Working Overseas

Since starting Fit In No Time at the end of 2013 I have been able to accept invitations to work in a host of countries including Barbados, Bahrain, Korea, Mozambique, Switzerland, Albania, South Africa and Australia. It’s been an amazing couple of years that has introduced me to many other cultures and taught me a lot in the process. Before the first of these trips I had only ever coached British riders overseas (on training camps or race trips) so what have I learnt about coaching foreign riders (or foreign coaches) in their own countries?

Firstly I think it’s important to remember that good coaching is good coaching wherever in the world you are! There may be some differences in exactly how the coaching session is set-up, what equipment is used and even what sort of venue is “acceptable” but the core principles and the “how to coach” skills always remain the same. I heard a story about a coach developer asking a room full of coaches the question “What do you coach?” Various answers came back-football, basketball, tennis and so on at which point the developer told them they were all wrong because they all coach people not a ball or a racquet! I think that makes a lot of sense so it’s not really surprising that the core skills are no different in Africa or Asia than they are here in the UK (or anywhere else for that matter)-after all we are all human and the really core principles regarding what we need and how we react to various stimuli are going to be the same for all of us. The same applies to Coach Education-there are subtle differences that can be important I how effective you can be but the core principles are still the same (form now on I’ll refer just to coaching but most of the time you could substitute Coach Education).


Good coaching is always the same, wherever you are...and communication is key!

Good coaching is always the same, wherever you are…and communication is key!

This might make it sound like coaching is the same wherever you go but I’m not saying that at all. I have learnt from every trip I’ve been on, and I’m sure that I will continue to learn from every trip, so here are some of my thoughts about things to consider or things that it might be useful to remember if you plan on coaching overseas:

  • Keep it simple! This applies in all sorts of ways. Firstly riders are not always used to being coached so work with simple activities and simple feedback…..and don’t expect them to be able to use the feedback as well as the riders that you coach regularly in the UK, at least not at first. Secondly, you will probably not have all of your usual coaching equipment with you (you may not have any cones for example) so plan around what you have and be ready to improvise where you need to.
Teddy Habchy from Lebanon getting creative for his session. Who needs cones?

Teddy Habchy from Lebanon getting creative for his session. Who needs cones?

  • There may well be a language barrier, even if the riders speak English. If there is you will find that you start thinking of the simplest possible way to say things. This is a good habit to pick up so keep it going in your “normal” coaching, avoiding unnecessary technical terms and trying not to use 10 words when you can use 5.
  • In some cultures it is not seen as polite, or it is just not usual, to ask questions of instructors/coaches. The danger here is that you give some feedback, the rider looks happy and seems to understand….until you see them do the same thing again on the next attempt. That same language barrier might well stop you using your (hopefully) normal tactic of questioning to check understanding. In this case, walk through and static demonstrations can be really useful. If you show the riders what you want them to do and even put them in the right position there is much less chance for confusion. Again, this is a good habit to keep!
  • Cultural differences. Before you travel to another country make the effort to learn about the culture-it will make a big difference to how successful you are. As coaches we always need to take into account individual differences in riders and working around a different culture is doing just that. For example, in Korea there is a very strong age hierarchy which means that you have to be very careful with how you feedback to anyone older than you, and accept that they may not take it on board however you do it. In Bahrain Friday and Saturday is normally the weekend and Friday is a very important day for prayers so things have to be arranged around prayer times.
Be prepared to try the local food-it can be very important in some cultures!

Be prepared to try the local food-it can be very important in some cultures!

  • The other thing that might come as a bit of a shock is the coaching venue that is available to you. What is acceptable for a session overseas may not be what you would expect-I have been offered car parks (while they’re in use), minor public roads and offroad areas with a whole host of hazards that would have probably made me deem the area unsuitable in the UK. Often though it is the only choice of venue so the risk assessment needs to be thorough, the hazards have to be carefully managed and the activities well chosen. It’s rare that it is impossible to make a venue safe but often it is more trouble to do so than we would normally go to in the UK.
Not the sort of venue you would probably choose in the UK, especially for a road session....but it's safe.

Not the sort of venue you would probably choose in the UK, especially for a road session….but it’s safe.

Hopefully none of this has put you off the idea of coaching overseas. I would say it’s a great experience for any coach as well as being a good opportunity to travel, see a new area of the world and meet some really great, friendly and like-minded people. The good news, if you’re a practising British Cycling coach, is that in my experience the general level of technical coaching in the UK is at least as good as overseas if not better so you’re probably in a good position.

Riding with the coaches in Mozambique :-)

Riding with the coaches in Mozambique 🙂