I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. —Michael Jordan
A good coach can change the game. A great coach can change your life.
Today, we speak to one of the emerging football coaches of the beautiful game, Omar Al-Duri.
Omar led the U20 Ghana National Football Team to the African Nations Cup and the World Cup 2015 in New Zealand.
He started several fitness programs including P3 to develop and nourish talent in the Emirates.
Within a few years, he won several awards:
- Virgin Active Personal Trainer of the Year 2006
- Shape Middle East Trainer of the Year 2011
- Ahlan! Hot 100 People 2012
- Sport 360° Coach/Teacher of the Year 2014
He is currently head of the physical department for the UAE women’s national football team
In this interview, we ask Omar about his career, how he works with the youth, and some advice for the aspiring coaches in football.
Tell us a bit about your background. Did you always know what you wanted to do? What inspired you to study and get into the sports industry?
Growing up in the UK Football was like a religion to us.
We loved it,we practiced it at any opportunity we could and we competed like our lives depended on it.
Having had parents with strong education backgrounds they weren’t too keen on the idea of their son being involved in sport as to them it wasn’t something sustainable.
My passion for the game ran so deep that I started relating anything I could to the game from physiology and movement to pattern plays on the field.
I chose to pursue sports and exercise science as a bachelors degree while gaining experience across the UK from grassroots level to community work in less privileged areas.
I loved learning from different disciplines from Muay Thai to yoga and developed methods to relate that to football.
It always came back to the game and how I loved development and achieving results for others.
Did you ever want to become a footballer? How did you take up the role of PE Teacher in your own school/college?
Ofcourse who didn’t! It was every kids dream growing up. The ironic thing is my father was an orthopedic surgeon who specialized on footballers and often had to resurrect careers or be the person to give them the reality check.
He never wanted me to play and made a point to never support or attend a game. I still played and was decent captaining school and college teams and having some success.
My school and college invited me to come back and help out with the youth,and that’s where my passion for developing began.
To be honest despite being rated highly by my coaches I didn’t necessarily believe I would be a good coach because I wasn’t as loud as the others.
The captains I looked up to like Tony Adams,Maldini,Viera and Roy Keane were all vocal leaders.
I’m grateful and blessed to have been recognized at such a young age by my teachers and coaches. The opportunity in itself I’m eternally grateful for.
What made you move from UK to UAE? What did you expect, and how it turned out?
I was ambitious and wanted to set myself a challenge. I was in a comfortable state in the UK with a good job and a roof over my head with my mother in a period just before the recession hit the world.
The UAE was growing but was still very raw with not much happening at the time in the field I specialized in and I was keen to bring something back to my roots.
I had an attachment to the UAE for many sentimental family reasons and felt that was an avenue I wanted to explore.
Platform 3 and Healthy Menu Box Projects are very inspiring and show genuine efforts towards the fitness for the youth
How do you think it is working for the youth, as your focus is the upcoming talent? What motivated you to start these programs?
I’ve always loved working with children and just the thought of having a positive impact on a single child was very therapeutic for me.
When presented the opportunity i started developing programs to help them avoid the mistakes I made growing up ( which were plenty).
Went through my phases and awkward stages which helped me empathize with the reality of issues faced as a teenager.
On Coaching Career
You moved to UAE from UK in 2008. Where did you start your coaching career for Men’s and Women’s football in UAE? How did you land your coaching jobs?
Having coached for over a decade before coming to the UAE I came across a friend of mine who played for the AUD (American university DUBAI ) women’s football team who asked me to come watch her play one day.
Due to work commitments at the time my evenings were always busy with work but fortunately was able to attend a game.
Women’s football was still starting in the Middle East at the time and hadn’t evolved to what it is today.
At half time she and a few of her team mates asked me what I thought of the game and I gave them my honest (brutal) opinion.
Few weeks later I was asked to coach them due to them parting ways with their coach and the rest is history.
I still have their team photo up on my wall as the personalities I dealt with really helped develop me as a coach especially in a different region and culture.
AUD recognized my effort and offered me a permanent role to coach both women and men’s youth university teams.
This led to creating my own non profit women’s team which I sponsored myself and did all the coaching from scratch.
Eventually was awarded UAE Sports Coach of the year in 2015 which was an amazing feeling.
Eventually being recognized in the UAE for developing footballers the head coach of the UAE reached out in 2017. Having the opportunity to be part of the coaching staff to develop the UAE women’s football team now is a blessing and I’m excited about the direction it is evolving into.
Your career with U20 Ghana Team for African Cup of Nations and the World Cup 2015, did you expect something that big coming your way? How was the experience in both the competitions? How did they differ?
Honestly no-you only dream of reaching heights like that. The experience was incredible and very humbling.
The Ghanaian culture and people were so welcoming and made me feel at home. Once they recognized my loyalty and love for them and the game they embraced me like no other culture.
Wherever you are in life with less resources to what you are used to you can’t help but feel a huge sense of gratitude and appreciation and Senegal helped me put a lot in perspective.
It also helps you get creative and improvise instead of dwelling and complaining about what you don’t have.
I was so overwhelmed when I came back from Africa with all the support from the UAE and UK community.
At the time I had no idea that I would be called up for the World Cup Squad with media speculation in Accra that I made an impression at the African nations cup.
6 months later I received the call and couldn’t contain my excitement like a child.
What do you envision next?
I try not to as I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.
On Coaching Youth
What age groups you have coached? What differences you’ve found in terms of talent, self-belief, and work ethic?
I started at grassroots which was 3 years old and began to work with all ages.
Honestly each group offers something different from character building,discipline,understanding and education.
Sports helps develop characters and personalities. In a single game your reactions alone can resemble life in how you respond to a setback,a rush or a landmark moment.
What are the biggest challenges coaching the youth?
Getting anyone to trust you is a challenge but with experience comes a belief in yourself to do what’s best for the team to attain a result you envision before it happens.
How do you identify talent when you see one?
I analyze performance a lot and believe in capturing the moment to show the player what I see to make sure they can see it too.
What may be normal to you isn’t normal to me and vice versa. Showing them helps identify talent from the norm.
It could be anything from tenacity to a player with vision who can see things early.
How do you maximize their potential?
You allow them to express themselves in what they are good at and help develop them in what they need work on to be a complete player.
On Managing Players
How much responsibility did you have managing players?
Depends on the players to be honest. Last year I coached a group of female international players who play for their respective countries in a national tournament in Abu Dhabi where players from all over the world were invited to compete.
Some of the strongest personalities I have ever worked with in any sport but helped me develop as a coach because many struggled managing such big personalities.
The most satisfying result is achieving their respect by the end of the championship.
What kind of a relationship you had with the players?
Honestly a very special one due to trust and belief in what we do as a team. You will have to ask them!
How do you handle the star players?
Treating them like humans as well as footballers. Each player has their story and history which by getting to understand them helps bring out the best in them.
That takes longer sometimes but it’s the way I have been brought up.
How do you give confidence and self-belief to players once they lose their form or recovering from an injury?
Patience, persistence,hard work and repetition.
What teams do you support and why?
I’m an arsenal fan but also support my footballers who play in many places.
Who is your favorite manager/coach and why?
I have a few but at the moment I would say Bielsa has an approach in training which is infectious.
How do you think modern football is evolving? How should the staff, players, coaches should keep up with it?
In modern society it’s incredible how sport and the science behind it is evolving.
That’s what makes the sport so special is the different approaches brought in.
How do you transfer your knowledge into players about the game? What strategies do you use?
How long do we have? lol
I believe that in the modern game it’s not enough to focus on one style or one approach.
Cruyff said it best “football is simple but it’s so hard to play simple.”
On a game to game basis sticking to a philosophy is key but adapting to opposition has to be considered.
The amount of work invested behind the scenes studying players traits,plays and even habits is incredible so you can’t fall back on old times.
On Becoming a Football Coach
What skill sets an aspiring football coach needs?
Adaptability -The ability to keep developing and adapting with time despite innovations,philosophies and trends.
How can one start a career as a football coach? Are there any great programs you would recommend?
Whichever country you are in-check out the Registered Football association and sign up.
How can one land their first coaching job with minimal experience?
Honestly that only comes with hard work and being active practicing what you have learnt.
It’s not easy and we all struggle regardless of how much experience you have to be persistent.
How does one grow as a coach/manager?
Don’t be scared to learn,travel and work with as many people in the industry as possible regardless of their background or status.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.