The England legend discusses her role and the challenges ahead.
Q: Can you explain what your role will be with the England Blind Squad?
MS: I was asked by Head Coach Graham Keeley to get involved and support him with the squad.
I will predominantly be looking at ball manipulation and trying to work on the players’ movement and ball skills.
From observing the players we are very good at keeping the ball going in one direction but we are trying to develop the different skills in movement to change direction quickly using different parts of the foot.
Q: Is this a role that will see you involved at the Paralympic games at Rio 2016?
MS: This was something I wanted to do and be involved in on a regular basis.
In coaching you want to be involved and watch how the players are developing. The staff that Graham is getting together is staff he sees as the right people for now, the short term and for the long term.
Q: With this being your first experience of coaching blind football, how did you prepare?
MS: That is the beauty of coaching. You have to challenge yourself and work in different disciplines.
I prepared by watching DVDs, speaking to Graham on a regular basis and then just practising some of the things I was going to get the guys to do with my eyes shut and just seeing what it felt like.
You can never put yourself in their shoes because their other sensory awareness is so far greater than ours.
But with my eyes shut I used the football to get a very small feeling of whether what I was asking them was appropriate.
Q: How was your first session with the squad?
MS: I really enjoyed it. It was certainly out of my comfort zone and certainly challenging, but the response I got from the players was fantastic.
It was a huge weekend for the players. A new staffing team is in place for the start of a new cycle in terms of new funding and training at St. George’s Park.
They took on a lot of new information, new surroundings, new members of staff and it was a real bonding weekend.
As coaches we have to gain their trust and we have to gain their willingness to listen and learn. I thought they were fantastic.
Q: Can you explain the challenges involved in getting your ideas across without showing them what you mean?
MS: The first session was about breaking things down and describing in detail what I wanted from them.
There were times when we were looking at moving the ball with the outside of the foot. Their hands would be on my shoulders and they would be sensing while I would be doing the movement that I wanted them to do.
It was certainly more descriptive than I would use with sighted players.
Q: How important was it for you to be able to adapt quickly and to think on your feet?
MS: As much as you can plan what you want to do in coaching it is about flexibility and adaptability because the challenge may be too high at times and so you have to drop it down.
Other times it may be too basic and you have to step it up. So it is about being able to think on your feet and that is the challenge for us as coaches.
But it is also about the needs of the players. It is great to be challenged but you want to challenge the players more.
Q: How challenging was it to introduce new ideas to a sport that has such established techniques and practices?
MS: They have all gone home with a football to practice these things. We are just giving them different skills to try and beat opponents.
Opposition players or defenders will sense the movement and will hear the ball moving, so if our players can just touch the ball with the outside of the foot to take it one way the defender will follow the sound of the ball and our players can then quickly go in the other direction.
It is just giving them different skill sets to manipulate the ball and then allowing them the freedom to just try it and give it a go in different situations.