“I’m very fortunate to have a job that was my hobby.” – Frazer Robertson
Frazer Robertson is now the Technical Director at the “Right to Dream” football academy in Ghana, a long way from his early days of assisting the PE teacher after school in Scotland. He believes that the opportunity to coach young players from a very different culture has helped him to improve not only as a coach, but also as a person, and not least in terms of honing his communication skills.
At the age of 16, Frazer’s PE teacher got him involved in football coaching as a volunteer. His duties revolved around mundane tasks such as laying out grids, pumping up balls, and picking up the cones, but coaching interested him and he enjoyed being involved. He says, “With hindsight, you realise that you were putting in the hours and learning a trade, but at the time, you don’t see it as a ‘career plan’ where you’re doing this to then be able to do that… you’re doing it because you’re enthusiastic about it and you want to learn.”
In today’s world, trainee coaches have a world of resources available on the internet, and while this form of learning can be beneficial, Frazer believes that getting out on the grass and being hands-on is equally important. He says,
“I remember going along to youth sessions and just helping out. In those days you had to be active and actually go out to get involved, there was no alternative. I still believe in the value of getting out on the grass, whether it’s assisting, coaching, or just observing.”
The “Right to Dream”
As assistant head of youth coaching at St Mirren, Frazer was given the opportunity to travel to Ghana with a view to taking on the role of head coach at the “ Right to Dream” academy. It was a big move, but after a trial week, the decision was made to grab the opportunity with both hands.
The academy was founded in 1999 by Tom Vernon (a fellow Scot) who was the African talent scout for Manchester United. He saw the potential talent in Ghana and founded the academy to provide an opportunity for young players. It has now grown to be a fully residential campus for about 90 students, and the first African academy to have a girls’ as well as a boys’ programme. Frazer says,
“It’s about developing individuals through football. Our priority is to develop good people who can go on to have a good career in football or any other walk of life through their education. The big emphasis is on education – academic, life, and character development – with football as the driving tool for that.”
It’s about providing opportunities to have a better life – as in all academies.
On arriving in Ghana, Frazer noticed straight away that street football was very much a part of the country’s culture. He says,
“You see it everywhere, and it’s not just kids playing but adults as well. It’s something that’s not commonly seen in Scotland anymore, but the skill of the players is much higher than it was back in the days when I played on the street. Our emphasis was always on getting a goal, but here, the emphasis is much more on skill and possession.”
Frazer believes that learning the culture of the country (and not just the country’s football) is one of the most important things a coach (or anyone working with people) can do when they move to a different country. He says,
“Understanding the culture is the only way to build relationships, and it’s important to be aware of the potential differences in the way words and even gestures can be interpreted by different people.”
Communication skills are key to effective coaching in any culture and when there’s a language barrier to cross, these skills become even more important. Frazer says,
“Coaches tend to talk too much, and I noticed it was often the case when someone wasn’t ‘getting it’, I’d talk even more. I realised that if I talked for too long, a lot of what I said was going to be lost. In Scotland, I’d decide what my coaching points were and then make them, but in Ghana, I had to think a lot more about what it was I wanted to say and the words I was going to use to say it. To ensure nothing was lost, things had to be simpler and shorter to get my point across.”
Develop as a Person
Frazer’s coaching approach is a holistic one. He believes that if you invest in the person, the human, you invest in the player, and by helping a person to develop, you help a player to develop. He says,
“It’s about getting to know the person as an individual and helping them to develop in the way that’s best for them.”
Crucially, the same coaching philosophy can be applied to coaches as well as players. As Frazer points out, the more you do something, the more you learn and develop, so his words of advice for coaches at every level are:
“Keep developing as a person, not just a coach.”
Over the last 17 years Don has coached and mentored athletes and coaches . For details of programmes please email firstname.lastname@example.org
To listen to Frazers full interview please click here