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Scott Allison: Seven Steps to the States

Scott Allison built a rewarding career and a rock-solid reputation as a coach at Scottish clubs such as Rangers, St Mirren, and Partick Thistle before taking the huge decision to pursue his football dreams in America.

In the third instalment of our exclusive Over the Pond blog series, Scott — now Director of Coaching at Florida Elite Soccer Academy — plots his journey to an American dream job.

By Scott Allison

I recently sat down to enjoy dinner with some college coaches and US national team scouts here in Florida.

We talked about the quality of college facilities, the technology available and the high-performance environments coaches and student-athletes operate in every day at schools across the USA. We reflected on how these colleges generate the revenue to fund programs.

It was clear to me that many of the bigger colleges here in the USA have now better finances, facilities, resources and structures in comparison to many professional clubs. The coaches told me the move to professional soccer is seen by some as a backwards step. Think about that.

It’s something I couldn’t understand when I first came to the USA but I fully understand it now. This was the latest thought-provoking discussion I have had since I decided to take a break from Scottish football to work in a new environment. I accepted an offer to come to Florida in October 2021 and it has been a great experience both personally and professionally.

During my time here I have completed two coaching license courses, travelled extensively, found time to visit a host of professional clubs in Europe, studied different sports here in the USA and extended my professional network around the globe.

I’ve learned a lot on this new journey and I believe these lessons would help teams, clubs and indeed the Scottish football industry grow and develop as the global game moves forward while some environments at home remain stuck in the past.

Many people from my homeland of Scotland look overseas, and to the USA, for a potential next step in their careers. Some think the route to work in the USA is straightforward if you have some experience playing or coaching in the UK. In truth, the current reality is very different.

So how did I end up working in the USA? What advice can I give to those looking into potential employment in a new country? Here are seven of the main steps involved in my own personal journey.

Scott Allison, a Scottish coach living and working in the US

1. Being prepared to leave home


In early 2021, I was working as Academy Director at Partick Thistle FC. I was going into my ninth season working at the club and I had a new contract offer on the table. In total, I’ve spent over ten years of my life at Partick Thistle in various roles. I had so many amazing experiences at the club and it’s a place that will always be close to my heart. I’d love to return one day in the future.

For many years, my regular week consisted of Friday nights coaching U18 games, often in places like Dingwall or Dundee. Saturdays would be a full day travelling to places like Inverness and Aberdeen on my own to compile an opposition match report for the first team staff. Sundays were spent all over Scotland working with our academy teams. Monday to Thursday, I would either be in the office completing academy administration, video analysis tasks, and coach education, or out delivering sessions for players of all ages.

Time with friends and family was limited. “Anti-social hours” became part of my working life. Someone once told me it was a “thankless task.” I never saw it like that: I saw it as my passion and I enjoyed every minute. I enjoy seeing players and coaches developing and becoming successful.

Helping others on their road to success is the motivation for me. I’ve never had the need to be driven by praise or criticism from others and the work I did was never something I needed thanks or recognition for. When new opportunities were being presented to me in 2021, I felt after nearly nine years of giving everything I had to the routine listed above it might be the right time to try a new challenge and re-energize.

Two opportunities were pitched to me during my last year at Partick Thistle. An English club asked to have a discussion with me about a leadership role within an evolving football department. I was keen to know more, and it was cleared with the Partick Thistle hierarchy to have those conversations. I learned a lot through the discussions on the functions of a different leadership model at a very good level in English football.

At the same time, I was contacted by a club in Florida that offered me a Director of Coaching position. I had visited the area almost a decade prior to provide coach education and club development workshops. I knew the landscape, the people, and the potential for that project. The club was operating in the American youth sports market with over 11,000 registered players in its programs across North Florida. There were plans for a new USL championship professional team for the area with a new stadium and training facilities.

I would coach the club’s current USL League Two Men’s side, work with youth teams and support the coach education of the club coaches. There was drive, ambition and a competitive edge to the people I’d be working with and a forward-thinking approach to growth and development. It all aligned with my own beliefs. I’d always been keen on the idea of working overseas and I’d been fortunate in past roles to have travelled delivering club development workshops, coach education clinics, and coaching camps, as well as working in talent ID programs.

After reviewing everything, I decided to accept the offer to go to Florida. Once you agree to move abroad, the next challenge is ensuring all the correct paperwork is in place, including work authorization (visa), background checks and a whole range of other administrative tasks.

For anyone considering working in the USA, I feel it is important to have a good lawyer working with you from the start of the process. Make sure you factor in the time and cost that may be required before your application is approved to work in the country of your prospective employment. You should also factor in the challenge, cost and stress that can be associated with relocating to a different country. Be prepared before you leave home.

2. The importance of education, experience, and mentors


It was a tough decision for me to leave the UK: I’d spent over 20 years working hard to forge a career that brought me so many amazing experiences. People underestimate how hard you need to work to have a long-term career in sport at any level. Younger coaches regularly contact me looking for opportunities but at times I notice a sense of entitlement in some: not all.

Some seem to expect a high salary and a grand title in the early stages of their coaching careers after completing their first coach education course or with only a few hours of coaching experience under their belts.

The simple advice I would give is to work hard every single day. Use your time wisely to gain as much experience and as many qualifications as you possibly can. Show respect to people you look up to at all levels to build a strong professional network of trusted contacts as you progress.

I was recently in California and spent a day with former Rangers and Scotland captain Richard Gough in his new hometown on the West coast. I gained so much from listening to Richard over lunch discussing leadership, captaincy, the importance of players managing dressing rooms, and dealing with big personalities. Richard learned from football greats such as Alex Ferguson, Walter Smith and Graeme Souness. He also offered some guidance and advice for me from his experiences of living and working abroad.

To have people like Richard only a phone call away here in the USA has been a big help for me. There are so many quality Scots abroad now who can help support and enhance the education of our country’s workforce. They know the Scottish game inside out and have additional experience in other environments. I don’t think that experience is being tapped into enough to help improve the game back home and to also help improve the knowledge of the individuals working in it.

On a visit home to the UK last summer, Michael Beale (then manager of Queen’s Park Rangers) invited me to West London to spend time with him and his staff during pre-season training. Michael is a coach who I have huge respect for, I always enjoy listening to his views on the game. This was followed up recently here in the USA with Harry Watling, Michael’s first team development coach, delivering a presentation on the current Rangers top team coaching structure for our coaches here in the USA.

Having a network that helps to educate, inspire, and mentor is something I feel is vitally important for young coaches.

Scott Allison, Scottish football coach

3. Shape your own experience


Over the years, I felt it was important to gain experience in all of the areas that interested me in football and the wider sports industry as I shaped my career. I wanted to learn as much as possible about football and sport to get a solid understanding of all the different factors that can lead to high performance. I gained a lot of experience in various parts of the industry working with some excellent professionals.

Like most, I started by playing football as a kid and was fortunate to play from childhood into my mid-twenties. I finished up in the Scottish lower leagues at a time when playing was becoming painful for me after years of chronic injury. Coaching was becoming more of an interest. I understood the game from a player’s perspective, I can see the game through the eyes of a player.

I went through a lot of tough times playing the game and that experience has been useful in the coaching roles I’ve had over the past two decades. Intuitively knowing when people need support or guidance to get through tough challenges is part of leadership, coaching and management. Much of that intuition comes from my personal experiences.

I also understand the dynamics of a dressing room, from the influence experienced pros can have, the issues facing players coming to the end of their careers, the guidance that’s required for younger players who are learning from the environment every day, the conflicts that can arise and the bonds that can be formed.

While still playing in my early twenties I completed a university education and then when I stopped playing, I enjoyed a few years working in senior sports development positions. I managed a range of people and projects in local government and educational environments. These roles taught me how to deal with senior management teams, boardrooms and politicians. I combined those full-time jobs with coaching part-time at clubs.

I had a three-year spell working for the Scottish FA as a senior football development officer and coach education tutor, learning from many experienced coaches and managers. This was invaluable experience at a relatively young age. To date, I’ve coached at every possible level from community coaching, academy coaching, coaching professional teams in the men’s and women’s games and working domestically as well as overseas.

Rangers were the first club to give me an opportunity as a coach and I will be eternally grateful to those who gave me that opportunity to learn. I also worked with Livingston, St Mirren and Partick Thistle, learning from some great people and working with some very talented players. I was developing my skills and experience. I would spend my “free time” coaching abroad and undertaking club study visits.

I built a network and gained experience that helped me grow both professionally and personally. Continued growth and development: these are principles I still have and I will always strive to be better at what I do.

On reflection, I spent all of my twenties playing, studying, working, coaching. It was seven days a week and a lot of hard work but I enjoyed every minute. I spent my thirties in Scotland progressing back into football on a full-time basis.

In 2013, I was asked by Gerry Britton — who is now the club’s Chief Executive — to help develop a new youth academy for Partick Thistle. My role evolved over years and in 2018/19, I was promoted to Academy Director. I covered first-team opposition analysis for five years in the Scottish Premiership and I had two spells involved in first-team caretaker management roles in the Scottish Championship. All before my 39th birthday.

Like many aspiring coaches, I felt sometimes people in Scotland only saw a small part of your career and your years of commitment. I know some back home only see me as a youth coach, some see me as their old team-mate, some see me as their old boss.

For me, years of hard work, dedication, overcoming setbacks, and handling adversity have helped to shape me into who I’ve become today. Youth coaching has been a part of my journey, but it’s not who I am.

That’s my advice to people now. Become really rounded with as much experience as you can possibly gain, even if others don’t always see it or respect you for it.

4. Make knowledge and expertise your main strength


If you have played your sport, can coach on the field, manage people off it, design and lead programmes, understand and utilise technology, know how to engage with various partners, understand the various media platforms… then you might just fit in with the direction that modern football is going!

If you can’t do any of the above at the moment, try to learn fast. If you think just because you played the game, you will be entitled to a job and have people’s instant respect as a coach, there is a chance you will fail. If you get a qualification without gaining practical experience, you’ll fail. If you gain experience as a coach but don’t update your coach education, you’ll fail to get a job due to club licensing requirements.

You must work at your personal development every day if you want to forge a long-term career in sport. Make knowledge and experience your main strength as you develop your career. Having a wide range of experience is also important for those wishing to work abroad for another reason, as one of the most difficult hurdles now is obtaining a work visa.

The simple rule now is the more experience and success you have had in the sport, the easier it will be to get the authorisation you need. You must demonstrate that your knowledge and experience will add value that cannot be provided by those currently working in the environment you plan to go to. Respect the fact that you are coming into an environment that may be very different to your home country.

In my time here in the USA, I have tried to be respectful of all the people, the structures, and the cultures I encounter. I’ve learned a lot from the diversity of the people I work with. I speak daily to coaches from North America, South America and Europe.

It’s the same with players and their families. I work with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds. They all see the game differently and communicate in different ways. This is a great learning experience. I’m talking, listening and debating with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

If you plan to work abroad, you will also need to factor in relocation costs, legal fees, obtaining a social security number, having a place to live, obtaining a local driver’s licence, dealing with no credit facilities as an “alien” and understanding the State law.

Most importantly, be prepared for an initial financial hit as you set up in your new environment. It’s not just a case of applying for a job and starting next Monday.

Scott Allison is currently Director of Coaching at Florida Elite Soccer Academy

5. Don’t be “tarred with a brush”


As sport develops at an incredible rate, I believe it is individuals who have a wide range of skills, abilities and experiences who will become the real assets. If you can multi-task you can become more of an asset for a prospective employer in comparison to someone who is limited to one area of work.

You need to realise the importance of having a wide range of skills and recognise that being tarred with the brush of just being an ex-player, academy coach, analyst, or sports scientist won’t be as useful as becoming a rounded industry professional.

People who contact me asking for jobs here in the USA or looking for advice need to realise the combination of experience as a volunteer, student, coach, administrator, analyst, counsellor, player, ex-player is much more appealing now for employers.

6. Make your own luck


I recently had someone from home suggest I am lucky to be working in the environment I am in today. Listen, you make your own luck through your work ethic.

I have had a great time on the field, as a coach, managing people & projects, working with sport’s governing bodies, being a coach education tutor and making friendships for life. I have friends who are chief executives, managers, first-team coaches, academy directors, agents, journalists, players and youth coaches. I know people working in countries all over the globe. I see similar traits in successful people who others see as ‘lucky’.

Years of hard work, building trusted friendships and building a professional reputation and contact network. There’s been no luck about how I’ve got to the position I am in today and it is not luck that has defined how well others do in their careers.

Make your own luck through hard work.

7. Have a positive mindset and enjoy the journey


There are many opportunities and routes to build your career. You need to decide what is the right one for you. There are also many pitfalls to be aware of. Your knowledge, experience, education, attitude and work ethic can be critical.

Equally important is knowing exactly what you are going into before you consider any offers. If you want to work abroad, also ensure you are comfortable leaving family and friends behind as you pursue your next move. This has been one of the difficult challenges for me and I know it also affects some of my colleagues from the UK who work with me here in the USA.

The last point I would say is to always have a positive mindset as you navigate through your journey. You will face challenges every single day in your journey as a coach overseas. You control how you think and by adopting a positive mindset your energy and enthusiasm will be good every day.

There will always be influences around you that can make your thought process become negative very quickly. Back home, there is a lot of negativity in the football environment that can drain your energy if you let it. I have experienced that first-hand.

Working overseas has been great for renewing my energy and enthusiasm as I make the next steps in my career. It is important to recognise what sources bring you energy and what saps your energy from you. Try to stay around the good energy and those who can support you with your goals as this will keep you in a positive mindset and lead to success.

Enjoy the journey!

Over the Pond is a blog series that explores the experiences of football professionals working abroad. Sign up for our free newsletter to be notified of new blog posts, career advice, and client news from Football Careers.

Previously on Over the Pond: Greig Robertson: From The Bhoys to Boston

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