Five lessons learned coaching in China!

Fernando Pineda: “The translator has to understand the message you’re trying to get across.”

Hailing from the town of El Campillo, Huelva, Fernando Pineda Ortega has coached a host of men’s and women’s teams across a variety of grassroots levels. Holder of the Spanish FA’s highest coaching qualification (Nivel 3), he currently divides his time working as a sports coordinator for El Campillo Municipal Council and as a lecturer at the University of Huelva.

Fernando has postgraduate qualifications in health, physical exercise, and sports performance and, through his role as a LaLiga coach, he has had three spells coaching in China – in 2015/16, 2018 and 2019. He was planning to return to the country in February 2020, only for the Covid-19 pandemic to intervene.

Onuba Comms spoke to him about the five lessons he learned as a coach in China, the differences he found with European football, and the importance of good communication.


Not many people speak English, especially in the so-called “smaller” cities, which may still have more than 7,000,000 inhabitants. So, to begin with, you depend on your interpreter or assistant for everything. If you need to take care of some paperwork or something, it can get very drawn out if you don’t have them to help you. And when it comes to training sessions and matches, it’s essential that the interpreter understands the message you’re trying to get across. Later on, once you start getting used to things, you don’t need to depend on them quite as much.


It’s one of the oldest cultures on the planet. A lot of Chinese thinking and customs date back thousands of years. Things like the language, traditions, food, architecture and handwriting are all different. Being a LaLiga coach has allowed me to experience a culture that’s totally different to our own. It’s not a question of them having to adapt to us but us having to adapt to their customs and way of life, while showing them a bit of our own.

Organisation and planning

Everything is usually well planned and organised but, as can happen anywhere, there can be last-minute changes to training sessions, competitions, events, meetings, etc. It can come as a bit of a surprise to begin with and when there are frequent changes of plans it can be infuriating, but you have to take it in your stride.


The coaches I met enjoyed learning from Spanish football and the way we work. However, when they actually get down to coaching their teams, they have their own way of seeing the game and find it hard to change their mindset. That’s understandable and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. The keys are hard work and patience, because it will come in the end.

Football players

The players I worked with were disciplined, dedicated, hard-working and really wanted to learn. I’ve noticed major improvements in technical terms in recent years, but players can have difficulty thinking for themselves – preferring to let their coaches decide for them. Making your own decisions is essential in football, so not doing so can lead to a shortage of creativity.

There needs to be more importance attached to tactical intelligence and more time dedicated in training to decision-making, with the aim of producing players who are able to decide for themselves. As I said, the technical side of the game in China has really developed but there’s still work to do, particularly in the field of goalkeeping – which is a very specialised position.

Thanks to LaLiga, I’ve enjoyed a unique and unforgettable experience. It’s been one of the most rewarding of my life, no question. It changes the way you see things and helps you to keep growing on a personal and professional level.

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/interviewee in question only, not Onuba Comms.

Experts in football & futsal and only using native-language translators and copywriters, we at @onubacomms believe everyone in sport should have the opportunity to connect with their global audience.

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