January is the traditional time of year for trying something new, but we all know that doing something new requires courage and strength to overcome the fears and worries to step outside our comfort zones.
This is especially hard if you are doing something you have never done, have no experience of and no-one to go with. In 2017 London Sport, working in partnership with the Muslimah Sports Association (MSA), Sporting Equals, Essex Football Association and Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure supported 15 women to become level 1 football coaches. This wasn’t a standard women’s only course though, we very specifically worked with the MSA to support BAME women into coaching football.
Well, to put this into context, think about something new you’ve decided to learn at some point. Try to remember what you felt like before you arrived on day one, and what you hoped it would be like.
For me, it’s the year I decided to do an adult education course to learn British Sign Language, I wanted to leave before I had arrived, I was convinced that it would be full of people who knew more than me and would learn faster. I desperately wanted it to be full of people like me, who knew nothing but had a drive to learn and a coach that was prepared for mistakes, and could handle low confidence.
We all know from endless research that new participants in physical activity have similar worries, that they’d dearly like to fit right in, and they hope the coach will instinctively understand their needs, worries and motivations. That’s why it’s so important to have coaches that embody that ‘someone like me’ concept.
When the Muslimah Sports Association approached us to develop some of their female parents and members into coaches for the girls in their community to play football, we jumped at the chance. We had so much to learn about these women. For the most part, these women had no experience of playing football, and were classified as inactive themselves.
It’s therefore no surprise to me that the women who arrived at the course had similar fears to mine all those years ago. They were nervous about not knowing anyone, worried about the venue, instructor, course content. As one participant said:
“I might be out of my depth in terms of not having played football before.”
Why do we put ourselves through it? Well, I did my course because I’d always been interested in BSL but also because I finally thought it would be useful in my job (it was), and I worked 10 minutes from the course.
For our future football coaches, the reasons were no different, they had a desire to coach, because they wanted to offer something to their community and their children. They also wanted to gain skills to use at work. Some had always loved football and wanted to be involved but for most, football was something that mattered to the young people they cared for.
Before anyone assumes it was easy to set up a course I’d like to highlight that I’d contemplated taking my BSL qualification many times but my life got in the way. It was the same here. We’re talking about women with families, jobs, economical and cultural pressures.
It didn’t happen quickly, we made lots of assumptions that proved wrong. Like ‘dates are more important than venue location/travel time’ or ‘that we should avoid weekends at all costs’ perhaps more interestingly ‘that the group would all be physically able to participate in practical work.’
The course didn’t happen until we stopped assuming and started talking. All of a sudden it was clear, the most important thing was the location and then ensuring the dates fit around the cultural events like weddings and Eid, but also fit around daily lives and family commitments. Every Saturday for 4 weeks in a row wasn’t possible, but breaking into blocks, and throwing in an evening and we had a course.
Our Analysis of the Existing Workforce shows us that there’s more to coaching than a love of the sport and when it comes to inspiring new audiences into coaching, in all and any of its forms, the reason why someone wants to coach is powerful – perhaps more powerful than all the reasons why not.