Chris Smith, a Nottingham-based football coach, who has worked previously with the likes of Nottingham Forest and Lincoln City, is picking up his passport this month to head to Micronesia, a country spread over 600 islands off the Western Pacific Ocean, to embark on one spectacular footballing journey...
After jetting a gruelling 8000 miles to Pohnpei, the capital of The Four States of Micronesia, Chris commences his quest to ignite the footballing opportunities of the people of Micronesia, and unlock the gateway to greatness for a country previously labelled as the ‘world’s worst international football team’ via acceptance into FIFA’s books.
Why did you decide to get involved in this project?
Personally, I've always been interested in the relationship between sports and culture, and therefore always enjoyed seeing how football is viewed and played differently in different places, which has led to coaching abroad a couple of times. It’s also about what we as a football family can do for those who can benefit from our experience and knowledge.
What are your immediate goals when heading to Micronesia?
Learning as much as I can, as fast as I can! I want to see how football is played and how many people are playing; the more I can learn, the more I can find where I can help make a difference. Our main goal in the first few weeks is visiting elementary schools and enabling young people a chance to play and learn football.
How are you going to help ignite the enthusiasm and motivation of Micronesian people to take up football?
I think that there is already a curiosity about football, but often not a route for it to be followed. I hope we can provide as many people as possible with a chance to play, whether that be having fun or training hard, and help people realise their dreams.
How many people, alongside you, are travelling to Micronesia for this project?
I am travelling to Pohnpei on my own, but will be working closely with a group of other volunteers including Paul Watson, author of the book Up Pohnpei and who was instrumental in setting up the Pohnpei Premier League and coaching the state team a few years ago, and of whom I will be picking up from. When I arrive, I will be supported by Steve Finnen, an American who runs the Pohnpei Soccer Association, and Vas Senarathgoda, the current Pohnpei Head Coach, among many others helping run football over there.
As Technical Director, what particular role are you going to play to make this project a success? What are the things you are going to be carrying out on a day-to-day basis?
Being Technical Director means attempting to look at how football functions as a whole in the country, especially how different parts fit together and work for the long term. My role is firstly bringing a level of coaching expertise to Micronesia that they often don't have access to, and working with players of all ages directly to give them the benefit of that.
My day to day role will be visiting schools and running extra-curricular programs for young players, supporting the league and teams, and coaching the state team.
My bigger goal is to ensure there is a pathway between these different areas. More young players playing football should mean over the years there will be a stronger league, and a more competitive national team. For this to be successful, it means ensuring there is access to football for everyone, and attracting and training teachers and volunteers, to make sure it continues.
What are the type of footballing activities the Micronesian players are going to experience?
For young players, it is an opportunity to let them experience the freedom and enjoyment of sports the way we have, with particular focus on the fun and social elements of football.
For the adult players, I really want to develop a playing identity that defines Pohnpei and Micronesia, which can provide a pathway to their future success.
What sort of things will take place in preparation for the 2018 Micronesian Games?
With it being just over a year out the preparation won't be so focussed, but it’s important to lay the groundwork. We will know what group of players we are working with and can learn what are our strengths and weaknesses are. This will help us identify our style of play and make sure our fitness is on target.
How do you see the project progressing? Is there a cohesive plan in place for the project and how it will progress in stages?
I've done a lot of research about how football in a nation like Micronesia could develop, however I fully expect a lot of these plans to change once I arrive in Micronesia as there needs to be a level of flexibility.
With summer approaching, it gives us a chance to get children interested and determine who wants to play with us over summer. This should give us a good early indication of the interest levels among young players and how we can progress.
From your time working with the likes of Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain abroad, what skills can you use from your previous endeavours that will serve you well in Micronesia?
Firstly, in each place the cultural understanding and aspirations are different, so to succeed as coaches we need to understand and work with that. We need to be adaptable in our language, determine how football specific it is, and then work out how we can motivate players.
Also, having worked previously for Lincoln City, and witnessed their remarkable journey in this season’s FA Cup, can you predict a similarly spectacular rise to stardom for these Micronesian players? In the next few years, do you believe Micronesia will be accepted into the Asian Football Confederation and indeed FIFA?
I had a great experience in the short time I was at Lincoln City, and they are a great example of a club that do things the right way. There's a long way to go for Micronesian players to rise to stardom, but FIFA membership needs to be the first step as this will provide the funding, infrastructure and meaningful competition needed to help Micronesian players start to dream.
However, it's hard to have hope this will change overnight. For this reason, we are thankful to those that are working so hard without funding or support to help football continue in these places.
Finally, what is your ultimate ambition for this project?
Our goals aren't set in stone, we just want to help football keep moving in the right direction. I am hoping to ensure football will be on the PE curriculum for all schoolchildren and it would set the foundation for the future of football. I want to leave with an identity and strategy for the long term which can help the nation keep momentum.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
We appreciate any interest, help and support in what we are doing. I would like to thank all the people that have donated boots, kit or equipment already, it is hugely appreciated by me and those it is going to.
Follow Chris on Twitter @coachedbychris to keep up with what’s happening over in Micronesia, visit and share his GoFundMe page to help support this project.
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