This month we chat to Abbie Sadler, the Coach Development Lead for the FA’s Women’s Pathway. Abbie works with a team of 10 coach developers who provide support to coaches working in the female game across the FA’s Talent and Senior Pathway.
Here, Abbie talks about the differences between coaching for the female game versus the male game, and why mindset plays such a key role in players’ success.
Abbie began her coaching career in schools and community settings and has gained a vast amount of experience coaching a variety of Women’s teams and academy sides as well as working in the Boys’ professional game. She first came across Red2Blue when she met our president, Martin, through the coaching platform, Cupello, where Abbie was delivering content for coaches working in the female game.
A caring coaching environment
Having worked with both boys and girls, Abbie recognises there are some key differences, particularly with the psychological and physical aspects of the game that might impact the way they play. She believes that boys tend to be self-motivated and less affected by the coaching environment. “The boys will work hard – they want to be the best,” she says. The female players, on the other hand, thrive in an environment where the coaches really care and value what the players can bring.
“One of my favourite quotes is: ‘They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,’” she says. “Once you’ve created the right environment, I feel that girls give more.” If they’re not in that environment, however, Abbie says girls may be less likely to take risks and try new things for fear of doing something wrong. That said, a caring coaching environment is something that benefits everyone, no matter what gender.
Throughout her own career, Abbie’s been fortunate enough to work alongside people who had similar mindsets and similar values to her own. One of her toughest challenges, however, came when she was working with one of the boys’ academies. She moved away from her friends and family for the role and found herself thrown into a completely different coaching environment to what she was used to.
A growth mindset
In a very male-dominated environment, Abbie felt at times that her own values and those of others were not necessarily aligned. Determined to benefit from the experience, however, she had two mentors who she recognised would support her and help her to grow.
“Although it was probably the toughest moment in my career, I learnt so much from it – I learned the real meaning of values and how to deal with it when when somebody else’s values don’t align with your own. I grew in confidence and became better at managing difficult conversations and managing different people. It certainly made me stronger and made me appreciate stuff a little bit more,” she says.
A positive mindset helped Abbie get through that experience and she now passes on one her key learnings to the people that she coaches. It’s important to “be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “I want them to feel a bit uneasy because that’s where the learning takes place.”
Recognise, accept, reset
Even now, Abbie has to push herself out of her comfort zone, for example, when she has to stand up and present in front of a big group. Two of the key Red2Blue principles stand out when she talks about how to combat her fears – ‘preparation and review’ and ‘recognise, accept, reset’.
“Firstly, I make sure I’m prepared. Secondly, I take the pressure off myself and instead of worrying that everything’s going to go wrong, I acknowledge that I may say one thing wrong but I’m okay with that as long as I did as much preparation as I possibly could beforehand.”
Having addressed her ‘What Ifs’, Abbie doesn’t beat herself up if she misses something or it doesn’t quite go to plan. She accepts it and moves on, knowing that where her focus goes, her energy follows.
Talent only gets you so far
Abbie says mindset is a huge driver for success in the players she’s seen come through the system. “Talent gets you so far – you’ve got to be good enough technically, tactically and physically to perform at the top level,” she says, “But when you get to a certain point, you can be the best player in the world but that piece around the mental side plays a massive part in success.”
She’s references international teams where she’s seen players who are good enough, but for whatever reason, are doubting themselves and lacking confidence. “Perhaps something’s gone wrong on the pitch or somebody’s just not clicking. There’s a point where mindset is just as important, if not more important, as how it plays out on the pitch from a technical perspective,” she says.
Abbie describes the four-corner model that the FA uses: “It has the technical and tactical corner, the physical corner, the psychological corner and the social corner and they’re all joined together. There should never be one in isolation,” she says. She believes that to make well-rounded players, coaches must consider all those facets in their off-pitch sessions, including mindset as a skill to develop.
Be a good person
So, what’s Abbie’s number one piece of advice for young players today? “Be a good person who cares about other people. I’m now working with the people I was volunteering with as a young coach. If you’re arrogant or rude, you could be the best coach in the world, but ultimately, football is a small world. Be a good person, be respectful of people no matter where you are on your journey, because the circle comes back around and you might be in front of somebody interviewing for a job one day.”
She also suggests getting get as much experience as possible when you’re starting out. “Go out and work and across different age groups. People assume that someone becomes an England coach from zero. But that person’s potentially worked in schools and may have volunteered for 200 hours in their coaching career. It’s that groundwork that has given them the ability to coach at the level there are now,” she says.
If girls can see it, they can be it!
As for the future of the women’s game, Abbie says we’ve never been in a better place:
“Attendance is rising, the quality of football we see on TV is amazing and that’s a credit to the coaches who are working with them.” She says they are also trying to achieve more diversity across the team, not just players but by getting more females and coaches from Black and Asian backgrounds working in the game. “If young girls can see it, they can be it,” she says.
Abbie hopes that as the women’s game increases in popularity, it maintains what makes it special: “The men’s game’s great, but when you go to watch female football, it has a different feeling to it. I hope we don’t ever lose that uniqueness of the game,” she says. You can find out more about the work Abbie does for the FA’s Women’s Development Team here.