Hope Powell

Hope Powell

The head coach of the Women's National Football team talks about the skills you can learn through football.

Raise Your Game: You had a successful playing career and then moved into the world of coaching, how did you first get involved in football?

Hope Powell: I started out by playing on the streets of London with my brothers. I've always loved sport of any kind but my favourite sport was football. That's how I got involved with it initially. At my secondary school there was a girl that played. She belonged to a club, so I went along and it grew from there.

I remember watching the World Cup in 1978 when I was very young. The fans and the stadiums were amazing. I'd come home from school and the matches would start at about four o'clock. I used to watch it and then I'd go out and play football, and try to emulate some of the things I'd seen on television.

RYG: Why football?

It was just the playing I enjoyed at first, but the longer you're playing the more it becomes a social event. You meet new people and make new friends. I still know some of the people I played with when I was 11-years-old, which is nice.

I enjoyed competing and wanted to be the best. That was also part of it. There were quite a few factors. I loved the game, it was a great way to socialise and I liked playing against girls because it meant competing on a level playing field.

Profile

Name:
Hope Powell, OBE

Born:
8 December 1966

From:
London, England

Game:
Football

Position:
Head Coach

Team:
England

Achievements:

  • First ever full-time coach of England's national women's team
  • First woman to achieve the UEFA Pro License - the highest coaching award available
  • 66 international caps playing for England
  • 35 international goals
  • Coached England to the quarter final of the Women's World Cup, 2007

RYG: How did it feel to become the first full-time coach of the England women's team?

HP: It was a real honour but it was also scary. I'd been coaching since I was 19 so I was comfortable with that, but being asked to manage the national team was a bit daunting. Initially I had to take a few days to see if it was something I really wanted to do.

I always wanted to be involved in football, but to suddenly be plucked from playing and going straight into management was a big leap. You like to think there'll be a steady progression. First of all they invited me to work with the youth squad and then I was asked to manage the senior side. It was a massive honour and a great opportunity so I went for it.

RYG: How do we go about getting more girls to participate in sport?

HP: You need the right facilities and they need to be accessible to the wider community. In order to play some sports there's quite a big cost implication, whereas football is relatively cheap. All you need is a ball and a couple of jumpers to practise.

I think any sport needs to be accessible, affordable and practised within the confines of a safe environment. Parents who have young children want to be able to leave their child somewhere which has good facilities and where they're going to be looked after.

Have we got enough playing fields? Have we got enough tennis courts? The debate always comes up. We have major sporting events such as Wimbledon. We don't have success and suddenly it's spoken about. The momentum gets lost and suddenly it's forgotten. I think we need to be a bit more proactive. Let's not just talk about it, let's make the facilities more accessible to kids and make them want to come along.

RYG: How do we encourage more girls to play football?

HP: We have a fantastic development team of people that run a national programme to raise participation. A lot of work's been done - making it accessible, getting qualified coaches in and establishing new teams and centres. It's about getting girls interested in playing and giving them a place to go and participate. I think more and more girls are playing football in school now. In some schools football is part of the curriculum for girls and played in their afterschool clubs.

To increase participation rates we need successful national teams and a strong domestic league. We have to have a product that is worth selling. What sells newspapers? What are the public interested in seeing on TV? They want to see a good competition. It's the responsibility of everybody that's involved in the game, at whatever level, to make the product good so that we get more media coverage.

RYG: How do we give girls the confidence to try new sports like football?

HP: I think they need to have role models to aspire to. When I played football was somewhat taboo for a girl. Today it's not as much of a problem. Not all girls want to play football but it's not a case of 'Oh my god she plays football, that's a bit odd.' It's a lot more accepted now. I think that's down to the media showing more of our games on television. We now have stars in the game that young girls aspire to be like. Young girls see Kelly Smith on the television and want to go out and play football - just like Michael Owen and Steven Gerard do for the men's game.

Hope Powell and players

RYG: What skills can you acquire by playing football?

HP: I think you can learn lots of skills. Team building is one. You also learn how to solve problems within your team. Sometimes you find yourself playing with players that you don't necessarily like, but you have to put your differences aside for the good of the team. It gives you skills that you may not appreciate at the time.

There are lots of positives to come out of playing all sports, not just football. Team games can offer you different life skills than an individual sport can. Football improves your time management - you have to be places on time and disciplined in terms of training. When I sit back and look at my career, at the things I went through and the steps I had to take, it makes me realise that the skills that I acquired then are still relevant to me today.

RYG: Who are your sporting heroes?

HP: I have so many. Kevin Keegan and Sir Trevor Brooking are big heroes of mine and I've had the pleasure of meeting them both. It's quite surreal to be in contact with people that you've watched on TV. That really makes me laugh. There were lots of footballers that I wanted to emulate in terms of their skill, how they played and what they could do with the ball.

Alan May used to coach me as a kid and now works with me as my senior scout. He was always an inspiring mentor and still is. The person who had the largest influence on my career was Alan May. He taught me about the game and how to conduct myself. When I got this job he was one of the first people that helped me with regards to how you manage people. He's still very influential on my career today. He'll love that (laughs).

Hope Powell

RYG: What's the key to being a good leader?

HP: You need to empower the players. You also need to have self-belief. You need to have confidence. We mustn't take away that it's the player that makes it happen. You can tell them 'This is how we're going to play, this is how we're going to set up.' Once they're on the pitch it's really about them as people and if they can cope with what's in front of them.

I don't think there's any secret remedy. It's about letting the players take ownership of what they're doing. If they believe in it enough they'll make strides forwards to make sure they try to put the best in. A coach should just try to impart some knowledge to guide them and steer them.

You need to be a very good communicator but you also have to involve the players in that. It isn't just a case of 'I'm going to tell you what to do, therefore you should do it.' It's my job, if I think it's in the best interests of the team, to let the players understand why we're doing it. I let them have a voice so it's a two way communication. I try to embrace their thoughts and ideas.

You've got to be a tactician and you've got to understand the game. There's an element of problem solving to it when you're training on a pitch because you can stop play and find solutions. You can't do that in a game. The players have to have ownership of that and they have to have self belief that they can solve the problem. If they haven't got that then there will be a problem.

RYG: Do you rule by the stick or the carrot?

HP: A bit of both. My expectations and demands are very, very high. I guess it is 'This is what we want to achieve and if that means it's by the carrot then great.' It's difficult. Both are needed but there are boundaries. I think part of being a good coach is knowing how to extract the best from different people.

RYG: What makes a great team?

HP: The right balance and the right mixture of players. Good leaders, good communicators and good technicians. You need people that are strategically astute. People need passion, desire and most importantly, a willingness to keep learning.

RYG: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

HP: I've had a few. I think the major one was qualifying for a World Cup and then playing at a World Cup. Managing a team in a World Cup and the whole experience of that was second to none. It was fantastic. The nice thing was that we weren't expected to qualify which makes it even sweeter.

We had a fantastic year building up to it - putting all the preparations in place. Finally we got there and we did okay and we found that we could compete against the best in the world. The attention and the buzz around the team were great. There have been so many highlights and I've been very fortunate.

RYG: And the lowlights?

HP: Getting knocked out in the quarter final. That was a massive come down.

RYG: What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to make it as a sportsperson?

HP: Become knowledgeable in the sport you want to participate in. Think about the sport and what it can offer in its entirety. You shouldn't want to become a professional sportsperson because of the money. There's a lot more to gain from being involved in sport. Work hard to get what you want. If it's your ambition, go for it. You don't have to be the best in the world to make it as an elite athlete. You need to be a grafter and be prepared to sacrifice.


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