What do coaches and players in the female game think effective coaching is?

What do coaches and players in the female game think effective coaching is?

The FA women’s coach development team worked with St Mary’s University to investigate what coaches and players in the female game think effective coaching is. 

One of the key questions explored was:

"How do players and coaches across different tiers of women’s and girls’ football (from grassroots to Barclays FA WSL) describe their experiences and expectations of effective coaching?"

In this blog, we will share how St Mary’s University engaged with coaches and players in the female game to understand this question. We will also look at one of the headline findings and relate this back to our own coaching practice.

How was the question explored?

The research, led by Dr. Abbe Brady, was conducted between November 2018 and September 2019. There were 24 action research workshops and 63 focus groups which took place. The methods of data collection were focus groups within a workshop event as well as written artifacts (i.e. lists, tables, scenario responses) produced during the workshop.

Who was involved?

Participants were drawn from across five regions and across the women’s pyramid, including Barclays FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, Women’s National League, Regional Talent Clubs/Advanced Coaching Centres, and Grassroots clubs with separate representation from junior, adolescent, and adult groups.

The total number of participants was 276 comprised of 236 players and 40 coaches (21 male, 19 female). Table one shows this in more detail. 

Setting Number of workshops Number of focus groups Number of players Number of coaches
Senior 9 22 (4 coaches, 18 players) 83 12 (9 males, 3 females)
Talent 9 28 (5 coaches, 23 players) 109 17 (4 males, 13 females)
Grassroots 9 13 (3 coaches, 10 players) 44 11 (8 males, 3 females)
Total 24 63 focus groups (12 coaches, 51 players) 236 40 (21 males, 19 females)

Table one - shows a break down of workshops, focus groups, players and coaches. 


There were four headline findings, but in this blog, we will focus on headline finding number two which was: 

Effective coaching in the women’s and girls’ game is characterised by core qualities of transformational leadership.

Finding number two was based on the transformational leadership theory (TFL) which has recently been applied to sports coaching.  

Inspirational role model Supportive relationships and knowing players Supporting player engagement in learning  Positive motivation
The coach is a role model Values relationships and understanding others  Invites and encourages players input Implements a collective vision

Is a lifelong learner

Is open about actively learning and wants to be a better coach 

Shows an interest / genuine care about athlete needs  Emphasises learning process

Expresses enthusiasm, confidence and belief in players' capabilities

Creates an environment of trust, fairness and respect through transparency Provides personalised support and communication  Communicates clearly 'explains why'  Establishing meaningful and challenging tasks and roles
Has integrity and professionalism  Encourages open, two-way communication  Shares decision-making and leadership responsibilities 

Encourages and motivates others to achieve goals  

Is trustworthy and respectful  Recognises others' contributions and roles  Encourages reflection and problem-solving

Establishes a positive environment

Individual characteristics and behaviours supporting effective coaching
Knowledge and experience of the women's and girls' game Interpersonally skilful and supportive Strong leadership and decision making Ambitious and committed team and game
Emotional composure  Approachable and relatable 

Technically and tactically competent

Confident and resilient

“That's why I like coach X. Coach X has been there and played for that, so when I listened because I know she's been there. Coaches that haven't played don't understand about all that type of stuff” (Performance player)
“A coach that respects you and you respect them“ (Grassroots player)
“If you're honest all the time they'll trust you… that's a feeling I've always had from the players. Its transparency isn't it?” (Male performance coach)
“I think you can only get the best out of someone if you've got that positive relationship with them and you understand them and what makes them tick ... I think if you don't have that relationship and you can't talk to them and be honest with them and they can't approach you then you're only going to get so far with them. I don't think you can get the most out of them. Um, so I think it that's pretty key” (Talent coach)
“Because I think it would challenge them and then they'll have to explain why and then that develops your learning, so there's no point me going on the pitch and being like I don't really get why we're doing this if there tell me why we're doing it and it works then I've learned something new, and we've got the result that we wanted hopefully” (Performance player)
“That's why I think the best environment in my career has been where all the coaching staff are on the same page... so like some clubs you can't tell who's a manager but I think that's really, really good but it means that all the staff have got to have all the same respect but I feel that it does boil down to the fact that they all treat other each other the same as well and I thought that was the most effective thing I've been a part of” (Performance player)

Table two - shows some transformational coach behaviours and individual characteristics of a coach.

Transformational coaching in women’s and girls’ football can be understood slightly differently from the original TFL model.

Figure one - shows the transformational coaching model alongside the transformational coaching in women's and girls' football model.

If you are coaching women and girls’ football, it will be helpful to become familiar with what transformational leadership is, and how this looks in action. Table two can help with this and it might be useful as a framework to reflect on your own coaching practice.

Importantly, every player and coaching context is different. Therefore, at times your coaching behaviours may look different from what is described in table two.

Start by being clear on your personal values, and how these transpire in your everyday behaviours, in football and away from football. This will help you to become more aware of your coaching behaviours. 

Below are some questions to consider:

  • Which transformational coaching behaviours do you display most often?
  • Which transformational coaching behaviours would you like to enhance?
  • When are the moments when you decide to be less transformational?
  • What does it feel like to be coached by you?

We would love to know your answers to them. Please comment below.