This one comes from Sean Mooney, an Academy Coach from the UK in Finland with HJK Helsinki!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I started coaching at the beginning of 2018, after deciding working in an office was not for me. My first role was as a community coach for Celtic FC, working both domestically and laterally internationally – getting the chance to coach for one week in Naples which was a highlight. I then moved to Manchester to study the BA(Hons) Football Coaching & Management Degree at UCFB Etihad Campus. In my first couple of years there, I had a number of different grassroots roles across north and south Manchester, working with youth and adults. I also set up my own private coaching company during Covid, to run alongside my studies. Last season I worked at Oldham Athletic in the Foundation Phase with the u11s age group and also was a coach for one of the University football teams. I spent a couple of months in the summer coaching in the USA, before heading to Helsinki, Finland to work in the girls academy at HJK. Here, I work with the 2008-born girls and the u18B team.
What is it about your role that you love?
My passion within coaching lies in relationships, which I aim to build and maintain with the people I’m working alongside – players, parents, coaches and other members of staff/stakeholders. Creating a positive learning environment in which players arrive, free to express themselves and their individuality. I love that I get the responsibility and opportunity to help develop people on and off the field and particularly when working with children, who you can have a great impact on both short and long term.
What have you found different from coaching abroad compared to the UK? Are there any challenges that you currently face or have previously faced from coaching abroad?
Firstly, I would say that the language barrier is the most challenging thing. Everyone here in general speaks very good English but the girls can be hesitant to converse as they are not so familiar. In relation to working with the coaches as some key information can be missed for example changes of strategy or general information given in matches or training. Also general conversations with the group on/off the field, it’s difficult to judge some moods or feelings. I’m someone who always wants to listen and learn from the coaches around me, so that is a challenging aspect as I have just arrived here and try to get more familiar with the language.
Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why?
I’ve always had Spain or South America in my mind. I started to learn Spanish in high school and have been going to Spain on holiday pretty much every year since I’ve been young. It is a dream for me to be able to lead a full session (confidently) in Spanish. Also the climate helps of course, in Helsinki it is currently -10 degrees and many feet of snow I am open minded and want to use my job to travel the world and experience different countries and cultures, so would be open to any opportunity abroad.
Do you have a preferred style to coaching?
In terms of coaching/leadership style, I’ve always tried to be more democratic and use Q&A to engage players in the content and to test their knowledge and understanding. Naturally in Helsinki, I have been leaning towards a more instructions-based approach to begin with (verbal and nonverbal communication), as the girls get used to me and my Scottish accent! In general I strive to be as transformational as possible in every environment, focussing on the person first and foremost – I believe if the person knows that you genuinely care about them and want the best for them, then teaching them about football becomes more straightforward. The most important thing is to be a chameleon to your environment, no two people are the same and everyone responds differently to what you say or how you act, so it’s important to always be adaptable.
What is your next step? What is your long term aim?
At the minute I am not looking too far into the future and taking each week as it comes at HJK, giving everything I can to improve the individuals and the teams. I have always loved the idea of living in London at some point, so if the right opportunity in football was available there then I’d be motivated to pursue it. My longer term aim is to be a professional manager at the first team level – mens or womens. At the minute I am working in 5 year cycles, so the next step is to achieve the MSc Football Coaching which I am currently studying for and also the UEFA A license, which will allow me the opportunity to progress up to the next level.
Any tips for other coaches out there in regard to coaching? What about tips for coaching abroad?
The primary bit of advice I’d give is to never doubt yourself. Football is a crazy game with many opinions and judgements, and competition for roles is vast. Always be willing to listen and take advice, then decide if you want to act upon it or not – but never doubt your own hard work and ability