This weeks Q+A comes from Damon Shaw, the excellent British Futsal coach with experiences that have spanned the globe! Enjoy!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I started coaching futsal at Teesside Uni when I got my 5-a-side team together to play in a futsal league and went on to set up the Uni club. I started coaching early because the players were better than me and we needed a coach! After plenty of early success, winning 3 University championships and a taking Middlesbrough to the top few in the country, I realised it was something I wanted to dedicate myself to. So went all in and moved to Spain to further my knowledge. After 3 years in Spain I got a job at Tranmere Rovers, 12 years after starting out as a volunteer and since then I’ve been a professional coach. I’ve coached in Malta, Malaysia (cut short due to covid), Poland, Sweden and I have just started with the Solomon Islands national team. A dream job and a result of many years of study and gaining experience.
What is it about your role that you love?
While moving around so much was never my plan. Things out of my control meant I left Malaysia (covid) and Poland (they didn’t pay me), but I also see that as a huge plus to what I do. I have seen some amazing places, met extraordinary people and lived some unforgettable experiences. But the thing that really motivates me is leaving a mark on the people I coach. In all my roles I’ve left with some close relationships, usually former players and I think life and coaching is about relationships. I always plan for the long term but as we well know, coaching is an unstable career so when things don’t work out I see it as an opportunity. Fortunately most of my roles have seen me take a step forward in my career.
What have you found different from coaching in the UK?
Every place has its own challenges and cultures that you have to adapt to. The most obvious being the language. Mostly for the building of the relationships as opposed to coaching – that is quite universal I have found. In the UK I felt like I could influence the bigger picture more, with my experience of coaching and working in Spain. In other places to now, I’ve been a smaller part of a bigger picture but with people around me driving that so the focus is more on coaching and advising.
Are there any challenges that you currently face or have previously faced from coaching abroad?
I already mentioned language, so I won’t go into that, but coming from a country without a strong history of futsal, I found in some places more than others it took longer to get the players to buy in. Malaysians were very welcoming, but in Sweden for example, it was difficult to get through to some players. It’s not necessarily a cultural thing but a personality thing. Some people want to learn and work hard while some don’t and that exists everywhere, but definitely more so in certain places.
Are there any countries that you would love to coach in?
Malaysia is where I feel at home and already know the scene. I would love to go back one day. It was such a shame to not experience the fans because of covid and now the league is getting back to pre-covid levels so in the future, I would love to be there again. Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have strong futsal leagues and all would be great places to work and of course Spain or Portugal are two of the best leagues in the World and I’d love to test myself there one day. I’m still only 39 so I have a lot ahead of me and I’d be open to working anywhere with the right project, but definitely Asia is a place I’d like to be.
Do you have a preferred style to coaching?
I like to give the players freedom and rely on them to be leaders on the court. I use video a lot and give the players the game model to study. I like to use game related practice mostly, I believe that to become intelligent players they need to be put in real situations as much as possible. That’s not to say I don’t use unopposed practice – sometimes you have to get the model across like that but I quickly add in defenders and then move on to conditioned games to give the players more stimuli.
What is your next step?
Well, I’m just starting my role as national team head coach, so my focus is on qualifying for the World Cup next year, while also trying to build a long term project in the Solomon Islands. If we qualify, it will give us a big boost to do the work I have planned, but it won’t be easy. If all goes well, I could see myself there for 2 World Cups, but in this game you never know.
What is your long term aim?
I would love to see England at a World Cup and be their coach. Europe is very hard though and would take years given the national team doesn’t yet exist. For now, I’m just thinking about doing a good job with the Kurukuru and if I do, I think I’ll be able to work in some more interesting places.
Any tips for other coaches out there in regards to coaching?
Study a lot and be confident in your methods. It’s a lonely world so keep good people around you and switch off when you can. Everybody will have an opinion and think they can do a better job so being confident in yourself, though not easy, is important. To do this, I try to speak to more experienced coaches as much as possible and usually I find that gives me the confidence I need to continue the way I believe in.
What about tips for coaching abroad?
Most opportunities will come from prior relationships so don’t forget to network. Go and visit clubs, coaches, matches and be willing to learn. After Brexit it’s not as easy now for a Brit, but with a good attitude then it shouldn’t be an obstacle. Learn the language and culture and probably most of all be available – it’s hard to move a family or provide for one as a coach and if you have things tieing you down (mortgage, loans, cars) then it might not be worthwhile financially for you. But once you do go for it, embrace it and you will find yourself living a life that a lot of people would love to do.