Sarah Lowdon who is originally from Newcastle, England, is currently the Assistant Coach at Sam Houston State University and Intern Coach at Houston Dash football club in the USA. After moving to the US in 2008 on a soccer scholarship with?Mississippi State University in Starkville, Sarah had a 4 year playing career before she began volunteer coaching during her Masters Degree. Not giving up her dream of coaching professionally in the US, Sarah spent the next few years gaining experience and creating opportunities for herself until being given her first employed experience with a small college in Texas.
Sarah shares her coaching journey with us and tell us why it is so important to never give up on your dreams…
How does a football player from Newcastle, UK end up coaching soccer in Houston, USA?
I am Newcastle United daft (crazy) fan and have been since I was walking. I was reared around the game as you would expect being from Newcastle. It was only a matter of time before I would start pretending I was Alan Shearer in the streets playing World Cup with the boys from school. I joined Newcastle United Women’s U14 after being spotted by the U14 coach at an event held in Gateshead, England. I then played for Newcastle United WFC from the age of 12 until I left to go to the US. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to play in the US, so I put together a highlight tape and sent it to the US Universities in which I was interested in playing for. I left high school at 16 and joined Gateshead College to play for the Women?s Football Academy where I got to play with some of the best talent in the country, and we won back to back leagues and various cups.
At the academy I was very fortunate to be coached by Melanie Reay. Mel was very supportive in my decision to go to the US and helped get me into the best shape of my life. After graduating from Gateshead, I came to the United States in 2008 on a soccer scholarship. I spent my first year at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi, and then in 2009, I transferred to McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana where I finished my playing career. After four years of playing in college and graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, I sent out my resume to every university in the US that had a women’s soccer program it took several weeks. I didn’t have many hits at all. I do remember the handful of coaches that did respond to me not because they had a position open, but because they knew what it was like to start from the bottom ? funny enough, those coaches are at the big NCAA Division I universities – winning Championships. The fact that the big dogs were reading my email did inspire me to never give up.
I knew as a young international (with no coaching experience) that it would be tough?but not for long. An opportunity arose which would allow me to get my Master’s Degree at McNeese and volunteer as an assistant coach for the McNeese women’s soccer team so I jumped on it. I spent two years moving cones, cleaning buckets, inputting recruiting data, working the concession stand, painting lines, observing training sessions and I was thrilled to do whatever needed to be done in exchange for an opportunity any opportunity to learn and get my foot in the door as a young, college coach.
Then it happened, right before I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I re-sent my resume out again to every program in the US and this time it paid off – I was offered my first full time position at a small NAIA college -Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. I was so excited!! I packed up my stuff and moved to West Texas, not knowing what to expect, but thrilled at the unlimited possibilities. I felt like a freshman all over again not knowing a soul ? new town, new campus ? a new start. It was a huge adjustment but the growth, not only as a young coach, but as a person was invaluable, and I can honestly say, it was the BEST thing that ever happened to me at that moment. The players at WBU taught me more than they will ever know. I spent ten months coaching at WBU and also taught in the Exercise Science Department as an instructor. I always knew ultimately I wanted to coach at NCAA Division I level, so I decided I had to make myself stand out, and then one day I would get my opportunity. I didn’t realize that opportunity would come ten months later with the Houston Dash and Sam Houston State University (where I currently work). I think there are more opportunities in the US for Women?s Soccer than there are in Europe; however, those opportunities are only filled through persistence and hard work. I have had the door slammed in my face plenty of times but you just have to keep knocking.
Can you tell us about your current coaching roles as the Assistant Coach at Sam Houston State University and Intern Coach at Houston Dash. How did these roles come about and what is involved day to day?
I had contacted the Head Coach of the Houston Dash Randy Waldrum, on several occasions. He is someone I have admired for a long time. He offered me the opportunity to help out with the Dash in the 2015 season. I was flying back to England for Christmas in December 2014 and thought I would try my luck and ask if he would be interested in meeting me before I flew out for a chat. Randy emailed back within an hour and said he would love to meet me – so we met at the Houston Dash training ground (at the Subway) where we chatted for over an hour and he said he would be delighted for me to keep in touch and possibly come to a training session when the Houston Dash started up in February. The fact that he made time for somebody like me was unbelievable. That ten hour flight home was the quickest flight I was beaming, although I couldn’t wait to be home, I also couldn’t wait for the NWSL season to start. I returned to work in West Texas at WBU, but in February, I decided to fly down to Houston and help out with the Houston Dash tryouts one weekend. Thrilled to be a part of such a fantastic professional organization, I took a chance and flew to Houston during my Spring Break to help in pre-season Camp for the week while I stayed with a friend. I thoroughly enjoyed the professional environment and flew back to Houston in May for the rest of the season. I will admit that it was a big risk and a sacrifice that paid off in the long run, but I did not have an actual place to stay during the summer in Houston- so sometimes I would drive in for training from Lake Charles, which was 2.5 hours each way. Other days, I stayed with friends in Galveston, and I will admit there were times I slept in my car – but you do what you have to do. Nobody forced me to do this, but just because the stars weren’t aligned for me, didn’t mean I was going to let the opportunity slip away. At the Houston Dash, I was involved in daily training sessions, staff meetings, video meetings and I also provided detailed statistics and trends on opponents.
On game days, my main role involved reporting statistics to the coaching staff and players when appropriate. Through my new connections at the Houston Dash, an opportunity at Sam Houston State University (located in Huntsville, Texas an hour north of Houston) came up and I was able to re-connect with the Head Coach at Sam Houston (who coached the Goalkeepers at the Dash). In July 2015, I had fulfilled a dream I was offered my first NCAA Division I coaching position as an Assistant Coach for Sam Houston State University, under Head Coach Tom Brown. My role at Sam Houston focused on my field of study – Exercise Science. I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, so my job involves providing input along with our Sports Medicine staff concerning the preparation and recovery of our athletes. We consciously make sure we get the best out of our players on a daily basis by monitoring training loads with our Polar Heart Rate System. Overall, we had a great season and after finishing my first season with Sam Houston State University, I was proud that we finished 4th in the League and were Runners Up in the Southland Conference Tournament Final.
Have you experienced any major differences with the way female coaches / players are treated in soccer in the US and the UK?
I haven’t lived in the UK since I was 18, and I am now 26 so it is difficult to say from personal experience as a coach since I have only really coached in the US; however, I think it is really hard to compare since the US has a very structured collegiate system that offers substantial amount of dollars in scholarships – the UK does not have this set-up for the most part. The student-athletes in the US have access to top notch facilities that may be accessible to only professional athletes in the UK. I do think times are changing in the UK, which was spurred on with England performing so well at the Women?s World Cup and the WSL getting coverage on TV. When I was growing up, it was deemed as a man?s sport and I did get stick for playing from people that did not matter. The people that mattered always pushed me to follow my dreams. I do think it is important to give back to the game that has given me so much, so I’ll do whatever it takes to grow the game on the women’s side. One thing about football that I love is that it is a universal sport which can unite nations anyone can pick up a ball and play no matter your language, ability or culture.
Would you ever consider moving back to the UK to coach soccer professionally if the opportunity arose?
I have actually looked in returning to England in the next couple of years to complete my UEFA B License. I would never rule out a move back home. After all, it is home. I will never forget my roots; however, I think the opportunity would have to be right. It is a dream of mine to coach within the English National Team set up. I think working with the US National Team set up would be amazing, as well, but there is something about representing your own country at any level.
Can you tell us about your coaching philosophy and how it may have changed as you have developed as a coach?
My coaching philosophy is to pursue excellence in a program by creating a culture of champions by coaching the person, as well as, the player in order to compete every year for the Championship. My philosophy will continue to evolve and develop as I continue to grow throughout my career. The most important aspect overall is that I have a chance to grow potential by developing championship athletes through practicing hard work and teaching character values, which in turn will produce successful individuals in life.
What is your ultimate ambition for your coaching career and what are your biggest challenges in achieving it?
My ultimate ambition is to coach at the International level. As I mentioned earlier, it would be an honor to coach for my own country, but I also think it would be an honor to coach for the US where my journey as a coach really started. Over the past seven years the States have given me opportunities I could only have dreamed of. I also dream of winning a National Championship at the collegiate level. This was something I was never able to do as a player, but I think I can be instrumental in helping a team achieve; however, I don?t like to look too far ahead right now my goal is to help Sam Houston win Championships and progress to the NCAA’s! I think the biggest challenge is making sure I continue to push myself to learn and develop on a daily basis. I constantly remind myself I am only competing against ME. I have sacrificed so much time over the years away from my family in England that it is simply not good enough to be mediocre.
What one piece of advice would you give to other British football coaches wanting to coach in the US?
Be prepared to do WHATEVER it takes and by that I mean do what 99% of people won’t do it is important to understand there will be some mind-numbing days and there will be moments of sheer elation that make you forget about the frustrating days. After all it is not about you or me, it is about those players. Every successful coach understands the sacrifice of what it takes to be at the top. Work hard, have plenty of gratitude and seize your opportunities. Every coach is always grafting for their next job and that will be contingent on your qualities as a coach and as a human being.