Jan van Loon
International soccer coach
When I was asked as a Dutchman to work for Arsenal FC Academy in London UK, I was 49 and had many experiences doing multiple, but short coaching clinics worldwide.
This job was different because at Arsenal I would work with players and coaches for a longer period. In practice it became three years. Because my children where in their 3rd/4th grade in school and had to do exams in two or three years we didn’t want to make them move to the UK because the school systems are totally different from each other’s. They were also too young to leave them alone in the Netherlands. So, I went without wife and kids to the new job. I decided to choose for a guest family and that worked out well.
I was connecting with the whole family and friends who were also all lifelong Gunners. I was invited for dinners, birthdays and Sunday roasts which helped me socially.
At the Arsenal I experienced my English was not good enough yet to follow discussions
between staff at lunchtime. Afterwards I would sit down and write down all the words and sayings the staff used to express themselves. During training sessions and games of the players aged 12-16 years old, I had to learn the UK football language very quick. I asked the players to help me and write down 5 important coaching words that would help me forward and create a better understanding between me, the players, and coaches.
Multi-Cultural environment, club philosophy and identity.
After a few weeks I also worked with players from 16-22 years old. The background of the players was very diverse because London is a multi-cultural city and employees, and players were put at Arsenal in a multicultural environment. Next to that we had trialist worldwide who often didn’t speak English. Arsenal FC has a clear club philosophy on diversity. They used to say difference is a positive. The first few weeks I followed the clubs on boarding process for newcomers. I felt responsible for being a good employee for Arsenal FC with respect for the values of the club, cultural background of players and staff and didn’t want to leave my own upbringing too much.
Before I moved to London, I was able to attend the course “Coaching across culture” by Huib Wursten and learn about the 5D Model of Gert Hofstede. And the culture clusters developed by Huib.
The culture clusters taught me the following.
The Network (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands) put a strong emphasis on equality, Autonomy, Sympathy for underdog, People are suspicious about winners and heroes, “Truth is found in the middle, Decisions based on “shared interest”, Reflect before you act and there is reluctance to enforce rules.
The Contest: (UK, USA, Australia, Canada) put emphasis on Competition, Accountability, Winning/losing, Success breeds success, Sympathy for winners and best practices.
I was well prepared and felt comfortable working at Arsenal FC. Specially because besides my cultural background I also have a personal preference and that is competition driven. Somehow, I couldn’t develop and show that as much in the Netherlands as in my time the UK.
I learned how important it is to teach newcomers the values of the company and develop a on boarding process for new players, parents and staff.
In the cultural framework the Well-Oiled Machine (Germany, Austria, Hungary, German speaking Switzerland) High need for structures and process, Autonomy within structure, Standardization, Belief in experts, Reflect before you act.
After three years Arsenal in London, I got the opportunity to work in the highest professional football league in Germany (Erste Bundesliga) I became assistant coach at VFL Wolfsburg the VW (Volkswagen) club.
My previous reparation was met by reality. Wolfsburg is a very well-organized football club with both men and women sites with also academies on both sides. The club was big on high tech and data. VW had all IT resources to support. For all jobs there was a clear standardization with structures and process in place.
I was head analyses of the first team and responsible for the analyses of the next opponents and assistant coach, who would look after the B-team players that trained with the first team. The club wanted all departments to work together in one digital platform from the youngest boys and girls in the academy till the first team men and women could all use the digital platform.
A case about expert expectations
When I was 4 weeks in the job, I got an invitation to listen to a presentation of a digital platform, the club wanted to use for all departments. I met all departments of the club who would work with the digital platform, and we were together with 20 German colleagues (+ me) in the room to listen to a high-tech presentation of the biggest IT company in Germany. 14 of the 20 colleagues I had never seen before. The digital platform was shared in a presentation of 50 slides and was worked out to the smallest detail. After the presentation which I saw for the first time, everybody looked at me and asked what my thoughts were. I felt people expected me to take the lead and guide the process forward. I am used to make people responsible and work in teams who would work together and then to coordinate a bottom-up approach. Afterwards it became clear to me the people in the room expected me to lead and be very clear what everybody should do and when they would have to report to me. That was an important lesson in cultural diversity between my expectations and the expectation of my German colleagues. A possible explanation of miscommunication or different expectations could be found in the cultural reference.
My experience now is that it pays o become more aware of expectations and dig deep to understand what is required for the job. Not only the job description but also the individual and collective programming. For me it helped to reflect in different ways after an event/activity what everybody’s experience was and take time off for myself to reflect what the changes did with me personally.
This drives me now that I am working in India for one of the biggest football clubs. A club with great ambition with first team and academy. This time I will ask and explain more in detail what my reasons are for acting.
India is part of the Family system. Like China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. Keywords: Strong hierarchy, paternalistic leadership strong in-groups/out-group thinking. Harmony is important and loss of face unacceptable.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J., & Minkov, M. (2010). “Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind”, Third Revised Edition, McGrawHill 2010, ISBN 0-07-166418-1. ©Geert Hofstede B.V. quoted with permission
Wursten Huib. The 7 Mental Images of National Culture Leading and managing in a globalized word (2019) ISBN-10: 1687633347 ISBN-13: 978-1687633347