Lois Fidler began life at The FA in the Women’s National Player Development Centre and provided full-time scholarships to a number of talented young players including Jill Scott, Sophie Bradley, Karen Carney and current Senior team captain Casey Stoney.
Her role within The FA expanded and she was asked to take charge of the England U15 team while also assisting Mo Marley with the U19s.
Fidler took the U17 reins in time for the inaugural UEFA European Women’s U17 Championship, in 2007. She led the Young Lionesses to the Euro Finals in Switzerland and also masterminded their route through to the semi-final of the 2008 World Cup.
Fidler graduated with a degree in Sports Science, followed by a Masters in Sports Coaching and she obtained her UEFA A Licence in 2005. She was also responsible for setting up Leyton Orient’s Centre of Excellence.
The FCN caught up with Lois to ask her more about her coaching career and her thoughts as to why there aren’t more female coaches in English Football…
Can you give us a little insight into your sporting background? How did your career in football begin?
As far back as I can remember I always loved to play football. Although for my generation, playing organised football with boys or girls wasn’t widespread. There were no girls teams where I lived and the boys teams wouldn?t let me play or train simply because I was a girl. I played my first organised, competitive match at 14. I went on to play top-flight women’s domestic football and was an FA Cup Finalist in 1996 with Wembley Ladies. My former Clubs include: Oxford United, Reading Royals, Wembley, Millwall Lionesses, Fulham, Leyton Orient.
Growing up I don’t remember there being too many female sporting icons, definitely not in football. Sally Gunnell was the stand out British female athlete at the time. I was a big Liverpool fan through the Ian Rush, Jan Molby, John Barnes era to the Spice Boys, Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Fowler etc . I was also a big tennis fan and looked up to Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati who were a similar age to me, and excelling in their sport.
My dad was a cricket coach and he encouraged me at 18 to start thinking about coaching and gaining formal qualifications. I couldn?t get enough of football, I loved football and anything that made me better understand it, spend more time involved in it or that would help me earn a living from it was a no brainer! Becoming a Coach was the obvious next step. It would also be an opportunity to support the message, its ok to be a girl and in football. I completed the FA Preliminary Coaching Award in 1995. Although I had experienced difficulties as a female player accessing playing opportunities it didn’t register that it would be somewhat alien for a female to be on a coaching course. From this my first formal coaching qualification to completing the UEFA Pro Licence in 2014, I have felt proud to represent the women’s game. I have taken so much from every opportunity to grow and develop as a coach and have thrived on the challenge of transferring this knowledge to the players and coaches I have been lucky enough to work with. I knew I wanted to work in sport, although at the time I had no real idea what that meant or what opportunities were available to me. I studied Sport Science at University and went on to complete an MSc in Sport Coaching soon after.
Tell us about your journey of becoming a Pro Licensed Coach. What has your experience been like from your first coaching course up to your latest?
Every course I have been on, I have felt a strong responsibility to represent the women’s game.? The A Licence was the only course I have ever completed with other females. For me, up to A Licence level, I felt I became credible (to my male counterparts) the moment I was able to demonstrate that I could play. Rightly or wrongly, this has always been a turning point in my coach education journey. She can play, she’s ok.
Although I have been fortunate to have always worked full time in football, the support to develop as a coach wasn’t always there. When looking to do my A Licence, I asked my employers at the time, if they would be able to help with the cost. They were unwilling to do this as they couldn’t see how it would benefit the organisation which in hindsight made no sense as I worked as a coach on various football programmes?! Oh well, you find a way when you want to move on and that’s exactly what I did.
A common theme across all courses I have attended has been the distinct lack of any acknowledgment that women & girls play football. This is changing and the new era of youth module courses are much more inclusive, which is so positive and so important!
Coach development is about raising standards across the board. Supporting the next generation of players, whether male or female to reach the highest levels of the game are one of many different focuses. It’s therefore important to acknowledge and celebrate the differences between the men & women?s game and work together to bring about positive change. To do this, we need to explore and unpick where the women’s game is at, as much as we would the men’s. This should in my opinion be reflected somewhere in course content.
You are one of very few women to hold a UEFA Pro licence and the first woman to also hold an Elite Coaches Award. Why do you think there are so few women who reach the top qualifications in coaching in the UK? What can we do to change this?
I think there are 3 important factors contributing to a short fall of females at Level 4 & Level 5; cost availability and confidence:
We all know that the amount of money in the women’s game is significantly less than in the men’s game. The opportunities for male or female coaches to work full time in the women?s game are limited. The earning potential of male or female coaches working at every level of the women’s game is often less than those working at comparable levels in the men’s game. Despite this the costs of coaching courses are high, especially the higher you go. If your earning potential is limited / restricted because of the area of the game you work in, but your knowledge, experience and expertise is just as important then maybe we need to look at fee?s that reflect this. This could potentially make the courses more cost effective and ultimately more achievable for those working in the women’s game.
It’s not always as straight forward as you would imagine to get on the courses at the highest level. There are often limited places for females. If there are more female candidates wanting to take a course than the restricted spaces available then inevitably someone misses out. If I hadn’t been working for the FA at the time, it is unlikely I would have been able to get on the Pro Licence or pay for it. One of my female colleagues was also hoping to be on the Pro Licence with the same cohort. Unfortunately she was unable to do it, as there was only one spot for females and I’d taken priority as I worked with a team in UEFA & FIFA competition. The idea was she would be considered in the next cycle. Looking at the lists of this years pro Licence group I don?t see any females this time around. Another opportunity lost.
Put simply, sometimes us girls don’t always believe in ourselves and question our readiness to take the next step. I believe this is also a big factor. This is where those that have done it, can share, support and mentor those that want to do it. Positive role models are so important and can make such a big difference. The FA’s Mentoring Programme do such an important job and if this can be spread even further, then the impact could be amazing!
You are currently the Technical Director at the Hampshire FA Girls Centre of Excellence; can you tell us about your role and what is involved day to day?
This is a 12 hours a week, part time role. In this time allocation I lead, direct and performance manage a team of coaches and multi disciplinary practitioners delivering a player development programme across 5 age groups – U9, U11, U13, U15, & U17.? The reality is that I contribute well over the 12 hours. There is so much potential for change and I want to share as much of my experience as I can. This time investment is well worth the return. This pretty much summarises my work ethic and motivation. It is in my nature to bring all that I can and then some, driven by making change and raising standards. The danger is I am setting a precedence that?s not sustainable. These types of roles need to be bigger and more concentrated to really make a difference to the talent pathway and support the on going growth of our game.
As the former Head Coach to the England Women?s Under 17s Football team, did you find the lack of resources and attention on the girls compared to the boys frustrating?
I like to think that we delivered a programme to the best of our ability despite any restrictions or limitations. During my time at the FA the women?s programme very much worked from a solutions not excuses mantra. One of the biggest challenges for the U17s was linked to the International calendar. How much contact time and international competitive exposure they got prior to major qualifiers and finals was limited in comparison to other top European nations, and the boys programme. Managing potential across a two-year age band was also challenging. The boys international teams had an established U16 programme providing a great platform for those transitioning to ?hit the ground running? when they stepped up into the U17s UEFA structure. This was not the case for the girls. Part of my legacy was the expansion of the girls programme to include an U16 element. Fortunately this coincided with UEFA introducing U16 Development Tournaments. The players are now competing annually in U16 Nordic and UEFA development tournaments as well as benefiting from a comprehensive expansion of the annual calendar before they even reach U17 level. These are major advances and will no doubt make a big difference.
What advice would you give to young female coaches who want to progress in their coaching career?
Never expect to be handed opportunity. Get your head down and work hard, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Be honest with yourself and push yourself to grow as uncomfortable as it might be. Don’t worry about mistakes and not being ready because in those moments of failure the most learning takes place. Those moments will stay with you forever. I can honestly say that it has been a long and often bumpy journey but it?s worth it, stick with it.
Do you think we will ever see a female manager in the men?s Premier League? If so, what needs to change for that to happen?
Without question, this will happen. I’m not sure anything needs to change it’s just a matter of time before someone is bold enough to take the next step. As exposure continues to grow and reputations build within the wider game, it will happen. Although, It would of course be nice for talented high performing coaches to be retained within the women?s game!