I just completed my first year of coaching junior football. I co-coached a Grade 12 Girls Only side alongside a friend whose daughter was in the team. A kind of experiment to see if coaching is for me.
There were moments I had my doubts – stuck in peak hour traffic on the way to training, waking up early on a Sunday morning to get to a match, sacrificing a Saturday night out, the girls doing Tik-Tok dances instead of listening.
I do have to admit that those niggly moments were far outweighed by the positives – the perfectly executed drills, the smiles and laughter during training games, the teamwork on display, the ‘click’ moment when the drills translated in a match, and of course the goals.
I believe that football needs more women representation, especially at the grassroots level. If we start there, we can build pathways. Most coaches I see on the sidelines at kids’ sport are senior players or Dad’s/father figures. I wanted to do my bit to change that. To give the girls a female role model who isn’t a parent or teacher. I wanted the girls I coached to know that in a traditionally male dominated environment it is possible to be successful as a female athlete and/or coach.
During an early training I got asked by one of the players if I had been a professional footballer. Once I finished laughing (I might have played 10 minutes in my life) I explained that I had never played football properly but I had spent a lot of my life watching and that’s how I picked up my knowledge and understanding. Educational moment number one = achieved.
I also believe the role of a coach goes beyond teaching technical aspects. We also need to teach about life and take an interest outside football in order to build trust and a collaborative relationship. I want to lay that foundation so that the players I coach know that we can joke around, and they can express frustration or happiness to me. If one of my players had a birthday during the week, or a tournament for another sport, I acknowledged it, asked about it, and just showed an interest in life outside football.
There was one moment when I felt true validation for that thinking. I don’t know how many times we’d had to tell the girls not to run around or warm-up with their hands in their pockets. However, during a warm-up one chilly morning, I had my own hands in my pockets and was taking part in a rondo to warm up. Inevitably I fell over, like proper fell on the ground – face first, and I couldn’t stop myself because my hands were in my pockets. One of the players just looked at me and with the level of sass only an 11-year-old girl can achieve, said “that’s why we don’t warm-up with our hands in our pockets”. I honestly believe that if I didn’t foster a fun and trusting environment, that interaction could never happen.
If I define the goal I set at the start of the season as “appearing knowledgeable and imparting skills that develop a team” then I think I achieved. I must have done a decent enough job as many of the parents and players have asked if I will be coaching the team again next year. Will I?
Watch this space.