As we look at some of the amazing women who volunteer and work in grassroots football as part of International Women’s Week, it is also important to recognise those male allies who support female football and give opportunities to grow the game.
London FA caught up with Joshua Pugh, a qualified coach who is currently coaching at the trans-inclusive club Goal Diggers.
What made you want to become a coach?
I always felt like it would be a natural progression for me. I was interested in designing practices while I was playing and figuring out how to maximise the strengths of my fellow team-mates always felt like an exciting challenge. Doing my badges seemed like an obvious thing to do!
How did you end up coaching in women’s football?
I was coaching junior football back in 2016 when I went to run a trail session for a group of players who then became Goal Diggers FC. Goal Diggers is a trans-inclusive club for women and non-binary people. I chatted to the club’s founder Fleur after the session and then started coaching one of the groups regularly. I am now in my sixth season with the club and can’t wait to get back once COVID restrictions have been lifted!
What do you enjoy most about coaching women’s football?
Probably the way that I have been able to build positive relationships with players and coaches over a long period of time. There are some players at the club who I have been coaching for nearly six years now and with that comes a level of understanding about their lives, what motivates them and the things they want to achieve both on and off the pitch.
We have a team of eight coaches now and I love working with them to make sure we are in a good position to compete in 5, 7 and 11-a-side games whilst making sure that sessions are fund and accessible for a range of playing experiences. Teams are picked on availability over ability and I really like looking at the matchday squad a few days before the game, trying to figure out how to set up the team in a way that gives everyone a good chance and us the best chance to win.
I am also regularly blown away by the things the committee are able to make happen off the pitch, particularly recently with COVID restrictions. We have had hundreds of people show up to online events, we have some really cool partnerships that help keep membership fees as low as possible and we have just launched a protest kit (designed by one of the players) which is available to pre-order!
Have you experienced any differences between coaching women’s football and men’s football?
I coach boys and girls at junior age groups and have found there is not much between them when they are younger. I think as you move into secondary school, drop off rates amongst girls seem to be higher, but there are also fewer opportunities to play. That, coupled with the way that behaviour is socialised, means that by the time lots of people get back into playing regularly, they have missed out on years of coaching and playing experience. Thankfully, that seems to be changing and it is really exciting to see young players regularly playing all the way through school and beyond.
In terms of senior football, my experience coaching men was in a non-league setting, which is completely different to the grassroots environment of Goal Diggers, so a lot of differences were down to how clubs operate. When I was coaching men’s football, there was definitely less of a sense of community and it was a more transactional relationship between me and the club. At Goal Diggers, even though it is a much bigger club in terms of the number of members, I feel much more connected to the players.
I found the men I was coaching to be more aggressive and confrontational during sessions. Part of that I'm sure was the level that they were playing at, but also the way that we're expected to 'perform' gender. Coaching at Goal Diggers is really different, where players are more thoughtful, and willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone, whilst maintaining a high level of healthy competition at training and on matchdays.
What would you say to other men interested in coaching women’s football?
I think I'd say that you have to want to be part of it long term. It's not an entry level position to act as your springboard into men's football, or a place to experiment with ideas to take to a men's team next season. Be ready to put the time into understanding the landscape of the game right now, watch elite level games, but also recognise that there's an enormous amount of history for us all to learn.
We're 100 years on from The FA banning women from playing at the grounds of affiliated clubs - a ban which was only lifted in 1971. It's a reality that women's football is still playing catch up on pitch space, fighting for mainstream media coverage, and dealing with enormous under-funding even at the elite level. When playing or coaching in men's teams, I've never had issues booking facilities, or making sure we have a pitch to play on. However, at Goal Diggers, it took over five years of campaigning and our committee's unpaid labour to get a training pitch that effectively meets the needs of a club our size (over 200 players). There's clearly still a legacy of sexism within the systems that control access to the game, and it's important to acknowledge that.
We have to recognise how often men are platformed and congratulated for taking an interest in women's football. That should be the bare minimum in 2021.
You can find out more about Goal Diggers FC by visiting their website.