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England's elite women's coaching initiative

The English Football Association has launched a coaching programme to support the development of coaches working in the elite women’s game.

Audrey Cooper, the FA’s head of women’s coach development
Audrey Cooper, the FA’s head of women’s coach development The FA

The Coaching Excellence Initiative (CEI) is an 18-month programme created to develop and connect high-performance coaches.

According to the FA, each of the 14 coaches selected receives “regular one-to-one support from a dedicated team of mentors” along with “individual and collective learning opportunities at regular workshops and interventions to support their individual and collective needs, unique to the experiences faced in women’s football.” The programme is based, the FA’s statement added, around “group gatherings in high-performance environments, peer mentoring and individual support”. This season’s inaugural programme got under way last August.

Development and learning opportunities

The initiative forms part of the FA’s ‘Inspiring Positive Change’ strategy for the period 2020-24, and each year will offer personalised support to a group of between 14 and 18 coaches – 75% of them female. Audrey Cooper, the FA’s head of women’s coach development, said: “The Coaching Excellence Initiative is central to our commitment to see the top coaches in the women’s game become the very best they can, providing them with the development and learning opportunities to achieve their potential and fulfil their ambitions. Living well beyond the 18-month course, it will provide the coaches with a support network to share their experiences as they continue in their career.

“This programme will also support our broader ambition to normalise women in football coaching, shining a light each year on aspirational, relatable and credible female role models for future generations to be inspired by. Whether you are female or male, it’s my belief that there’s never been a more exciting time to be a coach in the women’s game.”

The 14 coaches for the 2020/21 programme were selected following an application process, which included individual assessment and interviews with players, general managers and technical staff at relevant clubs and national teams. They started on the programme at the end of last summer and have received formal learning opportunities through group events held online, as well as virtual small group meet-ups, peer-to-peer learning and sharing, and one-to-one mentoring.

Focus on skills and qualities

Tanya Oxtoby, manager of Bristol City WFC and one of this season’s participants, said: “I applied to the FA’s CEI programme to continue to develop myself as a manager, network with like-minded people within the women’s game, and to challenge my way of thinking.

“The programme has been extremely useful as it's focused on skills and qualities which do not normally feature within technical coaching courses. It’s provided me with a network of support in very strange times, and it’s changed the way I think about my way of working and how I can reach my own potential moving forward.”

Positive step

The full list of participants for 2021/21 is: Carla Ward (Birmingham City WFC manager), Charlotte Healy (Manchester United WSL academy manager), Gemma Davies (Aston Villa WFC head coach), Gemma Donnelly (Blackburn Rovers WFC manager), Gemma Grainger (England U17 women’s national head coach), Joe Sheehan (Ipswich Town WSL academy head coach & first-team manager), Karen Hills (in between roles), Leanne Champ (Chelsea WFC technical coach), Lydia Bedford (England Women’s U18s development phase head coach), Melanie Reay (Sunderland AFC Ladies head coach), Riteesh Mishra (Charlton Athletic WFC head coach), Stephanie Libbey (Durham WFC first-team coach), Tanya Oxtoby (Bristol City WFC manager), Vicky Jepson (in between roles)

According to the FA, this initiative is the latest positive step for coaches working in the women’s game in England and follows a “record number” taking their FA Level 4 (UEFA A Licence). A separate scheme already in its third year is the Elite Coach Placement Programme, whereby coaches from under-represented groups undertake season-long coaching placements with England's Women’s development teams.