I've been in youth coaching for two years and two months now, and have seen a fair bit of the game at grassroots level. A topic that has constantly been on the agenda with the professional game is racism, but I have been fortunate enough to not have experienced it (yet). I do, however, have a problem with the game of football at my level: reverse ageism in hiring coaches and program leaders.
I'm turning 20 in four month's time. Yes, I'm young, but I have also been involved in a variety of roles and have coached across three continents for over half a dozen programs. In no way shape or form am I saying I know it all and I'm super experienced, but I have seen and learned a fair bit during the past 26 months working as a youth coach. Qualifications wise, I've constantly pushed myself to do all the coaching educations I could possibly do, and have had the pleasure of learning from top coach educators both in the US and in England. With all these in mine, it ticks me off when I apply for a senior coaching role and receive the following reply:
"We think you might be a bit too young for the role of (X) and we have not had a 20 year old in such position before, but we really like your experiences and qualifications and think you would make a great addition to the staff as a staff coach."
Great. Thanks. Bye. First of all, I applied for the head of coaching role, not the staff coach position. Secondly, if you like my experiences and qualifications, why not give me a chance to impress for the head role? I have a pet hate for interviewers who automatically assume my inability to lead at a young age while they have not seen me in action. You haven't had a 20 year old doing that role? Why not start now??? So many times I felt like if I was 23 with the same experience and qualifications I would be getting a lot more jobs and paid a lot more than what I have been offered as a 19-turning-20 year old.
One interview that ended with me accepting a job, my interviewer asked me what I like to do in a typical coaching session. I was impressed that they actually cared about the actual coaching instead of the non-important things, like my age! I took the job knowing that they trusted in my ability to take on the role successfully, that I would be paid accordingly to my ability and not my age. It goes a long way in developing a mutual trust that benefits the overall program.
It doesn't matter if it's in coaching, in a volunteer role or in any other task. If someone questions my ability to fulfill my duty simply because of my age, I will withdraw myself from contention every time. Judge someone by what they do, not how many years they've been on Earth.
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.