During the last month in Hangzhou, Zhejiang five English Premier League coach instructors delivered two professional development football courses to over 60 participants from all corners of the Chinese football spectrum. The first week consisted of a referee foundation training surrounding the rules of the game and their interpretation. The latter week was a collective of Chinese grassroots football coach instructors developing pedagogical knowledge and exchanging insights for their respective community football programs. These two courses are among dozens of such Sino-Anglican football initiatives currently being unraveled by the British Council and the English Premier League in China.
Premier Skills in China
The Premier Skills courses, already having been delivered in 26 countries to 2,500 coaches, benefiting over 550,000 children worldwide, are no novelty. However, their presence in China (started in 2009) does represent a major milestone for Chinese football. First of all this program boasts arguably the first European FA joint venture to earnestly promote the sport in China at all levels of the game without charging the participants involved. Chinese football professionals are all too accustomed to big brand clubs coming for exhibition matches in the summer, stuffing their pockets, only to forget leaving a positive legacy behind. For the Premier Skills course, all of the Premier Skills instructors have returned to follow up on program progress or are planning to do so. Furthermore， the Premier League is Co-leading this project; currently no international football league has an actively engaged presence nor long term exchange within China. This compared to the NBA and NFL which not only have regular grassroots programs in cities like Shanghai and Beijing but also offices in mainland China. These key insights mark Premier Skills courses in Hangzhou and elsewhere as encouraging signs of a positive football revolution happening in China.
The Premier Skills referee training course in Hangzhou was the first of its kind in China. Course Instructors Alan Wiley and Steve Dunn, collectively brought over 60 years of referee experience and 20 years of refereeing in the Premier League to the refereeing course. The aims of the three day training were to deliver a foundation of understanding regarding the “Rules of the Game” and how they are best interpreted. Furthermore referee skills such as signaling, field positioning, and referee-team coordination were discussed and developed. The three day course enjoyed a great deal of interaction between the two instructors and the participants, who ranged from seasoned referees to novices with a whistle. Discussion on topics like cautioning, handball interpretation, and everyone’s favorite offside explored the details of the rules of the game and how they are best interpreted by seasoned professionals like Mr. Wiley and Dunn. The week after the same course was again delivered in Shanghai. The course is a ‘phase one’ project of professional referee development and exchange between the Premier League and Chinese coaches.
Grassroots Coach Instructor Course
The following week a seven day Premier Skills combined Phase 1 & 2 courses was delivered to a group of 40 grassroots football coach educators engaged in China’s school football project. Instructors Paul Hughes of the Premier League, Lee Mannion of City Group, and Ollie Ezard from Hull City FC arrived in Hangzhou following a similar Premier Skills coaching course delivered in Langzhou, Gansu Province the week before. Participants in the course covered a massive spectrum among the Chinese football coaching community.
From Harbin to Chengdu, Zhengzhou to Hangzhou, and many places in between grassroots instructors engaged in coaching theory and practical field session exchange. The participants’ current coaching positions varied from university head coaches and academy coaches, to national team and FIFA Grassroots coaches. The wide age gap of the coaches(some with 40+ years of coaching experience, some with less than five years) emphasizes the challenging delivery by the three Premier League coaches. Hughes, with eight prior visits to China, lead the three-man-team engaging the various participants in pedagogical workshops, practical demonstration, and performance assessment. Consensus and unanimous agreement were not always the case among the eclectic group, furthering the importance of such an exchange and more so establishing a central coaching education system in Chinese football. Such efforts inspire one to believe in the possibilities of creating a successful ‘Chinese football style’ as well as a proactive, transparent, and professional exchange within the Chinese football coaching community.
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