9 February 2020
Coach Katie Grainger talks tactics as a group of youngsters listen intently
People often say you should never work at a football club you support - that it’s great when things are going well, but when it’s bad, you can be mercilessly chewed up and spat out.
So when the opportunity came to work for the club she has followed since childhood, Katie Grainger could have thought twice about working for West Bromwich Albion.
Not a chance!
A die-hard fan of the promotion-chasing Baggies, Katie is in her element working as a Foundation coach and WBA Women's Development Head Coach.
"West Brom is my club, and to be able to work here is just fantastic," she says. "I come from a Wombourne, a village in the West Midlands and I played for West Brom from the age of eight. I'm a proud Baggie!"
So just how did Katie, who holds her UEFA B coaching license, end up in her current role?
"I did start out as a player," she explains, "My older brother Ricky encouraged me from a very young age and for a couple of seasons I was the only girl playing in a team with boys at grassroots level.
"An opportunity arose later on to play for West Brom's Centre of Excellence, which is now called a Regional Talent Centre, but I hit a bit of a crossroads. I realised that I probably wasn’t going to make it as a professional player, so I decided to take a different route in football. I did a sports diploma at Stourbridge College and was offered an apprenticeship as a community coach at Walsall Football Club."
It may not have been her beloved West Brom, but the chance to get her foot in the door and work at a professional club was too good an opportunity to turn down.
"That was the beginning of my pathway, I suppose," says Katie, "On completion of my apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time job at Walsall as Female Football Development Officer, a role I stayed in for two years.
"It was at a time when the Football Development Programme came under the jurisdiction of the EFL, and I was one of the first women to do the programme at Walsall, which I helped develop."
Katie's qualities did not go unnoticed, and she made the short move from Walsall to West Brom soon after that, where she took up a new role at the Albion Foundation as a community coach, also coaching within the RTC on a part-time basis too.
"The opportunities and experiences that have come my way have been unbelievable," she explains. "I’ve got to coach in Iceland, Ireland, Sweden and Canada, to name but a few places abroad. Some overseas clubs paid for us to go and share our coaching expertise and it was equally a great insight to see how other clubs and organisations operate."
During her time at The Albion Foundation, Katie has been promoted from Community Coach to Extra Curricular Coordinator within schools. She has also moved from coaching the RTC U10s all the way to her current role as Ladies Development Head Coach.
"Six years ago I had to make a decision, 'Did I want to really push for a career as a coach or not?'. I knew that I did, that I wasn’t going to make it as a player – so in 2014, I took my Level 1 badge as one of the only women on the course.
"I was still at Walsall when I then applied to do the first-ever all-female UEFA B course at Worcester University, which I did with a cohort of women. Marieanne Spacey and Julie Chipchase were the tutors, and there was a really good mix of female coaches from lots of different clubs.
"There were some great players too, and trying to play against the likes of Fara Williams and Jo Potter, who were also on the course, was interesting to say the least!
"It was great to be in that environment, though, with everyone really supportive of each other as we were all driving towards the same goal – to get our UEFA B badge."
The value of a good, solid supporting network is not lost on Katie, who has been a regular at Women in Football events and on Leadership Courses.
"I think I've done all the courses now, a clean sweep!" she says. "They have been hugely beneficial to me and really helped my development. One thing that I have always slightly struggled with is speaking at end-of-season reviews. Talking to a room with 200 people in it, well, my voice got a bit shaky and I couldn't get the words out.
"But Monique Choudhury did a presentation at one of the Leadership Courses, with some valuable tools on how to approach situations like this and it has really worked.
"Also, the opportunity to join other Women in Football members at a special training day with Emma Hayes at Chelsea was a brilliant experience. It really opened my eyes. One of the girls there said, ‘We need an Emma Hayes in every club’ and Emma said, 'You are and can be that person'. She's absolutely right. If we all add the attitude and confidence, if we stand up together and push on, who knows what can happen?"
The next immediate target for Katie is getting her UEFA A badge, and although still waiting to get a place on a course, she is continuing to impress, progress and develop in her role as coach for both the Foundation and women's team.
"I virtually live in my Albion tracksuit but it’s something I am proud to do!" adds Katie. "A lot of people also automatically think I play for the team, and I still get the odd raised eyebrow when I tell them that I actually coach."
And quite recently her parents were visiting a local cricket club when a chance conversation between Katie's dad and a male coach of an U8 boys team led to another barrier being broken.
"Basically, the coach was asking my dad how I was getting on, and said it would be really interesting to see how the boys reacted to me," she explains.
"So I took a session, with their parents on the side. I thought this might have been a challenge when I first arrived, as they were all in Wolves kits!
"Afterwards, the parents were telling me that their sons didn't usually listen to their coach the way they paid attention to me. I was pleased with how the session went and it’s great to hear they are continuing to improve and would welcome me back!”
Nevertheless, whether she is coaching U8s or adults, Katie is clearly making her mark and wants to carry on pushing herself - and for other girls and women too.
"I want to see girls playing football, the women and juniors driving forward as much as possible, and I plan to keep playing my part in that," she says.
"I don't want there to be a ceiling on girls playing football or coaching, or doing whatever they want to do within the game. If everyone is pushing in the right direction we can push the barriers even further."
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