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Students are back, coaching has begun and I was quickly reminded how different coaching within a university environment is compared to a regular women’s team. Managing and supporting the players off the pitch has never been more important.  

We are 1 month into the season with our women’s team, because of Covid we have almost a whole new team, which is refreshing and daunting. As coaches we need to find a playing style to suit the individuals and team, but before this it’s important we understand who the person is behind the player.  

Each student will face different challenges, which as coaches we need to be aware of, some of the things I have noticed are:  

  1. Relocating - being away from friends and family  
  2. Balancing academics studies with football and personal life  
  3. Living on their own or within shared accommodation  

Sport can play a big hand in helping students feel settled and as coaches we have a big part to play.  

How can we help as coaches? 

It’s important we show understanding and empathy, this was a steep learning curve for me when I first started coaching at the university. I began by setting the same expectations for them as I would for my external women’s team, however it’s a completely different environment, people's reasons for playing vary. Some are there to compete, some solely for social and some just to feel part of a team and ‘family.’ 

I started to ask WHY, WHAT & HOW questions rather than just presuming or second guessing. 
‘Why are you late?’  
‘Is everything ok? Why haven’t you been at training’ 
‘How can I support you on and off the pitch?’ 
‘What would you like to get from the year?’ 
‘What can I do to help?’  

I soon realsied, the reason some didn’t train on a Friday evening, was because they went home to see family, which was important to them. Players were late because they were rushing from a lecture and had to walk or cycle as they do not have a car on campus.  
Everyone wanted to be successful on and off the pitch, with success coming in many forms. 

  1. Winning games  
  2. Creating an environment where people feel valued and part of a team 
  3. Providing a playing opportunity for all 

Which was exactly what we wanted as a coaches!  
Once we understood these things, we could begin to develop relationships, and adapt training sessions and teams accordingly.  

My Top Tips 

  1. Have a big focus on social outcomes in the first few sessions – you will have plenty of time to work on your playing style but if the players don’t feel part of something it will be hard to get them to buy in to technical and tactical outcomes.  
  2. Show empathy – Every single player will be facing different challenges, some more than others. However, if managed right, football can be a great release for the individual. 
  3. Include players in the process - Let the players be part of the goals of the session, if they are part of this process, they will buy into it much more.  
  4. As I’ve said before... Get to know the person, ask questions, show you care. Remember actions speak louder than words, so ensure you follow through with things you say.  
  5. Ask ‘why’ before jumping to assumptions.


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Written By

Abbie Sadler

Women’s High Performance Football Centre Coach Development Officer at the FA and BCWFC WSLA Academy Coach at Bristol City.

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