Rachel Yankey is one of England Football’s most capped players with 129 (to date) to her name. She plays number 11 and is a forward. Rachel was the second woman in England football history to go past the century of caps and has played for Arsenal Ladies 151 times.
Whilst Rachel is still an active footballer (although currently expecting her first child and on a break), she is also working through her coaching qualifications and is taking part in a bespoke UEFA A license course put on by the PFA alongside other England players such as Kelly Smith, Laura Bassett and Casey Stoney.
She recently partnered with the betting company ‘Bet-fair’ to support the number of female coaches in the UK taking their UEFA B license, aiming to get more women coaching at the top of the game.
We spoke to Rachel about her coaching, and as we are right in the middle of the Women’s European Championships…who she thinks England will face in the final!
Am I right in saying that you’re currently working towards your UEFA A licence? What is your experience of the course so far?
I am doing my A license, we are on a bespoke course set up by the PFA and the FA. It is just for international female players, so there are just women on the course. There are 8 of us including myself, Laura Bassett, Casey Stoney, Emma Burn, Mary Phillip, Lou Waller, Natasha Dowie and Kelly Smith.
We did the first two weeks at Tottenham’s training ground then went away and did our own coaching hours, followed by another meet up at Arsenal’s training ground. So it’s different to how I would imagine a normal UEFA A license would be delivered. At the point we started the course, most of us were still playing football, so the course has been worked around this.
I think its going OK! I have done some of the workshops and in the process of working through my coaching hours at Haringey Borough U21 boys team, so I have been there quite a lot. Since I’ve been pregnant this has been a little difficult however! They are now on pre-season training, but it’s a bit too close to when I am due, so I haven’t gone back coaching with them yet. But hopefully I will be able to pick this back up when I am back.
What are your thoughts on female only coaching courses, as you are on one now. Do you think they are needed or an essential part of a governing bodies strategy in trying to increase the number of female coaches?
When I did my UEFA B, I also did that through the PFA, and that wasn’t women only, that was with anyone who was a member of the PFA. This course is different (the UEFA A), as it is bespoke for international female footballers, so it is seen that we all have a certain level of understanding of being at international level in our sport. As all of us have played at that level, all of us are roughly the same standard of coaching knowledge etc, if it was a mixed ability course, it may be different.
I did like it on my UEFA B as we had guys that had played in the men’s Premier League, guys that had played in the Championship, also non-league level players, including myself, Faye and Kelly (who are / were International level) and because of all that difference in experiences, I quite liked it because you got to speak to people and learn about their different experiences, also how different managers worked and how football was different for different people.
I quite like the courses which are mixed genders because of this, but then again in terms of football, I would be more confident perhaps than other women because I’ve played at the highest level. Perhaps if you’re not as confident or comfortable around football, I can see how these mixed courses would be intimidating; especially around some of the ‘football speak’ which can be different when you hear men talking about it!
I don’t think either (mixed or women only) is right or wrong, it depends on the personality of the coach, but there should definitely be the option for both. For some people with certain religious beliefs for example, women only courses would be a great way for them to get through their badges (coaching qualifications). So I sit on the fence about them personally, but there should definitely be the option.
Do you think it’s important to have been a footbal player first and then a coach – do you think this experience makes you a better coach?
It’s not essential at all. I actually think that having coached, it makes me a better player. Studying coaching helps you as a player understand where your coach is coming from and why they do certain things.
One of the reasons for there being such a low number of female coaches in any sport is there tends to be a very low rate of retiring female athletes who continue in the sport as a coach, so why did you decide to go into coaching unlike many others? And do you know female players who would think coaching is the last thing they would want to do when they retire?
I look at my situation as a coach a bit differently because I have always coached. Since I left school I joined Arsenal and their Youth Training Scheme, which was totally separate to my role playing. I learned how to coach kids through that, so I have always coached and played at the same time period. Back when I started playing football, you didn’t get paid like you do now, so the playing part for me was almost like a hobby, my job was the coaching bit. I have worked for QPR, Fulham, and a few others and went onto set up my own coaching company in which I go into schools and coach children. The only period of time I didn’t coach was when I was a full time professional player at Fulham, so for those 3 years I didn’t really coach. So other than that throughout my career, I have always played and coached.
I haven’t coached to an elite level, but I have worked through my coaching badges etc. I haven’t officially retired from playing and I have never seen it as having to stop one thing to start another. I took my UEFA B license to challenge myself in working with elite players and then the opportunity came around to do my UEFA A license through this bespoke course for female players, so why wouldn’t I take that opportunity and challenge myself further? Just because I have played at a high level certainly doesn’t mean you can coach at a high level. That’s been really fun doing that!
Regarding players that I know who definitely wouldn’t want to coach; Katie Chapman springs to mind! Coaching just doesn’t interest her, which is fine! She has a great knowledge of the game and can help all players around her, but if she went into coaching I would be very surprised! She is definitely a mentor to the younger players on her team and passing on information as a coach would (as she is captain for Chelsea), but coaching just isn’t something she wants to do. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and if your not passionate about coaching then I don’t think you should do it, you can’t do it half heartedly.
Can you tell us about the project you are doing with Betfair and how that started?
Betfair approached me with the campaign they wanted to do and showed me the figures they had of the lack of female coaches in football in the UK. I was shocked to be honest about the lack of female coaches compared to men, I didn’t realise it was so low, especially in England. Bet-fair want to try and fix this and provide opportunities for 50 women to complete their UEFA B license – so these women must already have their level 2 qualification and show they are dedicated to it.
What I liked about this project is that Bet-fair are also providing exit routes for these women, so often coaches complete a coaching course and then don’t know how or where to go about finding a team to work with. Even I have found it difficult to find a club to work with and almost experiment with their players and test out my new coaching knowledge. Football is so cut throat and there is such a need for results, you cant have someone just come on into the club and experiment with the team. But Bet-fair found clubs who would allow these coaches to work with their players and get their coaching hours completed. So this was a real positive.
The 50 women that are chosen will go through the course, have an exit route and then hopefully go on to do their UEFA A license and support them in some way to do that. It can be quite expensive to get your UEFA licenses, but once you have got that, you can then start knocking on doors of grassroots or even elite clubs and get some jobs. I got involved simply because I thought it was a great idea to be honest!
If you had one tip to give to a female coach starting out in their coaching career, what would that tip be?
I think to be very open minded and just enjoy it! It’s a long time since I did my level 1, so I know things have changed since then!
Always try knew things – I know so many coaches go on courses and get are taught knew skills and drills etc but when the coach returns to the club they aren’t always confident enough to actually try and deliver these knew skills – you have to try! If it goes wrong, don’t be cross at yourself, you just have to adapt and be flexible (especially when working with kids!)
I can’t let you go without asking about the Women’s European Championships. I know if I asked you who is going to win your answer is obviously going to be England! So my question is – who do you think they will be in the final with?
It’s so tough! At the beginning I was saying it would be an England Germany final. Yeah, I think I will stick with that, Germany in the final!
[Since our interview with Rachel, Germany have been knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by Denmark…so perhaps an England v Denmark final ]
I have quite liked watching the Netherlands too, I don’t know how far they will go, but they have been great. I know a few of their players from playing with them at Arsenal, and they are all buzzing about the tournament being at home and the crowds for them have been brilliant. The Dutch are really taking this seriously, so it doesn’t surprise me that the crowds they are attracting are so big and lifting them up a level. I was worried they might feel that home pressure, but they haven’t, they have risen above it.
It’s always a good thing when the host nation stay in the tournament, so let them stay in as far as they can go – maybe just to the semi-finals though!