Adjusting to Life as a Foreign Coach in China
This is the final chapter of my 4-part series on adjusting as a coach in a foreign country. This was specific to my time in China during 2019 working as a Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Chinese National Speed Skating team (both with Long Track and Short Track). Part 4 will examine The Odd & Unique Things I Witnessed, Testimonials from Former Chinese Foreign Sports Performance & Rehab Foreign Staff, Some Additional Items Regarding China, and The Lasting Images…The Unforgettable Sights and Sounds.
The Odd and Unique Things I Witnessed
During my 10-month experience in both China and Canada, my own two eyes saw several structures, dwellings, vehicles, signs, and animals that were one-of-a-kind. These were things either odd and/or unique and had to be captured either on video or through photos.
As previously described, a Yurt (found in the Hunting Grounds / Grassland region – NE of Beijing) is a circular tent-like structure, complete with beds, a bathroom, a TV, an area for food, and a water kettle, but without a closet (at least mine was set up like that). The roof on the inside was multi-colored and looked like part of a circus big top roof. The interior looked much more inviting than did the exterior.
Double Humped Camels – Grasslands
Alpaca – Grasslands
I had never seen an alpaca before this particular day, let alone knew what one was. Seemed harmless though.
Wolf – Grasslands / Hunting Grounds
One of the athletes asked me if I would join him to go see a locked-up wolf (behind the bars). Not sure who put the wolf in the cage. Just don't let it out.
Vehicle Packed a Bit High
Not sure how they tied these sacks together on this truck. But it looked as though it would topple over easily. Just stack them high and hope for the best I suppose.
Drunken Driving Sign
Though we know it is unwritten that drunken driving is against the law in the United States, they make certain you are aware of it. Here is a tip: take a DIDI (UBER).
Your 3-Wheel Ride Awaits
It is time for a funny-looking car. It's like a smart car, but with only 3 wheels, it might not be so smart.
Cows – Hainan Island
To me, these looked like cows just out roaming around. What is funny is that it is darn near impossible to find milk in Chinese grocery stores.
Tennis Umpire Chair – Hainan Island
Tennis anyone? It doesn't look like we need a tennis umpire with the shape that this court was in. Not sure why this was there. But I thought it looked like a good photo opportunity nonetheless. Scott Andrews and I played afterward. All they had were used tennis balls and some beat-up racquets. But at least I can say I have now played tennis in China!
Sharks at the Mall – Beijing
Yes, you saw that correctly. In this shopping mall located in west Beijing (walking distance to Shougang – near the Short Track team training), there were 2 separate areas each with a large tank containing baby sharks. One of them you actually can walk under. Crazy, but amazing at the same time.
Beijing City Center Mall – Pillars Light Up / Vertical Shopping
This mall located closer to the center of Beijing reminded me of one I've been to in downtown Chicago. It goes straight up. Pretty cool looking. And the pillars even light up.
Mall Pillars Light Show
Gun Statue at Shooting & Archery base
When you first see this, to me, I wasn't thinking of a gun. But all you have to do is turn your head sideways. Pretty simple. After all, what training base are we at again?
Banff – The Grizzly House Menu
Elk, ostrich, or alligator anyone? Or perhaps you prefer rattlesnake and caribou? No, my wife and I didn't have a chance to sample these delicacies, but if you are ever planning a trip up to Banff and/or Lake Louise (2 hours west of Calgary), this place might be worth checking out. Most definitely out of the norm when it comes to dining out.
Beijing/Sanlutin Lights Up at Night
Sanlutin – Expat section of Beijing for westerners – Intercontinental Hotel
- West Beijing
Unless you travel abroad often, you likely won't be handling the currency of 3 different countries at the same time. So, I thought this was a rare photo opportunity indeed. The Canadian 5- and 20-dollar bills are represented, along with the Chinese 1, 10, and 20 Yuan, and 1 dollar USD. With many countries going to digital currency, these could be worth something someday. Then again, you may just want to convert it to gold and silver.
Bank & Baron Pub – Calgary
The Bank & Baron Pub in downtown Calgary was an old bank, back in the day…thus the name.
Because the weather was amazing the day we were there, my wife and I ate out front. However, I had to see everything inside. And in the basement, the vault was still intact. Pretty interesting and creative idea.
Beverage Prices – Bailey's Irish Crème
OK, I thought this was noteworthy, in a funny way. Normally in the USA, this size bottle of Bailey's Irish Crème goes for maybe $ 30-35.00 USD. But as you can see, it was being sold in a grocery store in Daqing, China for 54 Yuan (also known as RMB). Converted to USD which equates to about $8.50. Dirt cheap. I may have thought about getting a couple, but I was leaving for Calgary in 2 days and could not get that out of China most likely.
Testimonials From Former Chinese Foreign Staff
A few of my fellow Team China Sports Performance & Rehabilitation colleagues reflect on their China experience. A BIG THANK YOU to Felipe, Anne, and Dustin for contributing this.
- FELIPE SANCHEZ LLANES – Spain (former Strength & Conditioning, Long Track, and current Chinese National Head Judo Coach)
"I always wanted to work abroad but never had the chance until 2019, when I arrived in China and started my job as an SC in the Chinese Olympic Committee"
"Going out of your comfort zone is not easy at all, especially in China, but is challenging, and every small progression is a success."
"In 3 years I have changed my job three times here. China is a huge market in sports and many job opportunities are available around the country"
"Work together with mates from different countries is an incredible experience, one unique opportunity to grow up as a professional"
- ANNE HINLEY – United States (former Athletic Trainer, China Short Track, and current USA Short Track Medical Manager and Athletic Trainer – 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics)
- "It was different. It was interesting."
- "I didn't feel like I grew as a clinician, but I learned more about how to work with people."
- "My favorite part about working in China was the friendships I made. I now have those connections for a lifetime. Another favorite of mine was Beijing itself. There are so many amazing places to visit, like the Great Wall, try different food, and have great adventures!"
- "The organizational and healthcare system, respectively, are different than that in the United States. It took some time and reflection to adapt. For example, the management and coaches have the final decision over the medical staff."
- DUSTIN WOODS – United States (former Strength & Conditioning, Short Track – 2014 & 2018 Winter Olympics, and current Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach, Philadelphia Eagles – NFL)
"The most fulfilling experience I've had in my career was my time spent coaching in China. The challenges became a source of growth, and the job became a lifestyle. While my time there was more beneficial for my personal growth than anything, the language barrier allowed me to learn how to better communicate. Furthermore, it amplified the value of words, the value of expression, and the value of creativity. Training the athlete is what I did, but the athletes, each unique in their way, made the job meaningful and is what gave it life. Most of the time, I felt as though I was training my younger siblings.
I was fortunate to travel and stay with the team in the athlete's village in both Sochi Russia and PyeongChang, Korea. I've been to a Super Bowl in 2018 as a strength coach as well, and still, that experience does not come close to walking out on stage at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games. It sent chills down my spine. There's nothing like the electric atmosphere and day-to-day operations and experience at the games. Topped off with watching your athletes who trained for years for their moment, and it comes true in Gold (or silver) colors. Nothing like it. Unfortunately, Olympic sports are not celebrated this way in America".
Also, I need to say THANK YOU (and cheers to you mate) to former Long Track Speed Skating Coach and colleague SCOTT ANDREWS from Perth, Australia. We arrived the same day in February 2019, we then missed an international flight to Calgary, we coached together, roomed together, ran sprints together (he has some wheels!) combined for a few projects together, and were finally told together we would have to go back to our home countries to renew work visas, before learning of a pandemic in which neither of us returned. He has since married a great girl (Emma) and was recently hired as a Research Associate at Gerard Daniels in Perth, Australia. He is a good man and a good friend. I wish him much success!
My point here is from an opportunity like this, you can develop a great relationship (both professional and personal) with someone on the complete another end of the globe, and you now have that for life.
**On a side note…there were times when Scott was coaching during the day while working online in the stock trading financial world at night (before his current position). You have to applaud and appreciate that.
*Scott…Julie and I will see you and Emma in Perth at some point in the future my friend.
Some Additional Items Regarding China:
- Banking – Transferring money from China to the USA can be an adventure. I used 2 different ways.
- I created a Chinese PayPal account. If you have a PayPal account from another country, you still need to have one from China, specifically. They ask for certain forms of ID and you must wait to have them approved before you can go any further. I incurred transfer fees of $250-300.00 USD total each month when I sent money to my Wife's USA PayPal. Those fees were combined from my account as well as my Wife's account. For me, it was usually the fastest way to go about it. And when we were training in Calgary (Canada) for over 2 months, it was the only way I could get my money to my Wife.
- Chinese PayPal account required forms of ID
**Please pardon the small print above
- Example of Chinese PayPal account temporary restriction
- The other way I did this, which I must admit I thought was pretty clever, was to ask someone on the Speed Skating staff whom I trusted and who was kind enough to go above and beyond for me, to take the cash I would withdraw from the ATM, and deposit into their bank account, and in turn transfer it to my USA bank account directly. This fee was around $25-30.00 USD if I remember correctly. I did this twice (with one of my translators and the other was an Athletic Trainer who was a Chinese citizen). Huge difference in fees. So, a huge thank you to both of those individuals.
- If you see any signs restricting foreigners past a certain point in Beijing (or anywhere), it is best to obey them. We saw one in Beijing. 2 of my colleagues crossed it to use an ATM. I however did not chance it. Too many cameras in Beijing. But they got back with no issues, thankfully.
- Speaking of cameras, they are everywhere (at least in Beijing), so just be smart about what you do and don't do. Keep any clothing items with any political-related statements on them back in your home country.
- Their Uber / Lyft equivalent is DIDI, but like in the USA, you must have a bank account to access it. Otherwise, bus and Subway Metro are your other options. Google Maps works well to guide you there, whether you are out walking or especially in the subway stations. Not sure if any of this has changed in the last 2 years, however.
- Carry your passport with you when venturing out away from your team.
- A portable battery pack to connect to your cell phone is a lifesaver when there aren't enough charging stations if / when you are away from your living quarters.
- Bring an adapter plug that will correspond to the various electrical outlets of Asia, Europe, etc. Each part of the world will require something different.
- For foreigners (ex-pats), the area in Beijing called Sanlitun, located in the Chaoyang district is popular for shopping, western dining, and entertainment. Definitely must-see.
- They do have signs that are in English as well, in many areas.
- Translator phone apps to consider:
These are the 2 apps I used:
- Locate your home country's embassy in China (or the country you will be working in), just in case of an emergency.
- Units Plus is a converter app I also used…mainly when converting the Chinese (Yuan/RMB) to the United States (USD), though there are many additional categories.
- The state of the world currently will of course dictate whether you can even gain a visa into China (or another country). Do your research. China is also a bit more difficult to gain visa entry into, period. You will also need to know what COVID restrictions and lockdowns they are enforcing. From the looks of things at the Beijing Olympics (and throughout much of China as of April/May 2022), that still is a major issue, unfortunately.
AND IN CONCLUSION….
While I was a bit hesitant at first to accept any position in China, I have absolutely no regrets about doing any of it. Going to China tests your patience, and your ability to adapt, adjust, and improvise on the go, no matter if you are training athletes, shopping in a Chinese grocery store, or arriving lost, alone, at an unknown guardhouse, while walking back to your dorm late at night in Beijing. That last part happened.
Please also keep in mind that of the 150+ total skaters (from both Long and Short Track) that began at the preseason camp in Hainan Island in mid-April, only 12 from Long Track (6 men/6 women) and 10 from Short Track (5/5) ultimately make the final Olympic roster. That is 22 altogether (out of a country of 1.4 billion people) and those percentages are thinner than the blades they skate on.
I am honored to have worked with some of the greatest Speedskaters in the world. Of the Long Track athletes I worked with, 1 (Ahenar Adake) made the final Olympic roster of 6 women, finishing as high as 5th in Women's Team Pursuit (teams of 3 skate together at the same time). And it is pretty cool to say that I worked with all 5 women (Zhang Yuting, Fan Kexin, Qu Chunyu, Zhang Chutong, and Han Yutong) who made up the final China Olympic Short Track roster. They earned a BRONZE MEDAL in the 3000m relay. And 3 of them (Zhang Yuting, Fan Kexin, Qu Chunyu) won the GOLD MEDAL in the new 2000m Mixed Relay (2 Men / 3 Women).
2022 CHINA FEMALE OLYMPIC SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING TEAM
Additionally, 3-time Gold Medalist in Short Track, Zhou Yang, attempted to switch over to Long Track during my time with the team. There was a short period where I worked with her when we switched our athlete training to small groups. She was incredibly nice and very easy to work with. And then fast forward to the Opening Ceremony on February 4, 2022, in Beijing. She ends up being the 2nd to the last torchbearer into the Olympic Stadium. That blew me away. It just shows the caliber of athletes that surrounded me on this journey. How lucky was I?
A.The next to last member in the Olympic torch relay – Zhou Yang
B. Entering the Olympic stadium in Beijing
- Zhou Yang (circled) during a nighttime team meeting at Hainan Island preseason camp.
That is me (circled) in the photo…I couldn't help but throw that one in!
**The Directors and Head Coaches of both the Long Track & Short Track teams in 2019, including overall Speed Skating Director Wang Meng (center of the table).
**The team roster for Team Events (Senior Level Long Track) in the fall of 2019. You will see Zhou Yang's name there, as well as the 2022 Olympian Ahenar Adake. My name is halfway down.
**I don't believe many of the coaches in my department ever saw this long-term schedule from 2019. But I caught a glimpse when we were at the Hunting Grounds / Grassland region in May 2019. It breaks down the levels we had in Long Track and all the possible training locations that were coming up. Since so much of our travel seemed like a secret, I felt like I wasn't supposed to see this. Haha!
As previously mentioned…. How my China journey ended was a bit strange and still somewhat of a mystery to this day. As also briefly previously discussed, my buddy Scott Andrews from Australia, whom I coached with, was on the same visa expiration timeline. About an hour after our 2nd medical exam/physical (required for our 2nd 6-month residence permit), we are told that our paperwork could not be completed in time (we were 48 hours from our current visas expiring) and that we would have to go home to our respective countries and obtain another work visa and then return to China. That news created an additional dilemma. My wife Julie had a plane ticket for Beijing to also leave in approximately 48 hours. So, I had to get on the phone with her immediately to break the news and then hope the airline would refund the plane fare to our credit card…and thankfully they did! I then returned home to Atlanta, by way of Newark, NJ (and a 43-hour travel nightmare) only to learn within days of returning that there was some pandemic going on in China and I might not return right away. Those words could not be truer! The timing of all this was pretty interesting if you ask me. I had to trust what I was being told, even though it was impacting a helluva career opportunity. After putting my life basically on hold for all of 2020 and then around June 1st learning about the major restructuring of the Speed Skating staff (including the removal of Director Wang Meng), the people who handled my contract told me they would be placing me with the national Fencing team of China. So, I sent them all the updated medical information asked of me (physical, blood labs, chest x-ray, the works) in late 2020. China now has 3 sets of detailed medical information on me. So that is also interesting. At this point, I am seriously thinking I would be returning soon, only to receive an email on February 18, 2021, that they still could not bring back any foreign coaches due to the pandemic. That was exactly 2 years from the very day I first arrived in China. True story…you can't make it up!
The COC Email - 2.18.21
**I attached this email so that everyone can see how things operate over there. Not intended to be a "Debbie Downer" type of message. OGPO = Olympic Games Preparation Office
Life has a funny way of working out. You control what you can control and try not to worry about what you cannot. Some good news to report following my departure: Due to our efforts, both Scott and I were paid for the first 6 months we were home in 2020. That was a miracle. Part of that was it was their fault we were sent home in the first place, but he and I also joined forces and sent our Speed Skating team various program plans over those 6 months. I am proud of what Scott and I did and it paid off!
As I sit here in my home in Atlanta and watch the ending of the Closing Ceremonies (February 20, 2022) from Beijing with my wife Julie, the last 3 years and the emotions I have had just hit me all of a sudden. I see these Olympics a bit differently than most people. Having worked with some of the athletes and coaches you have just seen on a global stage, and in many different locations in China as well as Canada, it is more than just another job to me. It is a bit more personal. When you are in this type of professional environment, you give everything you have to be the absolute best you can be. You are working with the world's best. If you serve your athletes in the best way you know-how with your programming, training sessions, researching, and just plain getting to know them as people, and then showing them you truly care, while having the best professional relationship with the team coaches, you will go far with zero regrets when it is all over with. And I have no regrets. But….this journey I am on is still far from over!
And Finally…..Some Lasting Images...A Few of The Unforgettable Sights and Sounds !!
The Lama Temple in Beijing
A Video Produced by China Winter Sports
One More From a Downtown Calgary Rooftop
The China Long Track Indoor Ice Oval in Beijing
The Hallway (aka group storage closet) at the Shooting & Archery Base in Beijing
Mall Sharks and More….
The Backpack Airport Fiasco
Train Leaving Beijing Airport Terminal…
And finally……My Atlanta Homecoming!
This is how the story ends…for now…