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Published 31 January 2024 5 min read
Women's U17

'We need to make sure there is diversity so football is a game for all'

Written by:

Carly Williams

England WU17s and Arsenal Women's U21 coach Carly Williams discusses her journey and the importance of the England Elite Coach Programme

My name is Carly Williams and I am the Academy Player Care Lead and Under-21 Coach at Arsenal Women.

This marks my sixth season with Arsenal, where I've previously coached various age groups, ranging from under-10s upwards, and in addition to my day job, this season I am coaching with the Under-21s.

I also serve as a women and girls FA Coach mentor, contributing to the development of fellow coaches, and outside of coaching, I'm actively involved in the diversity and inclusion space, aiming to inspire and share my experiences with coaches from diverse backgrounds.

And this season I am with the England women’s under-17 squad as part of the England Elite Coach Programme.

My journey into football coaching started unexpectedly. I was playing myself and then while participating in a project with the NHS, observing my son's game, a coach said he had one girl in his team and asked me to stand by the pitch for an hour. Little did I know, seven hours later I would still be standing there.

So I kind of got dragged in that way because I was watching other coaches coach my son and they were volunteer dads and I thought I have something to give here.

Carly Williams on duty with England WU17s
Carly Williams on duty with England WU17s

I began coaching my son at the age of five or six and progressed through grassroots boys' teams and elite grassroots football, where those players were getting picked up by professional clubs until they were under-13s, whilst playing a year up.

I then encouraged my son to go and fly his own wings and he was signed to an academy. I did my Level 2 and was encouraged to see what the girls' game had for me. I was sent by the Essex FA to a few different clubs and I decided to become a cover coach for Arsenal and I have been there ever since!

I also got involved with some local projects; for example, Basildon District didn’t have a girls team so I helped develop that and helped with the boys’ side.

I think my mum would say I was kicking a ball from the moment I could walk. I was always playing with boys in the playground and I joined the first-ever Tottenham Hotspur Under-11s team and was captain as I went through their ranks.

I ended up getting some severe injuries so I stopped playing for a while and went to university, where I started playing again.

I felt like I had unfinished business so I went back and played for Tottenham’s first team but then I had my son and it was important that I balanced the two, so I went back to Enfield Town level while he started playing as well.

Coaches on the England Elite Coach Programme for the 2023-24 season
Coaches on the England Elite Coach Programme for the 2023-24 season

So I have always had a love of football and now I want to coach at the highest level possible. The England Elite Coach Programme provides a real opportunity to do that and work with some of the best players in the country.

I am working with the English Schools FA again this season and will be coaching the under-15 girls, and all these different roles with England, Arsenal and the English Schools are helping to open my eyes to the level of girls across the country.

It gives me the chance to observe other coaches and their approaches and how they deliver sessions so that I can add those skills to my own coaching toolkit.

Programmes like the England Elite Coach Programme are really important because growing up, I lacked diverse role models in football. My role model was Ian Wright, and you had the likes of Hope Powell, Alex Scott and Rachel Yankey but as a black woman, they were few and far between and it was a small percentage.

I did some stuff around Black History Month a few months ago and I guess we don't realise it but when we're on programs like this, we are inspiring others. Obviously if you can see it, you can be it so we want to inspire others by taking these opportunities to drive that forward and make sure it is an inclusive environment that should be accessible to all.

Alex Scott is an England and Arsenal legend
Alex Scott is an England and Arsenal legend

The theme for Black History Month last year was Saluting Our Sisters and I think for me, being from East London, Alex Scott was a big inspiration; seeing a player come from a council estate in East London to go on and play for Arsenal, go to the United States and become an England legend, seeing those doors being opened was really important.

Beyond football, you look at figures like Serena and Venus Williams, who exemplify determination and grit, and like I said, Ian Wright was a big role model for me and has been a huge ambassador for not only the men’s but also the women's game.

Programmes like the England Elite Coach Programme really are important. When you look at clubs and organisations, how many females are there? How many people are there of diversity? How are people relating to those from culturally poor backgrounds and things like that?

We need to make sure there is diversity across the board so you can develop those individuals and make sure they can have someone they can relate to and football is a game for all.

More: England Elite Coach Programme