Brit bridges language divide to coach budding footballing talent|
Terry Singh believes football is an international language and the Chinese middle school players he coaches are speaking up.
In 2004, the 36-year-old Briton left the United Kingdom to become China's first foreign middle school football coach.
Since Singh and the players at Nanjing No 4 Middle School spoke little of each other's mother tongue, Singh used the language of football and a lot of gesturing to lead the team to win the fifth Jiangsu Province Middle School Football Tournament, without conceding a single goal.
"They were thrilled to win, there was a lot of excitement, a lot of hugging, but they couldn't really speak to me," Singh said. "No words, just happiness."
But he knows that one win in one school is exactly that.
In April, Singh's contract with Nanjing No 4 Middle School ended.
"When it comes to the end, you move on; that's life," he said. "This is one chapter in my life; this is one chapter in their lives."
The next chapter in Singh's journey is being written at Yunhe Middle School in Pizhou, Jiangsu Province.
"Our school was the host of the tournament so we knew him last year when he led the Nanjing Middle School to the championship," said Fu Shihu, director of Yunhe Middle School's sports department. "We are interested in him because the school puts great priority on sports."
After three months of working with the school's only foreign member of staff, Fu believes hiring him was the right decision.
"Compared to Chinese football coaches in high school, Singh has an advanced way of improving basic skills," Fu said. "Also, due to his experiences in England, he has more systematic training methods and theories."
According to Fu, the students are improving rapidly in skill and teamwork, and the team has won all of the friendly matches it has played against neighbouring schools.
"Singh was hired by us in April on a three-month contract," Fu said. "Due to his dedication to the job, the school has made the decision to have another three-month contract extension with him."
With several years of experience in coaching youngsters' football in Leicester, England, Singh believes the hard work takes place off the field.
The team trains for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon every day, and after practice Singh chats with players about his experiences outside China and happenings in students' lives.
Spending so much time together has created close relationships between Singh and the players that go beyond football.
"A football coach isn't just a coach," Singh said. "He's many things; a social worker, a brother, a friend, a motivator - all things in society."
Singh said that in all his roles he teaches students the importance of determination, dedication and discipline.
"I told them that in the future, they should take these lessons into life no matter what they do," he said. "Training on the football field goes beyond the football field."
One off-field method Singh likes to use is showing students videos of matches in his home.
He said he tries to teach the players by example, while he learns from them in turn.
Zhuang Yi, one of his students, said the lessons work.
"He teaches us a lot about the importance of discipline," Yi said. "Now I feel we are a totally different team."
Singh learns about life in China from the players. They tell him about local customs and how to get around town.
"The greater challenge for me was the after-work things," Singh said. "But the students helped me so much."
Singh and the team have come a long way in terms of understanding each other, but the language barrier still limits their interaction. Singh is also teaching English in a bid to get the ball rolling for the school's first football team.
Yi remembers the first day of training.
"We were stunned into silence when he shouted in a language we cannot understand," said Yi, who plays at left back.
Most professional footballers in China do not speak English, which leads to problems communicating and playing with foreign clubs. But Singh's players will have a grasp of English.
For Singh, his team is what youngsters' football is all about.
(China Daily 07/26/2005 page13)