In follow up to an article published in late March, Goalkeeper.com spoke to more of those coaching goalkeepers in the women’s game to discuss the questions that arose…
Research indicates that over 95% of teams in the top four tiers of English football and the top two in Wales and Scotland last season (2021/22) had male goalkeeper coaches coaching female players.
The investigation was undertaken as part of a MSc Sports Performance dissertation by London Bees and the Women’s Army team goalkeeper coach Jim Hepworth. On top of Hepworth’s findings, Goalkeeper.com reported that 11 of the 12 Women’s Super League (WSL) clubs had male goalkeeper coaches in the 2022/23 season.
The findings generated significant conversation in the goalkeeping community. Goalkeeper.com spoke to a number of others involved in coaching goalkeepers in the women’s game to delve deeper into a revealing topic.
Why do you think there are so few female goalkeeper coaches in the professional women’s game?
“I think it’s a bit of basic statistics. There are less female football players and even less female goalkeepers, so really the chances of those players becoming high quality goalkeeping coaches is slim, especially as a lot of female goalkeepers have either been self taught or by dads just trying to do their best”, says Lorna Esson, Head of Goalkeeping at Boroughmuir Thistle .
“A huge part of my journey as a player was always of frustration, that I didn’t have a goalkeeper coach until my later teenage years. It was only when I became part of the performance programme at the Scottish FA where I got morning sessions with the women’s national goalkeeper coach.
“The game has grown significantly since then but in Scotland, only a few clubs provide the complete package (Strength and Conditioning, Physio, Goalkeeper- specific training etc). In my day (not that long ago…) I was balancing college, work, and coaching. I had to pursue goalkeeper training from other clubs or coaches which was a bit naughty!
“There are also the connotations with female coaches not being able to kick a ball as well or replicate specific deliveries or shots which puts some females off (but some male coaches can’t do that either!). Overall, I think the game still just needs to grow, financially, strategically, and commercially but it’s almost a chicken and the egg scenario”.
Dan Nicol is a Lead Goalkeeper Coach at the Future Lionesses Goalkeeper Centre in Leeds, and formerly the goalkeeper coach for Bradford City Women. He spoke of both practical and holistic issues that may influence the relative lack of female goalkeeper coaches both in and out of the professional game.
“I'd certainly say that at the moment there are far more male goalkeeper coaches to choose from when recruiting within the professional game. Plenty of these coaches will have transitioned from playing to coaching and could subsequently stamp '(semi-)professional' across their CV (as opposed to in the female game where only playing Tier 1 or 2 is considered professional).
“I suspect that, historically, getting the support to become a sufficiently certified goalkeeper coach, able to work at a professional level, has been lacking on the female side too. Plus, given the recent sizable increase in the appeal of the women's game, some female goalkeeper coaches aiming high may still not have had enough time to consolidate knowledge to be able to feel comfortable delivering in the professional sphere just yet.
“Having worked with many young female goalkeepers and aspiring coaches, it's also clear from conversations that the costs involved with becoming a qualified goalkeeper coach is off-putting*. The lack of female goalkeeper coaches isn't just confined to the professional game either - I know of very few female goalkeeper coaches practising at grassroots, Tier three and below.
“What could also hinder female coaches is that football, in some spheres, is still likely seen as a male-dominated profession. As such, opportunities may be few and far between. Ultimately, I don't think there's one single overarching reason for few female goalkeeper coaches in the professional game - more likely a combination of several”.
*The FA’s National Goalkeeping Course currently costs £70. However, according to the FA’s website as of June 4th 2023:
“Prior to booking, learners must:
- Hold the UEFA C Licence or The FA Level 2 in Coaching Football
- Hold as a minimum a current Introduction to First Aid in Football / FA Emergency Aid
- Have completed the Safeguarding Children Course within the last three years, or completed the re-certification*
*upon course completion these qualifications must remain in-date to achieve certification”.
In total, the FA’s website indicates that these four qualifications cost a combined £630 (£70 National Goalkeeper Course, £500 UEFA C, £30 each for First Aid and Safeguarding).
Ryan Hudson coaches at the highest level of the women’s game in the UK as Tottenham Hotspur Women’s First Team Goalkeeper Coach. He believes that there are several intertwined reasons for the lack of female goalkeeper coaches in women’s football.
“There is a lack of female goalkeeper coach visibility. There are very few female goalkeeper coaches working at the top of the game. This then means a lack of role models in those roles for people below or aspiring to get to that level.
“More broadly, coaching isn’t for everyone; we have seen some high profile ex-players going into more media based roles initially.
“Finally, there is a huge numerical advantage in male players and coaches compared to female players and coaches. In the men’s top five leagues, of which all are professional, there are roughly 348 goalkeepers in those first teams.
In the women’s top two leagues (the WSL is fully professional, the Women’s Championship is half professional) there are roughly 72 goalkeepers in those first teams. By average, there will simply be more male coaches as more men are involved in football than women”.
How can we change this?
“More exposure”, states Lorna Esson, succinctly.
“Mary Earps and other big names trying to promote goalkeeping works to an extent. You can try and get girls to be goalies and have careers (part time or full time) but the big push has to be getting these goalkeepers on the coaching ladder early and giving back. More incentives, free courses, but the best thing I ever did was mentorship.
“I was connected with an experienced professional in the men's game. The SFA got that pairing bang on as he was fantastic, and very understanding of the barriers and issues. It was definitely an education both ways! The performance department at the SFA has also been pretty good to me with some funding and opportunities.
“More buddy like systems or networking days potentially across the UK might be worthwhile so coaches feel like they have support or platforms to discuss scenarios.
“There's also an argument to make it attractive. The coaching lifestyle comes at a cost, with endless hours away from family especially if sessions are in the evenings, hardly any down time for your own health or employment contracts that are very outdated. We see many industries changing the way they work as a result of COVID, yet football hasn’t really changed. I know a lot of male coaches who don’t get their two weeks paternity leave.
Spurs’ Hudson, meanwhile, thinks that there are three key areas footballing governing bodies and organisations should look to target.
“We have to have more female goalkeeper coach visibility. Having more women in those roles in the FA, WSL, FAWC etc. to show the way for younger coaches is a start”, he says.
Of course, as Esson mentions, there is the difficulty of the ‘chicken and egg’ situation that precedes this.
Hudson believes that support for female goalkeeper coaches can exist beyond the actions of governing bodies. He suggests that having the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) deliver goalkeeper coaching courses to current and ex-players could help increase the number of female players moving into coaching roles.
Ultimately, targeted support is also necessary.
“Running female-only continuing professional development events or coaching courses to increase the female-specific attendance could hopefully also help it become more comfortable for female coaches to step into these environments”, he explains.
Each of our interviewees called on the notion that changing attitudes and atmosphere, in some ways, come before practical solutions.
Both the FA and Scottish FA are taking steps to try and improve female participation in coaching, though barriers such as the cost of courses remain.
Abbie Sadler, the FA Women’s Pathway Coach Developer Lead, told Goalkeeper.com that “We [the FA] currently have 10 goalkeeper centres which are delivered out of our FA Women’s High Performance Football Centres.
The purpose of the goalkeeper centres are to ‘Unearth, empower and inspire the future generations of female and England goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches.’
We currently have 155 players and 42 coaches involved across the centres, with several players called up to FA National Talent Camps and Lionesses U16 and U17s camps over the past two seasons.
A number of coaches have also gone on to gain part time and full time coaching roles within clubs”.
Dan Nicol works within one of the ten High Performance Football Centres scattered around the country; the Future Lionesses Goalkeeper Centre in Leeds, associated with the West Riding FA.
“The difference with the Leeds centre is that, alongside the High Performance side that supports the higher performers, it also has a Development side. In association with the County FA and West Riding Girls Football league, we offer grassroots female goalkeeper coaching for U16s of any ability (first come first served basis at a small fee per session). I'm the lead goalkeeper coach on this side.
"As part of the centre, we're also encouraging coaches to join us so we can support their learning and development, in some cases through 'fully funded' and/or assistance from the County FA, to promote their development onto specific courses”.
Lorna Esson was the first female coach on the Scottish FA’s UEFA A Goalkeeping License, and recalls that it was “daunting being in an environment with 16 male professionals coming from first team clubs in Scotland or across the border”.
Esson describes some of the barriers that she had to overcome as a female goalkeeper coach on the programme.
“I was the only coach from an amateur club in the room (only women’s club too), so completing the course was very difficult. I had to record all the games for the analysis myself, so moving away from being pitchside to gather the footage for assignments, the financial costs of buying cameras, doing all the analysis myself (the SFA does provide analysis software thankfully).
“When it came to the final assessment, amateur players didn't want to do an assignment. They wanted to play, so attendance dropped. I had to almost teach the head coach and assistants what was required from them in order to facilitate my delivery which was double the work”.
Nonetheless, Esson recognises that the Scottish FA did what they could to ensure equal standards in the nature of licence.
“I don’t think the SFA could have done much more. They set out the criteria to pass and those are the standards which I am grateful for but at that time the women’s game just wasn’t at the level. I got more success when I became Head of Academy Goalkeeping in a men's professional youth set up. The Head of Youth was fantastic. He went above and beyond to develop the goalkeeping department and he went through the coach education system too so knew what was needed for the assessment”, she explains.
In her role as the Scottish FA’s U16 Goalkeeper Coach, Esson has had “good conversations with the new Head of Goalkeeping and High Performance Manager. I am keen to provide something that will engage the female GK network, although there are not many female coaches/volunteers who want to do specific goalkeeper sessions.
“I have been able to point current goalkeepers to grassroots clubs who need goalkeeper sessions but these are rarely long term. The SFA have done female-only outfield courses but I don’t think there have been any goalkeeping-specific. Hopefully that’s where I can help. I don’t have any power in my coaching contract to enforce change on that front though, right now I am enjoying the opportunity working with the U16s goalkeepers at the moment; great staff, players and environment”, she continues.
In terms of accessing work, Esson says that she hasn’t personally experienced issues in gaining roles in the women’s game but remuneration has been a problem.
“Until recently, it has never been paid. At best you get expenses for fuel. The most well paid role I have had was probably the one with Forth Valley FA (as Men’s Head of Academy Goalkeeping). Only Celtic, Glasgow City and Rangers Women have put in the investment full time (or enough financially for the individual).
“Elsewhere, financially, it’s just not viable to pay the bills”, she muses. Esson works a dual career, holding a role as Regional Development Manager with another Scottish national governing body alongside several other positions in football.
“The Regional Development Manager position is 9-5, but then I coach within an Academy (boys and girls u10-18s) and Boroughmuir Thistle women (SWPL2) as well as trips away with the Scotland U16s. Working seven days a week takes its toll but how else do you survive financially and do what you love trying to provide the best service to all the goalkeepers under your guidance, ensuring they are physically, technically, tactically, and mentally ready for their games as well as scout talented goalkeepers for national selection?”, she concludes.
Whilst female coaches can face systemic obstacles to goalkeeper coaching, there are also human challenges that male coaches must adapt to when working in the women’s game.
Spurs’ Ryan Hudson explained that “in my experience, I haven’t had to adjust my style or methods much at all moving into the women’s game. But, one change was making sure I was aware of the player’s stage of the menstrual cycle, and whether it was having an effect on their ability to perform.
“Everyone is different for some players this will not be an issue and for others it may affect their ability to play & train as normal. It’s my role to ensure I was able to adapt to this and work with the players”, he explains.
There’s no question that male coaches can coach female players, and progression is also slowly being made in the opposite direction, with female coaches becoming more involved in the men’s game - especially at academy level.
However, there’s also no denying that having more female role models in women’s football is important for the game’s progression. The goalkeeping world may be niche, but we still have some way to go to expand participation.