Day 1

My journey to Orlando started with a very early train from Stevenage to Manchester before my flight at 1.45pm. Everything went smoothly with the check in, finding which gate I needed to go to and grabbing a bite to eat. I was delighted to be guided upstairs to my seat which was in the premium economy section. Complimentary food and drink for the 9 hour flight along with the choice of 50+ films seemed pretty good to me!
I arrived in Orlando to dark, thick grey cloud with rain that made England’s weather look extremely average. However, this did not lower the humidity levels when I left the airport as the dense and muggy air hit me like a train. I found my host, Kirk Chin and we made way back to his family home where I would be staying for the next 3 weeks.

By the time we arrived it was 7pm local time and my body clock was a little confused. I was shown to my room and around the rest of their amazing home, complete with FIFA 14 of course! I was introduced to the rest of the family; Karen, Alex (13) and Marc (10) who shared as much love for football as I did.

Day 2

After an extremely good sleep, we travelled to Tampa to watch the annual local derby between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orlando City. Before the 2-hour drive West to Tampa, Kirk showed me around the UCF (University of Central Florida) campus; I have never seen anything like it. It was like its own town with food courts, gym and a 45,301-seater stadium for their College American Football team.

We made our way to Tampa through an impressive storm; nevertheless, the sun was shining when we got to the coast and was a steady 33 degrees. Very hot!

In the baseball-converted football stadium we sat with roughly 3,000 Orlando supporters, who were by far the better fans, singing from start to finish. The full time result ended Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-3 Orlando City. Happy days!

Day 3

The third day meant my first day coaching. In the morning we started to set up for the coaching ahead, loading up the car with numerous shirts, balls, bottles and bags for the participating young footballers. We then set off for the Orlando City training ground where we were met by the children and their parents for the camp to start at 6pm. Even though this was deep into the evening, I could feel the heat with the temperature reaching around 32 degrees and humidity around 70-80%.

I couldn’t complain, the pitches were amazing and the weather held up meaning no rain or thunder storms so we could crack on with the football. We had a mixture of drills for both the outfielders and goalkeepers along with a big match in the middle for the kids to show their skills. I was impressed with the standard of football, or soccer as I keep being reminded to say! Both the boys and girls showed a very high standard of football which indicates how the sport is becoming more popular in the US.

Day 4

We set off to help out with one of the Orlando City foundation camps; a free football course put on by the club and other parties. The kids weren’t as familiar with soccer as those we saw at the camp the day before so it was rewarding to see them adapting and learning. I was introduced to a couple of other coaches – Asha and Becca, who let me take a session on my own with a group of around 15-20 children.

As the session drew to a close, we were all pleased to see a snow cone van arrive at the camp. Having been out in the sun for 2 hours in 35 degree heat with humidity reaching well above 80%, a strawberry sauce drenched ice filled cone was just what I needed.

We headed back to the house to catch the Brazil v Germany game, and it is just as well we did. What a match! We had to leave with around 10 minutes left of the game to head off to the main camp to start at around 6.30PM. Unfortunately, the storms meant no football was allowed to be played and so all the children had to be sent home. We had our fingers crossed for better weather in the coming days.

Day 5

We went to help out with another foundation camp, this time in Downtown Orlando. We were greeted by around 20 lads who were very athletic and talented when it came to basketball.

They found football a bit more challenging, especially with it being indoors. Nevertheless, the 2 hour session went well and the majority of those playing seemed to enjoy trying out a different sport, even if they occasionally reverted to type and started catching the ball…

Following the foundation camp, we headed off to the main camp at the Orlando City Soccer club training centre, and luckily, the weather was on our side. The rain and thunder held off and we were able to complete another successful day of coaching.

Day 6

This was arguably the most challenging day of coaching. Teaching a group of young girls who didn’t really have an interest in football meant there were some barriers to overcome. Luckily, my English accent provided some novelty value for them for the first hour and it seemed to be going well. The second hour was slightly more challenging with the girls slowly losing interest.

3pm came around and it was time to pack up, head home and get ready for the evening coaching session. Sadly, once again the coaching was cancelled due to threatening storms. In the end I was able to go along to Alex and Marc’s training with their team and spent an hour and a half working with their young goalkeepers, which is something I definitely want to try again!


Days 7/8/9:

The Friday came around and it was effectively my first day off so  I headed down to the local sports centre equipped with a gym, pool, tennis courts, basketball court and football pitch. Not bad!

Along came my first full weekend here. We took a family trip to the Florida Mall where I was able take a look around the American style shops. On our way round this huge shopping centre, we found ‘M&M world’.  $35 later, we walked out with 4lbs of chocolate, so much that the guy behind the counter gave me a free lb in weight. Result!

After my first experience of Taco Bell (a famous Mexican food chain in America), we headed home to get ready for my second Orlando City game tonight at their temporary home stadium. Even though it wasn’t the biggest crowd I have ever seen, it was a great atmosphere with the main supporters behind the goal singing for the whole 90 minutes. The final score was a 2-0 home win with the first scorer being a member of the family I was staying with (Dennis Chin).

Sunday arrived and it was the day of the World Cup, meaning we had a day in. Friends of the family I was staying with came over to watch the game and they were all rooting for Argentina, which made for a sour atmosphere at the end of the game.

Week 2 – Day 10:

We had to be up early to leave at 7.15am to make sure we could pick up 40lbs of ice for the water containers and be at the park on time. We arrived on schedule to be greeted by the young participants and their parents and then the camp commenced.

I was given a group of 8, 9 and 10 year old boys and girls of mixed ability, so my coaching was going to be put to the test. Everything ran smoothly despite coaching in 35 degree heat. In fact, it got so hot it took its toll on one of the footballs which blew up of its own accord! After lunch we had one of the Orlando City players come and have a talk with the boys and girls before we were confronted by a storm that that even the locals were surprised by.

Unfortunately, this extreme weather carried on into the evening and meant we had to cancel the catch up day from the previous camp. However, we were treated to a very peculiar, yet incredible sunset to finish the day off.

Days 11/12/13:

The camps were supposed to run from 8.30-3 each day with a lunch break but unfortunately the weather after lunch meant there wasn’t any football in the afternoon session. This meant ringing each set of parents and asking them if they could pick up their children early from the small shelter that we were at standing under.

Each afternoon we hoped that the following day would improve in terms of weather.  From morning to lunch, we couldn’t complain; there was nothing but sun.  We were able to get a lot done in the morning session; enough to feel satisfied that the kids had enjoyed themselves. Taking a warm-up for 50 kids at once was interesting, but it worked and they enjoyed it.  I even had 3 or 4 kids say I was their “favourite coach ever”. No exaggeration!

Day 14:

This was the last day of my full week. Some of the kids were upset to leave which showed that they’d had a good time. After coaching some simple football skills, we put on some games for the kids to enjoy on their last day including a big mixed match at the end with coaches and Orlando City players. It also gave the parents an opportunity to see what their children had learnt in the camp that week. I actually saw a noticeable improvement in some children in just a week, which was very rewarding as their coach!

The camp finished early on the last day which meant I was able to go and visit the main Orlando City offices and have a quick peek at how the business side of the club works. I have to say, I was very impressed with the offices.  I was shaking hands with everyone there including the owner Phil Rawlins!

I absolutely loved every minute of the camp, even if the weather got in the way a few times! They were a great bunch of kids that wanted to learn the intricacies of the sport. They were also very enthusiastic with me every day which was a good feeling as their coach! As you can see in the picture above, I think it is safe to say that they appreciated my guidance!

Then we had the chance to enjoy a relaxed weekend with just myself and Kirk in the house, as Karen, Alex and Marc travelled to North Carolina for a football tournament for the weekend.

Days 15/16 (Weekend):

Finally we got a lie-in.  We’d been waking up at 6.15am every morning to coach for 7 hours, so it was good to be able to chill out. We decided to take a trip to the local communal pool.  Myself and Kirk went to grab some proper Mexican food and then headed over to his friends house to catch some of the football matches being played over in America. It was great watching Tottenham in a tightly contested match against Seattle.

On Sunday, Kirk, Asha and I headed over to Cocoa Beach on the West coast of Florida. You could walk out 100 yards and the clear, warm water was still only up to your knees!  We only needed a couple of hours to make the most of the sun and then we headed back to Orlando. We were invited to have dinner over at Asha’s family’s house to round the weekend off and get prepared for my last week.


Written by Sam Swanton – BA (Hons) Football Business & Marketing student at UCFB