Women Working in Football - Reading Football Club Academy Coach Shelley Strange (Part One)
Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional clubs, the grassroots game and national and community-based football organisations.
In a feature series, Kick It Out has been speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
The feature discusses their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
For June, Kick It Out spoke to Shelley Strange (above, centre), panellist at the organisation’s Women’s Raise Your Game conference, who recently became the first woman to coach in Reading Football Club’s Boys Academy.
In part one, Shelley reflected on efforts juggling four different roles, her ambitions as a coach and her attempt to develop skills away from the pitch.
It would be quite a challenge to find someone in the football industry who works harder than Shelley Strange.
“I’m currently in four positions at the moment,” she explained. “I’m full-time at Reading Football Club in the recruitment department, so I deal with agents and scouts, bringing through future Reading players from Under-5s to Under-23s.
“Alongside that, I run my own coaching business locally in a grassroots club and I also work with an Under-18 Allied County team, which I’ve used a lot for the evidence for my UEFA ‘A’ License that I’m studying for at the moment.”
Shelley continued: “I also work with the Talent ID team on the England Women’s side scouting the Under-15s and upwards, and work in detection in grassroots, looking for any potential women to bring into the environment. So I’m kept quite busy!”
Those roles have given Shelley the vital experience she needed to achieve her long-term goal – becoming a coach in Reading’s Academy – which she’s been working towards for 15 years. As of Saturday 1 July, that dream will finally be realised.
Shelley gave an insight into the range of knowledge she acquired which helped her get to where she is today and why coaching will always be her biggest motivator.
“I’ve taken lots of different directions. I’ve managed a department at the football club so I’ve learned how to do presentations at board level and learned the business side of the game too.
“I also worked in the community so did a lot of grassroots events, I worked part-time for The FA mentoring grassroots coaches for three years and I’ve always been involved in coaching alongside those things – I’ve never given that up. That’s the passion. Developing individuals is the biggest thing for me.”
She added: “I’m really fortunate that I’ve got players in the men and women’s game that I’ve coached since they were 10 years old who now have professional contracts. They’re playing for England and phoning me to tell me how they’re getting on.
“That’s the biggest reward for me – that what you’re doing is actually making a difference, whether they’re male or female.”
Shelley believes her experience working away from Reading has broadened her horizons and strengthened her abilities as a coach.
“One thing I’ve learned is to believe in myself and stay true to my beliefs and values. These vast experiences at grassroots, The FA, and within the boys’ academy environment has allowed me to mould and shape my coaching philosophy.”
Although Shelley’s career is now likely to focus predominantly on her new role at Reading, she remains extremely grateful for her experiences elsewhere, particularly with her grassroots side.
“I’m quite fortunate that I have a really good team that work alongside me and a forward thinking club that has allowed me the freedom to experiment,” she said. “The whole club has adopted my philosophy, which is very different because we don’t play with positions – we play with areas of the pitch, focusing on long-term player development and the basic football principles.
“It’s been going now for the last seven years and it’s really helped me and my development because I’m teaching it to everybody else – coaches and players. But it’s also allowed me to try new things, get things wrong, learn from them and adapt and improve them.”
Shelley also believes The FA’s coaching development model, introduced as part of the launch of the England DNA philosophy in 2014, has played an important role in her progression.
“People don’t always necessarily like change but I do think that in the last five years, especially being involved with The FA, I’ve learned that looking into the psychological and social side of the four corner module is just as important to plan within your sessions as much as the technical and tactical.
“It’s so much more accepted now, not just to be more creative as a player, but to be more creative as a coach. And that’s another reason why I think that the introduction of women coaches in the game will only benefit, because with it will bring a completely different perspective from a completely different lens – and that’s what’s exciting.”