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Tuesday 04 September 2012

Mark Bright's Premier Skills Diary

Former Crystal Palace striker takes us through his week coaching in China

  • Mark Bright, Emma Stringer and Gareth Prosser keep an eye on the action in Kunming

  • Gareth Prosser has been a coach at Wolverhampton Wanderers since 2008

Premier Skills is an international partnership project between the Premier League and the British Council which operates in 20 countries around the world.

One element of Premier Skills sees coaches from the UK help train community-level coaches and referees in week-long face-to-face activities.

More than 1,500 coaches have received this training, and have gone on to work with over 350,000 young people. Former Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday striker Mark Bright, a UEFA-qualified coach, recently took part in his first Premier Skills in Kunming, China and wrote the following diary on his experience.


After months of planning and preparation and with UEFA Euro 2012 behind me, I finally depart for China to deliver my first Premier Skills coaching course.

I was genuinely excited about my visit as I have not been to China before. We eventually arrive at our destination of Kunming, albeit five hours late due to two delayed flights and a missing suitcase belonging to our head coach Gareth Prosser.

"The days will be split into two sessions, practical out on the pitch in the morning and theory in the classrooms in the afternoons"

Having spent around 22 hours travelling I reached the hotel, happy, hungry and a little confused. The seven hours’ time difference was playing havoc with my head.

Jet lag kicks in. I sleep for a couple of hours, wake up at 5am local time, then get back to sleep when it's time to get up at 11am.

I meet for lunch with the two other coaches I'll be working alongside, Gareth, who works in the Academy set-up at Wolves, and Emma Stringer, a community coach at Fulham FC Foundation. We go to visit the site to make sure everything is in place for the coming week.

It's a huge complex with 11 full-size football pitches, one astroturf pitch as well as eight tennis courts and various other areas. It's an old complex but it is well looked after. Just about every national team comes here, as the climate is excellent for the athletes.

We greet several of the coaches and interpreters who are all checking in for the residential course.

The days will be split into two sessions, practical out on the pitch in the morning and theory in the classrooms in the afternoons. 

After returning to the hotel, I take a stroll around the local area taking some photos of the wonderful mountains surrounding Lake Dianchi adjacent to our hotel.

Day 1

Good day today. The coaching went well, Emma and  I put on different sessions. The participants swapped after 45 minutes so that they could get to work with the both of us.

Of the 38 coaches, 28 of them are schoolteachers. They are enthusiastic, relatively fit and willing to learn. The standard ranges in ability between the participants but it was a good day. Jet lag got me in the afternoon, I needed a 15-minute power nap to see me through.

Day 2

Great night's sleep, slept until 7.30am alarm, hopefully jet lag is behind me now.

The coaches were split into three groups, they rotate between the three coaches after 45 minutes which is tough considering the altitude and heat. Today's task: defending. Yuk, who wants to defend, it's all about attacking!

"Press-ups are always a good way to make yourself understood"

My interpreter Kodi is a top guy, he's 30 years old and loves football. He’s educated in the USA and he gets it. For obvious reasons, teaching coaches who don't speak the same language is always going to be very challenging.

The participants are good though, they understand when I put my hand in the air and shout, 'Give me five' in reference to something they did wrong. Press-ups are always a good way to make yourself understood. 

The day goes well, some great laughs, mainly when my interpreter goes to get balls or drinks and I'm left to explain something.

The whole group goes for dinner. We are taken to a very popular restaurant by Mr John, the man who runs the sports complex where we are training. It was like an audition for "I’m A Celebrity…" bamboo worm, tree worm and grasshopper type insects were all part of the delicacies on display. To our credit, the Brits didn’t let the side down, we tried everything.

Day 3

Very hot today, we arrive at the venue at 8:20am, set up the morning sessions and present on a flip chart what we are doing - then the coaches get going.

The afternoon is spent in the classroom, usually about three hours. They are put in groups and asked to come up with solutions and to construct their sessions for the next day.

All the coaches will be expected to take a 10-minute session in which they coach their fellow coaches in front of Gareth, Emma and I. We will assess from the sidelines. 

After the class we return to the hotel for a quick debrief then do our own thing.

Day 4

The coaches were given tasks to deliver today, they worked in pairs and we assess them from the sidelines. It was good in general. We filled out a form for them to look at how to improve their skills.

We had a short session in the classroom after lunch, Gareth showed the coaches the football part from the film 'Kes'. They laughed at the same parts as we did even though they couldn't understand what was being said, which just goes to show that football is an international language. They loved it.

"The blowing of the car horn was so common I had ringing in my ears all night"

We then told them what was expected the next day. They would all have the opportunity to coach the other coaches individually for 10 minutes on their given subject.

After the classroom session we headed off for one of China's hidden secrets, The Stone Forest ,which is around 70km from the hotel.

Great day had by all, a friend of one of the translators took us in a minibus.  I am not sure if it's compulsory to take a driving test in China or not but it was what you call a white-knuckle ride, with people changing lanes without notice. The blowing of the car horn was so common I had ringing in my ears all night.

China has 56 ethnic minorities. We are in the city of Kunming in the Yunnan province, where there are 26 of those 56. It's very diverse. Lots of people old and young stare at me, but not in a bad way, I'm not sure they have never seen a black person in the flesh before. I have just had the same experience in Poland during the European Championship.

I wasn't the only one courting stares either, Emma and Gareth, were both a novelty at the Stone Forest, locals asked them politely if they would pose for pictures, which they duly did. 

Day 5

The coaches deliver their tasks to the rest of the group, some were excellent and some, as expected, need a bit more time. We gave them feedback after their session.

Everyone is respectful to us and each other, and I really liked that. I've found the whole experience very rewarding, in terms of helping the coaches out and as a life experience for myself. Tomorrow the coaches will coach some 7-13 year old school kids, so it should be a good day.

The whole group get taken to dinner and on to a bar to sample some nightlife Chinese-style. We had an hour in a nightclub which doesn't look any different than it does in the UK - private tables full of spirits, waiter/waitress service, young people dressed in designer clothes having a great time.

The music was mainly European/American music. The biggest difference, that hit me like a ton of bricks, was that smoking is permitted everywhere, it was like a throwback to my younger days. All wrong.

Day 6

Oh dear, man down as we say. Final day at the coaching course and I can't make it out of the hotel.

I ate something that didn't agree with me and all I can say is that, I have never visited the toilet so many times in such a short space of time. Can't… no… daren't, leave my room.

Emma and Gareth return to say all went well despite the fact we had had severe rain persistently for 10 hours. Luckily the kids and coaches completed the task in the morning.

"Characters in any country are the same, they stand out from the crowd"

I felt really bad not attending the final day, it would have been nice to see the coaches for the last time to say goodbye. Very few of the near 40 participants speak more than a sentence of English but the bond you make is incredible.

Characters in any country are the same, they stand out from the crowd. There were many whom I will remember for a long time. I gave five press-ups as punishment to anyone who shot over the bar - one of the guys went home looking like Mr Universe, he used to get down as he shot!

I am writing this log at 4:28am. I can't sleep because of my tummy bug, (putting it nicely) we depart Kunming 5:30am to head back to the UK, I think the measure of anywhere you go in life is, would you go back there? Undeniably yes for me, I loved China to bits.

There's now just the small matter of the 20-odd hour trip home now. Lesson learned from this trip? Never leave the UK without your own medicine.

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Key Points

  • Mark Bright has recently taken part in his first Premier Skills coaching course
  • The former Crystal Palace striker helped train new coaches in China
  • Bright complied an exlcusive diary of his experience for