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Aiglon’s New Football Coach Shares Life Lessons from the Sport

Aiglon’s New Football Coach Shares Life Lessons from the Sport
Aiglon’s New Football Coach Shares Life Lessons from the Sport

There’s no doubt that football is the most global, most popular sport. In December 2022, 5 billion people tuned in to watch the men’s FIFA World Cup and over 2 billion people tuned into FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. But for Gareth Whalley, a full-time, on-site coach at Aiglon College in the recently launched Manchester City Football School, it has always been more than just a game. “I did OK at school, but football was always the thing where I stood out, where I shone,” he recalls. “That gave me confidence, self-belief, a direction in my life.” 

For Mr Whalley, that direction consisted of a high-flying career in top-flight football, followed by decades of coaching world-class players. But football offers so many other potential career paths. “As a coach, the team I worked with consisted of a nutritionist, an analyst, two sports scientists, two physios, three psychologists and finance experts,” Mr Whalley points out. “And that was just the small group I worked directly with, which barely scratches the surface of all the roles at a big club like Manchester City.”

The breadth of the career paths available is something that Aiglonians will get an opportunity to learn more about. The partnership with Manchester City Football Club will not only provide students with world-class coaching on campus, it will also include international trips to give students a glimpse into the array of professions represented in the industry. For example, those selected to take part in the Leadership Institute, a two-week immersive course in Manchester, will be exposed to the business and legal side of the industry. “Football is such a massive industry now, there are so many strands to it,” Mr Whalley says. “The programme we’ve built will show students just how many different pathways there are.”

For Danny Thomson, Deputy Head of Physical Education (PE) and Sport at Aiglon, the transferable skills students will learn throughout the programme could be even more valuable — skills like resilience, teamwork and communication. “On a football pitch, you are totally out of your comfort zone,” he says. “You’re having to really fight for something, but also build relationships and connections with teammates across cultures.” It’s also the chance to give students their first taste of independence, and to learn from their mistakes, Mr Thomson points out. “On a pitch, students aren’t being told what to do, they have to go out there and explore for themselves, and often fail, but learn from that failure. That’s something they don’t often get exposure to.”

Off the pitch, the comprehensive programme will offer lessons on a range of topics that will serve students well throughout their time at Aiglon and beyond. “The off-the-field curriculum will focus on things like nutrition, mental health, training and recovery,”  Mr Thomson says. Added to that, visits from football legends will expose students to sometimes difficult-to-grasp topics. “We’ve already had one visit from Joleon Lescott, who played football in the English Premier League,” Mr Thomson remembers. “He touched upon things like his experience of racism and the other setbacks he encountered on his path to success.” 

It’s what Mr Thomson calls the “hidden curriculum” and it is a powerful way to introduce sophisticated issues in a way that’s easy to understand. “We’re going to look to bring in a leader from women’s football to talk about diversity in the sport,” Mr Thomson says. “Football is a vehicle to deliver these more complicated lessons to students, to make it more relatable to them.”

It’s this truly holistic nature of the programme that sets it apart from anything on offer elsewhere, Mr Thomson thinks. “This is a football programme, but we want to develop people, first and foremost.”



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