When Louise Newstead was turned away from an all-boys football competition at the age of 11, she never imagined it would be the catalyst for a long and fulfilling career in the beautiful game. After the Millwall club secretary got in touch after seeing her story in a local newspaper, Louise made 550 appearances for the Lionesses, set up the first girls’ centre of excellence in the UK and spent 25 years developing women’s football in the local community. Picking up 39 caps for England along the way, Louise now works as a Coach Educator at the PFA, using her unique insights to develop the next generation of coaches. We caught up with Louise to find out more.
Hi Louise, how did you get into coaching?
Millwall set up one of the first community trust programmes in the UK encouraging girls to play, and I was asked if I was willing to be a role model for girls in schools. I went along to some sessions and would do a little work with the girls and clinics during the school holidays. Without realising at the time, I was already dipping my toe into coaching. After playing in Helsinki for a couple of seasons, I realised I needed something to fall back on, so I took a sports course at a local college and did my FA Level 2 coaching qualification. I continued with my coaching badges after getting the Girls and Women’s Development Officer role at Millwall, spending time coaching in schools and housing estates. I delivered Level 1 and 2 coaching qualifications to a very diverse group of people, including disabled people and young offenders, which helped me develop into a very rounded coach.
What made you want to work for the PFA?
When I was first appointed to my role at Millwall, Jim Hicks, who now heads up the Coaching department at the PFA, was a regional manager in the PFA-funded community programme. He has always been a mentor to me and always inspired me to believe anything was possible, so when the PFA opportunity came about, I thought it would be good to go through the process and was delighted to be offered the role! It has given me the opportunity to focus on becoming a good quality coach educator, and even though it’s been challenging sometimes working within a primarily male environment, it’s been a learning curve I’ve really enjoyed. Jim has been one of the biggest influences on my development as a player, coach and Coach Educator, and I continue to learn working alongside him. I feel like I couldn't be in a better place for my career right now because I'm surrounded by the best, and it's amazing.
Does the lack of role models affect the number of female coaches in the game?
There are a lot more female coaches today and more progressing up and holding licences at the top level, which is fantastic for the game and great for any players who have coaching aspirations. When I first started, there weren’t any coaching role models, but now young players can see female coaches, and if they see them, they will believe they can become them - that’s really important. My generation created a platform for girls to play professionally and coach. We've been breaking through barriers, and those who follow us will continue to do the same until the women's game is where it deserves to be. I see my role in the game as someone who can open up the pathway for female coaches, and I count myself lucky that I’m now in a position to break new ground for female coach educators because I know there aren't that many active at the very top level.
There still aren’t any female coaches in the men’s game. Do you think that will change?
It’s not something I envision will happen here imminently - but I can see it happening in the future. People like Hope Powell and Emma Hayes have done amazing things in the women’s game and also given female players and coaches real credibility, so I think somewhere along the line, we won't be focusing on male and female – they'll just be coaches. I'm sure someone will break through that barrier and become the first female coach in the men's game soon - if that's what they want to do. It won't be easy, and they will have to be really strong-willed, resilient and passionate to work in and around the men’s game because they’ll always have to overcome the fact that they will be seen as a female first, particularly if those they’re coaching haven’t been around top-class female coaches and players before. It can be a very daunting environment standing up in front of a room full of men, and that’s quite an ask for any female coach, but I believe the more women we get in the game, the less of an issue it will become.
What would your advice be to any female players thinking about coaching?
I would say always believe in yourself and know you can do anything. I quit a really good job in the civil service to follow my football dreams, and I was lucky my parents were very supportive and encouraged me to try and achieve what I wanted. I believe you'll always regret things you haven't done, so you should always try your best to fulfil your aspirations and work towards being the best.
If you’re thinking about a post-playing career in football, qualifying as a coach is a great way to stay in the game. All current and former WSL members interested in becoming UEFA B coaches can sign up for one of our exclusive member-only courses. Get in touch with our Coaching team to find out more.