'...it proved quite the challenge but after a few trials and over a year of hard work, we successfully managed to create 3 full sustainable teams of girls playing football that are still running to this day.'
Name, age, where are you based?
Gemma Huskins, aged 21, based in Leeds
Current and past roles
York City Regional Talent Club Coach (2018-present)
Full time job- Wakefield Trinity Foundation workforce development officer (2020)
University of York Women’s Second Team Coach (2018/2019)
Juventus Academy Melbourne Women and Girls Coach (2018)
Juventus Academy Kuwait Women and Girls Co-Ordinator (2017)
Arsenal Soccer Schools Coach (2016/2017)
Camp America Football Specialist Counselor (2016)
UEFA B License
FA Youth Award
Level 2 First Aid in Football
Level 2 Fitness Instructing
Level 1 Introduction to scouting
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I first started coaching when my local girls’ team, that I had grew up playing for, folded and didn’t exist anymore. There are limited girls’ teams in my area anyway and I couldn’t sit back and watch the team I grew up making memories at have no opportunities for girls. My former teammate and best friend Caitlyn and I decided to get our Level 1 badges and set up a mixed age girls’ team, to give the local girls a chance to understand the importance of the club we grew up with.
The path from there took me to coaching in three different countries by the time I was 20 and to learn a lot as a coach and as an individual along the way. My journey across the world exposed me to things I could’ve never imagined and challenges I didn’t know I could face.
Any achievements or experiences you would like to share?
The biggest achievement of my coaching career so far has been the development of the girls programme in Kuwait. When I arrived in 2016, there was no female programme at any of the clubs or soccer schools and I quickly learnt that women in sport was not in the mainstream, especially in schools.
The lack of female sporting role models within schools and in the media, lead to a lot of the girls I met to not have opportunities in sport and have little to no understanding of any females in sport worldwide. After looking at the barriers and logistics of how and where we could host these girls playing football, it proved quite the challenge but after a few trials and over a year of hard work, we successfully managed to create 3 full sustainable teams of girls playing football that are still running to this day. Seeing the girls each week and introducing them to the world of football is something that I will forever feel privileged to do.
What prompted you to move abroad to coach and what advice would you give to any coach, who’s looking to make their first move abroad?
After leaving school I was never interested in the traditional forms of education pathways such as college or sixth form, so I decided on becoming a Sport and Active Lifestyle apprentice. After getting a taste of freedom, I was always curious about what was out there in the world, and my adventurous nature and passion for football development encouraged me to live out those dreams by doing Camp America in Summer 2016.
To anybody who is looking to go abroad, I would say don’t overthink it! You can find your ‘new normal’ and settle into a new routine if you have a positive mindset. One of the biggest things that helped me with the transition of moving abroad was finding a contract that was inclusive of housing, which made the move a lot smoother. However, when I moved to Melbourne I didn’t have the luxury of having pre-organized accommodation and found that Facebook groups such as ‘POMS in Melbourne’ and ‘English people in Aus’ really helped find a like-minded individual to move in with rather than going in blind when I got there.
I would encourage every person considering a move abroad to take the risk because the circumstances on the other side might be the push you need, to develop your coaching and discover your philosophy when it’s challenged in a new environment.
Were there any differences in your experiences in the U.S.A, Kuwait and Australia and what adaptions did you have to make in terms of your coaching and delivery?
All three countries were very different. The culture, the players, the families and the facilities were all so unimaginably varied. The USA culture had the strongest support for women’s football and girl’s development and high-quality facilities. The parents were very positive and supportive and the women’s football team is very advanced and respected so it’s no surprise that they already had a widespread participation within football.
Kuwait is a very reserved, strict Muslim country with clothing restrictions and rules in place that make it challenging as a young British female to live a ‘normal’ life. As a coach I experienced safeguarding issues and players opening up to me about things I had never been exposed to before, for example, a young female player approached me in tears after the session to say that her dad wanted her to wear a hijab and she didn’t want to.
The religious and cultural issues and language barrier meant that I had to develop my understanding of my players by using my down time, to research the culture and Arabic language to help support the players the best I could. The weather conditions in Kuwait were extreme with temperatures reaching up to 60 degrees on some day,s so managing water breaks and work rates was vital.
In Australia, the national team Matildas is a very popular team followed by both male and females and although there weren’t many female teams where I lived, the sense of pride when talking about the Matildas was great to see. I found the Australian children very similar to the American children in a coaching sense and loved my time with the girls there! The facilities in Melbourne were very similar to those of English grassroots.
Out of all three countries the biggest adaptation I had to make was my delivery and speech. As a girl from Yorkshire, I found it extremely difficult to translate some words in Arabic to my U6 tots or using language that my open age ladies in Melbourne would understand.
What challenges have you faced whilst working abroad and was you met with any barriers as a female coach in other countries?
As mentioned previously, my experience in Kuwait was overwhelming at first but soon settled into the cultural rules and had a great time over the two years. As a female in football however I did face some resistance from parents of male players especially. I experienced people refusing to shake my hand, ignoring me, asking to speak to a male coach as they didn’t want to speak to me but over time, it became more manageable the more I understood their culture.
Unfortunately, during my time in Melbourne I experienced the hardest part of my coaching career so far by not being accepted by the all-male coaching staff. Over the period I was there, they would host all meetings in Italian and purposefully hand out staff uniform and leave mine out so I wouldn’t receive any. In a staff meeting with over 15 male coaches the director said that I would never make it in football, and I do not have any opinion about football and asked me to leave. This is something that has affected me to this day in my coaching but serves as a reminder that how you respond to criticism is the true reflection of your character.
I truly believe that all these barriers I have faced have lead me to become the confident coach I am today and the girls I have seen develop and have an opportunity in football are worth every barrier I have had to break down.
Have there been any experiences you’ve been able to take away from your time abroad and apply to your roles back in the U.K, and has there been any experiences you wouldn’t have had staying in the U.K?
Coaching abroad has been the best decision I have ever made as a coach and has matured, developed and challenged me in ways that I couldn’t have if I would’ve stayed in England. I have coached with and observed coaches from all around the world and been fortunate enough to coach 300+ children, both female and male, tots and adults and for that I am grateful.
The most valuable thing I have learnt from all my experiences, has been the knowledge I have of different cultures and backgrounds and the awareness of different religions. I have found that having these skills has helped me find a common ground with a lot of different people I come across in football and in return, helps my communication with players and parents.
How does it feel to coach females as a female coach and are there any differences, between coaching females as a female coach as opposed to a coaching males as a female coach?
I personally think that it can go two ways. Either the girls are excited that they’re being coached by a female and use it as an inspirational tool to progress with their football, or they take advantage of the fact you’re a girl and try and push the barrier. As a recent example, when I was coaching the University of York Women’s team I found that they were a lot more relaxed around me in comparison to the male coach on the other team, and it meant that the team environment created was different.
On the other end of the spectrum, coaching males I have found that the experience is very positive. My main observations have been that from a safeguarding and psychological point of view, the boys seem to be more open with me and more relaxed about their emotions and feelings. In Kuwait, it is a very family orientated environment and the children are often looked after by nanny’s, which means that they have two strong female presences in their life and I think that contributes to the males feeling comfortable with female coaches.
I think it will be interesting to see more females in male academy environments within England and around the world in the upcoming years, and see if there is a link between opening up about thoughts and safeguarding issues and female coaches.
What’s been best for your development so far and what challenges have you had to overcome?
I think the hardest part of being abroad was keeping on top of courses and qualifications back home. From my experiences, the mentality of the FA towards coaches working abroad is quite negative and some FA’s have denied me access to courses due to my experiences being abroad rather than in England. I feel like this is an age-old debate, but I hope that in the future there is more access for international coaches to up-skill whilst abroad.
Overall, I think that being exposed to all the different experiences and working with varied players has helped me developed a strong philosophy that I believe in. It's given me the opportunity to explore different coaching methods and behaviors and discover what works best for me. Having multiple hours coaching each day as opposed to 2-3 hours a week in England, has given me more time on the pitch to try out all my ideas.
What’s next for you, any thoughts on the future?
I am always looking for the right opportunity abroad, I am still in love with the idea of discovering even more countries and learning about their football style and philosophy. My main passion is female development and would love a role working with clubs setting up female programmes and challenging female engagement.
For now I am attending as many webinars and listening to as many podcasts as possible to up-skill myself and also recently taken on a British Sign Language Level 3, to make myself progressively as inclusive as possible to provide football for as many players as possible.
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