Notes: Director of Football Development, SFA
I work for the Scottish Football association as Director of Football Development, a position I have held for the last six years. In brief, my job is basically to oversee football development in Scotland at non-professional level and provide coach education at all levels.
Having started work as a toolmaker in the shipyard in Irvine, Ayrshire, I became a professional footballer, playing for clubs such as Norwich City, Ayr United, Clyde and Morton, and Tampa Bay in America. I then moved on to coaching and managerial positions, and was manager at Stirling Albion and latterly Kilmarnock, before taking up post as Head of Community Development with the SFA, prior to moving to my current position.
As well as English, what other languages have you learned?
I studied Spanish at school, if truth be told, because the alternatives on offer did not appeal to me. However, I did not do any formal qualification in the language. I was asked years later if I would learn Spanish, and signed up for a course which gave me a basic knowledge of the language.
Had I still been at Kilmarnock Football Club, I would have learned Italian, as it is good to be able to speak to players in their own language even if it is only to say simple things like “How are you?” How are your children?” People respond to you better when you make an effort to speak to them in their own language.
Which countries do you visit as part of your job? How do you communicate with people when you are there?
I have travelled all over Europe with my work, but we always have to have translators with us. I do, however, always try to learn at least the basic meet and greet phrases. After all, it is only common courtesy to learn how to say “Hello” and “Goodbye” in the language of the country you are visiting.
I find it embarrassing that people speak English when we go abroad and we can say very little in their language. Conferences we attend tend to be held in English, but you miss out on a lot in social contexts when people are discussing football issues and you cannot take part in the discussion because you cannot speak their language. Not only are you missing out from a cultural point of view, but in these instances, also from a professional point of view.
Do you have any memorable experiences of trying to communicate with a speaker of another language you would like to share with us?
I regularly meet up with a Spanish coach. We get on really well with each other, but as he has limited English and my Spanish is still pretty limited, communication is really difficult. We meet and hug each other, say “Hello” and “How are you?” but we have never made any progress beyond that. We repeat the same scene every time we meet.
Why do you think learning a language is an important skill for SFA coaches?
Learning another language not only opens up employment opportunities in other countries, but it also gives you a bit of kudos with the people who speak that language. If you can say a few basic words to a foreign player who has come to play in this country, it makes the player feel more comfortable. It is all about respect.
Apart from communication skills, are there any other benefits learning a language might bring?
What made you decide to include language lessons as part of the SFA’s Pro Licence course?
The idea initially came from David Moyes, Manager of Everton Football Club, who felt he was disadvantaged because he could not speak any languages other than English. As we now operate in a global market, the need to be able to speak other languages is becoming increasingly necessary, particularly if you want to work abroad.
Will you be insisting on a language qualification as a requirement for entry to the Pro Licence coaching course??
It would be great if applicants had some kind of certification before they sign up for the course, but we would not be insisting on it as a requirement. Some will come with qualifications they have achieved at school, but as average age for course applicants is around 30, they would need to undertake some kind of refresher course.
Which language or languages would you consider to be most useful for SFA coaches?
It is very much up to the individual. It would be great to sit all the course participants in a classroom and teach them a particular language, but we think it is more beneficial to leave the choice up to the individual applicant. There are a lot of French speaking football players in Scottish teams, but France is not a good market for coaching positions. Scandinavia offers better prospects, so trainee coaches might opt to study Danish or Norwegian. What we will be asking them to do is to sign up for a language course of their choice, and gain a basic level of competence in that language. They would then be asked to provide a certificate to show that they had achieved that level.
Do you have a message to share about the importance and the benefits of language learning?
When you are young, you think you are a “cool dude”, but you don’t know what is in front of you. When I started out as a toolmaker in Irvine, I could never have foreseen where I would end up. I have travelled extensively and met all sorts of high profile people. I only wish I had been able to speak to all of them in their own languages!
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