Coaching kids soccer in Beijing
After coaching kids’ soccer in Manchester, England for a few years, Jonathan White came to China in January 2007 to work with the young players at ClubFootball. Now he is an English Football Association qualified coach and teaches soccer (also called football) to kids age 4 to 18 at ClubFootball’s Junior Coaching Academies. beijingkids sat down with the 26-year-old and learned about his passion for the sport, how he motivates kids in a different language, and how he still gets his soccer kicks.
Why did you choose to coach kids? I always thought it’d be an interesting thing to do ever since I was a kid going to the coaching courses myself. I started coaching kids in my university in 2002. After I graduated from the university, I decided to coach kids full-time.
What’s the best thing about your job? When I see a child who comes to the soccer field without very much confidence in himself, but by the end of the course, they become the loudest ones and they enjoy themselves! They’ll talk about soccer all the time with a big smile on their face. Then you see that you’ve made a change.
How do you like coaching kids in Beijing? It’s great because we have a mix of local and international kids playing together and they all seem to benefit. Through interactions between these kids who come from different backgrounds, not only does the standard of play improve, but cultural and language exchanges also take place. It’s good for everyone, and it’s especially encouraging for the coaches.
Are there any frustrations or challenges coaching in a foreign country? The one obvious frustration is that my Chinese isn’t good enough sometimes, through my own fault. Four-year-old kids have their own way of thinking, so trying to convince them to do something but not being able to speak their language can be quite difficult. Although, a lot of the coaching is just demonstration, so most of the kids can get the idea. If I really can’t make myself understood, our Chinese assistant coaches help me.
Tell me about the all-girl courses at ClubFootball. There was interest from girls to play soccer, but they sometimes don’t feel included when they’re on the same field with boys. We started an all-girl course early this year, and it’s been really positive. The girls gain confidence more quickly when they’re in an all-girl team, and they improve really fast. When they go back to play on the same team with boys, they’re more confident and feel more involved.
How much competition do you encourage in a match? We encourage the kids to want to win, but not at all costs. Our emphasis is to have fun and score a lot of goals. For example, if a game finishes at 12:9, it’s a good game because it means that almost everyone scored. Soccer is a team sport and there is a place for everyone in the team. Our courses are seasonal and we have a spring cup and an autumn cup as end-of-the-season tournaments, which are extremely rewarding for the kids who trained hard to play. There are no winners or losers in these matches: The kids won’t even remember the scores by the end of the day. They just want to play football.
Soccer can be a rough sport – do kids get injured? No. It’s fairly difficult for kids to hurt themselves on the field, as a matter of fact. They’re young and flexible, and they can just get up from where they fall and develop more skills through it. In matches we require them to wear more protective clothing, so it’s been quite safe.
Tell me about the Brazilian futsal football courses at ClubFootball. Futsal is the only small-sided football format approved by FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) and UEFS (The European Union of Futsal). It’s played indoors with a weighted ball that is slightly smaller than a regular football and has 30 percent less bounce. It has been proven to develop young football player’s skills quickly – it’s massively popular around the world.
ClubFootball’s futsal courses take the form of hour-long to 90-minute classes set to samba music. Each class starts with ball work, usually the learning of a new dribbling skill and the repetition of old ones. The kids are encouraged to show tricks they have learned by themselves or seen on the television. The week’s topic is covered, for example, passing, shooting, defending and the aspects of that topic particular to futsal. Then a match is played for kids to practice what they have learned and skills they wish to try.
Where did your passion for soccer come from? Like most kids in the UK, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t play soccer. It was just what you did; everyone played, so you could always find someone and somewhere to play. As far as I was concerned, soccer was all there really was. Even when I stopped playing competitive soccer, I was watching Manchester United every weekend and still playing at school, in the park and on the street whenever there was chance.
Do you still play soccer?
In Beijing, I play once or twice a week in the ClubFootball 5-a-side leagues that run all year round.