In the last Q+A before the end of 2022, it’s time for Tom Dent to take the stage! Tom is currently an Assistant Manager in the Norwegian top flight, enjoy!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Tom Dent and I’m 31 years old. I’m currently studying a masters in Advanced Performance Football Coaching from USW (highly recommend the course!) as well as assistant manager of the team Hamkam in the Norwegian premier league. I’ve been out in Norway for close to 10 years now, moving over after I graduated from the University of Brunel after a number of study visits previously to expand my knowledge of football outside of the UK. I’ve done practically every coaching role going in my time in Follo, Stjørdals-Blink (twice) and Bodø/Glimt before getting my opportunity in Hamkam at the beginning of this year as first team assistant manager.
What is it about your role that you love?
The connection with people and the opportunity to improve people through football and their motivations is what I love to do. That doesn’t chnage no matter if you’re working with u8s or senior players. Having done a variety of roles before has meant that I have many tools to use in different scenarios or situations and I feel that one of my strengths as a coach is gaining a connection to a player. Winning is a great feeling, but seeing a player crack the code and do something they’ve been practicing and succeed provides even more of a kick because you’ve seen the journey to get there.
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?
Everyone’s usual answer to this is language. In Norway they learn English from the age of 5 so when I first arrived I got away with a lot speaking English. However learning the language allowed me to gain deeper connections so I would say the initial time where you couldn’t get the connections needed in sessions. Football culture also took a lot of getting used to, mainly because Norwegian football look to English football for inspiration, so both holding to these assumptions but challenging some of the Norwegian methods was a balance and continues to be so some times. The biggest difference between the UK and Norway is coaching style. In English things are more around guided discovery or “repetition without repetition” while Norwegians prefer a more command style. This is changing however as sessions are becoming more and more play orientated so coaches are being challenged more. So I have no doubt we will see this develop more in the near future.
Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why?
Having been in Norway for so long, I would love to try the process of a new culture again somewhere else in Scandinavia or Western Europe just to see the difference. It would test language again but also challenging my coaching methods again and force me to adapt
Do you have a preferred style to coaching?
Style of coaching I always prefer a discussion/conversation because it provides far more depth of information and gives you a greater insight as a coach to the player. There is a time and place for this however but I feel the sessions have the most worth for both players and coaches. On the pitch everything has to look like it would in a game, so where it is on the pitch, demands of the exercise, relations between players: all these need to be present in the exercise to provide “repetition without repetition”- a situation that can be repeated but isn’t the same everytime due to the opponent and their deficits in making or the movement of a team mate etc.
What is your next step? What is your long term aim?
I’m new into senior management so I would like to be an assistant for a period of time to give myself the opportunity to learn from someone and have focus on doing one thing really well rather then managing different departments. However I was a manager last year and there were many things I enjoyed in that role so I would like to do that role again. As mentioned I would also like to experience a different country to see what challenges and experiences that brings up.
Any tips for other coaches out there in regards to coaching? What about tips for coaching abroad?
Coaching: clear outcomes: can the exercise look like a part of the game, and if you did an exercise without telling them the outcome could the player(s) workout the outcome at the end? By achieving this you have forced the players to practice, but although make decisions and consider things which will be valuable come the match.
Plan Plan Plan: the more you plan (and evaluate), the better your sessions will be because you will have a clear idea on the session, the outcomes and the potential challenges. It takes time but it’s invested time.
Find you (and your culture): your group of players will reflect you over time. So think about what that looks like, and that must include all the players not just the starting/best ones. Most conflicts whether learning or otherwise come from friction or ambiguity of these expectations or values in an environment. Get this right and the coaching becomes easy.
Go and visit: no matter how great your CV looks, I can assure you bosses get 200+ applications from all over the world for each role. So organize and plan study trips (and yes it’ll be your expense), and make effort to go and visit clubs and regions that interest you. Human connection is the best way to present yourself because they will see the person first before the coach.
Network: with the words “philosophy” “game model” and “holistic” I think networking has become a buzz word in coaching circles without anyone really understanding what networking is. Networking is about sharing experiences or knowledge between people of different levels or positions, to help shape your practice and beliefs. It is not trying to get to met someone at the highest level just so they can give you a job. People think “it’s not what you know it’s who you know” in football. Some of that is true, but I prefer “it’s not who you know, it’s who remembers you” in other words what impression you want to give has an impact on what happens next.
Go big or go home: if you want to work abroad you have to go all in. Your ties in the UK have to be such that you can handle not being there for 6-9-12 months at a time. As soon as you have to commute every 3-4 weeks you’re doomed to fail because work/life balance will never be right and your life will never be in one place. A lot of people like the idea of working abroad but don’t consider the challenges that come with it. IT IS HARD. There are so many things you have to adapt culturally too, whether that’s language, taxes, ways of life, cold/heat, travel distances etc. So you have to embrace all of that and you will come out a better coach and person at the end, if you stick through it.