of movement which are often focused on early in the session without the ball, before technical development and then into 2v2s 3v3s, and in some ways is focused on the technical aspect in the way the UK was previously.
For such a small place I have also been impressed by the facilities and pitches as well as availability of coaching equipment.
Are there any challenges that you currently face or have previously faced from coaching abroad?
It is my first role abroad and happened quickly, and I feel lucky after reading some peoples experiences as I have been looked after well and it has been a smooth transition. The Language barrier has had an impact on my delivery which has challenged my coaching, with Åland all sessions are delivered in English, but with the youth although their English is very good, I try to use some Swedish, I am still learning but I am building a word bank so I can get key messages across, keeping them short and to the point mixed with demonstration.
It can get lonely at times, there is not lots of things going on so socialising can be difficult, so learning the language will help this and there are also some English guys here including Aland’s manager who I often watch the UK games with. I get to focus fully on coaching and football but not having that outlet away from it can be hard, the physical demands and continuing my own interests such as running has also taken some adaptation.
Whilst it is easy to stay in touch with friends and family back home with technology, you are a long way from them and can miss events in their lives and sometimes have those feelings of missing out or nowhere to turn on a tough day.
Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why?
When I first started looking my list was Canada, Sweden Denmark, Norway or Finland the Nordic countries appealed due to happiness ratings and books I had read, I would like to get to Sweden still as it would be a step up in level to work in the Damallsvenskan, I would also now add Germany and Netherlands to my list, Australia and new Zealand. It is quite a mix and I have enjoyed the welcoming nature of the nordic/scandic countries I think Canada might top my list, but Sweden and Denmark are high in terms of progression and culture, but Germany and Netherlands as big football nations would be fantastic in terms of progression.
A warmer climate is appealing but with summer now starting to arrive it has warmed up here after a long winter.
Do you have a preferred style to coaching?
I am quite person/athlete centred, ultimately we are not the ones making decisions on the pitch so we need to give players the tools, pictures and decision making skills. So, I do lean to guided discovery and Q and A. I am working on my command style to be used at the right times, especially when in a first team environment or building a base of skills. I like my sessions to draw out the decisions and skills needed to cope with various scenarios so aim to design in this way.
With an education background, I believe psychological safety and elements of fun/enjoyment are key to the learning process so like to allow for this in sessions. I like to empower players to take responsibility for the learning and encourage that drive from within and strive for continuous development at all levels, so this includes ownership and input into sessions also such as asking them to look at where they need to develop so topics are focused on their needs. Being adaptable to players learning styles or cultural differences is also key so having the ability to work across a spectrum of styles is vital.
What is your next step?
It is hard to say at this point, my contract runs to the end of the season in October but as in football that can change any day, I am trying to remain focused on the present and my current role, but I have learnt you have to have half an eye on the future too. I have enrolled on a masters in elite performance coaching starting in October through Marjon which can be done remotely so this will be something I will be working towards, and I hope to have completed my UEFA B GK.
If we have a good season there could be an opportunity to extend my contract here which I am open to, I do believe I am not done with roles abroad though as it a fantastic way to see countries and learn abut yourself, and other cultures on and off the field, so I would love to say there will be a new opportunity in another Country. I would also like to challenge myself in other areas of the game, such as back to outfield coaching or development and leadership roles, so perhaps a blended roles could be an opportunity.
I also had some great roles in the UK so it would not be a disaster if I were to return to them and a non-football job for a short period of time, as I think this is the way the industry can be.
What is your long-term aim?
I think eventually I would love to be a FT GK coach in the WSL, as the top women’s league in Europe, it’s fantastic being in the professional leagues but I really enjoyed the coach development role, so I am also open to more similar roles. I aim to work in both the male and female game also, so whilst I believe my style suits the women’s game, I am happy working in both.
The more I learn and experience the more open I am to other roles, although my real passion is Goalkeepers, it is an absolute privilege to work in the game I love full time and with a varied background I believe my skill set could take me in many directions. I love seeing people develop so that can equally be found in a TD, Coach dev role or academy role.
I think finding the right location, project, and team to work with is key, I have a good work life balance here which can be rare in football, being around like-minded people or a great group of players at any level can make it feel that’s it is not really work.
I am trying to be present enjoy life and keep learning, so I believe if it is a project I think I can impact and a location I would like to try I would be open to it.
Any tips for other coaches out there in regards to coaching? What about tips for coaching abroad?
You have to love it; it can be a tough industry that will happily kick you when you are down. You will work long often unsociable hours, perhaps not have time off like your friends and family which can also be hard to understand, and you may be working multiple roles both in and out of the industry, so you have to stick with it and keep learning and enjoy that process. You have to be flexible to work across levels and understand it is not just about the topflight you may be happiest working with the youngest players finding joy in giving them the first taste of the game. You will not be getting rich financially but seeing the players progress or the results at the end of a long season or players progressing in their career is what makes it worthwhile, but also try to have an outlet away from the game too so it does not consume you and you burn out.
A coaching friend of mine before I left said make sure you see the wider area, so I take opportunities to travel a bit when I can and see neighbouring countries too. Also do your research, about the role and country so you know what to expect and do not be afraid to ask questions so it is clear the expectations of you and how things will work. I have to also say I spoke to a lot of coaches after taking the role, that I found working in same country it was a great source of information and shared experience that can help the process, so I am grateful to them for their time in helping me understand the country and footballing landscape of the country.
At a level it is like any other job you want to make sure the role fits your wants and needs.