My arrival at the FA from UK Sport in March 2017 coincided with the launch of the Gameplan for Growth and an ambition from my new employers to ‘increase the number and diversity of women coaching in the sport at all levels’.
We recognised improving coaching underpins the strategy’s three big goals to double participation, double the fanbase and to achieve consistent success on the world stage.
- 5180 new female coaches from 2017 to 2020
- Female coaches with UEFA A gone from 41 in 2017 to 82 in 2020
- 34,581 coaching qualifications for female coaches from levels 1 to 5
- 67% increase in female head coaches with England teams
- 333% increase in female head coaches/managers in WSL and Women’s Championship
Better coaching is fundamental to facilitating better player experiences at grassroots and driving higher playing standards in the pro game, thus making it a better, more technical and tactical product to watch.
The complex challenge, put simply, was to attract more women into coaching, open the doors for talented female coaches to work at the highest level and provide a better support structure to nurture and develop all coaches [male and female] who were already involved in the women’s and girls’ game. Growing coaching capability beyond qualifications was fundamental.
I faced similar challenges at UK Sport and Volleyball England but football’s scale and numbers were far greater. Prior to joining, I transitioned from head coach of Team GB women’s indoor volleyball team at London 2012, to technical and talent director at Volleyball England and then coaching team lead at UK Sport, where I was responsible for the strategic design, operational planning and delivery of Olympic and Paralympic coach development programmes. A major part of my role was to know what our elite coaches were experiencing and the support they required, whilst also understanding the journey grassroots coaches were on.
The backdrop to our work here was the rapid growth in the women’s game. In 2017, the top three tiers of the women’s football pyramid looked very different and full-time coaching positions were few and far between. Three years have seen us transition to a professional environment with the introduction of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League and increased standards and opportunities in the FA Women’s Championship and FA Women’s National Leagues. For the leagues and players to thrive, we needed to take our coaches on a similar journey of development and increased professionalism, helping coaches consider how they want to coach, manage and lead.
Our strategic focus was to recruit, retain, develop and deploy more coaches. However, we knew a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not cater for the breadth of coaches across the whole game. The differing needs and demands on a coach at grassroots and at an elite level were considered. Their learning on and off the grass became our core philosophy.
As a result, we have developed a range of bespoke coach support, tailoring the content and delivery specifically for coaching in the female game. For the first time, really exploring and acknowledging the similarities and differences of the women’s game and how that impacts the skills, attributes and needs of the coaches and players. We have combined this activity with three other core strands; reinforcing the ‘brilliant basics’ of coaching, clear signposting to qualifications, and proactively identifying and nurturing talented coaches.
A significant early achievement was the creation of the first ever team of female game coach developers, dedicated to supporting grassroots and talent pathway coaches, ranging from those taking their first steps into coaching to those with full-time career aspirations.
Nine coach development officers were employed at each of our nine University-based Women’s High Performance Football Centres, providing 2487 coaches [46 per cent of whom were female] with direct support. Their focus was to provide the coaches with bespoke and meaningful development opportunities specifically for the women’s and girls’ game, catering for the needs of the female player.
Being based within the Higher Education environment also provided the opportunity to recruit, develop and deploy coaches from the student population as well as the local football community. To compliment and provide additional support to the work of our coach developer officers, we integrated the FA Coach Mentor Programme, providing free-to-access support for female and BAME coaches in a range of areas including one-to-one, individual learning and matchday observation.
The introduction of four new women’s national coach developers in January 2019 was specifically to support coaches at Tiers 1 to 3 [Barclays FA WSL, FA Women’s Championship and FA Women’s National Leagues] and regional talent club [RTC] technical directors. Their introduction has enabled 83 clubs and over 150 coaches [48 per cent of whom were female] to receive both on course qualification support and off course preparation for the professional game environment.
They have challenged the coaches to think differently about their coaching practice and how they work with a multi-disciplinary team, enhancing the quality of their environment, encouraging greater review and self-reflection, and ultimately improving and positively impacting player performance.
From our FA Level 1 through to the UEFA Pro Licence, coaching qualifications are crucial but there was a clear need for greater sign-posting and better support for coaches to be ‘ready’ for their qualification process.
Similarly, we recognised the need to improve the learning experience - on and off the grass - with the needs of female coaches in mind. The result was more qualified women and better experiences. Since the beginning of 2017, over 5000 more females are now qualified, with over 4600 beginning their coaching journey with their FA Level 1 and five more UEFA Pro Licensed female coaches in the senior game.
Qualifications are not only a time commitment but also a financial commitment and the introduction of our FA Grassroots Coaching Bursary, in collaboration with Sport England, allowed 204 female coaches to receive financial assistance to complete their UEFA A, B and Pro qualifications.
Providing support from within and beyond football to our England senior and development team coaches is crucial to our goal of ‘consistent success on the world stage’. Three female coaches were supported through their UEFA Pro Licence and six female coaches benefited from UK Coaching’s Women Into High Performance programme.
FA field trips to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and the UEFA Women’s EURO in Holland were not only important learning opportunities for 14 development team coaches – experiencing first hand high performance football, pressure environments and different coaching styles - but also a great opportunity to cultivate relationships and reinforce the importance for peer sharing and learning.
In a joint FA and PFA initiative, three talented BAME coaches – Alena Moulton, Nicole Farley and Coreen Brown – were invited to observe and support our England development teams for one season as part of their journey on the regional talent pathway, providing them with vital learning experiences in a performance environment. We also supported their enrollment onto the UK Coaching Into High Performance programme.
As the strategy concludes, our journey to increase the diversity and number of female coaches and to normalise women in football coaching continues, across all levels of the game. Within the 2020-2024 strategy you will see coaching play a prominent role in driving higher player standards across the game. Details will be revealed on a renewed focus on supporting coaches operating in the talent player pathway, a bespoke coaching and leadership initiative for elite level coaches and increased opportunities for BAME coaches.
Over the last four seasons, I have been continuously inspired and energised by individual and collective interactions with coaches operating at all levels. Their unwavering enthusiasm and dedication, desire to develop themselves and their players, and their togetherness to enhance peer to peer learning has been incredible.
The greatest joy for me is that there’s a real community spirit building, where coaches are on this journey collectively, not as individuals.
We owe a big thank you to the women’s national coach developers and coach development officers for their passion and efforts and for the connections they have built. The individual is at the heart of everything they do. They are the backbone of this strategy’s success and the heartbeat of our future.
Coaching in the women’s and girls’ game is a community in every sense of the word and I am so proud to be a part of it.FIND OUT MORE ON HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED IN FOOTBALL