I am ten years into coaching youth football and this season with Warsash Wasps is probably the hardest yet. This season saw three squads combine into one, players stepping away from football as they move into higher education, part-time work and three players moving into full adult teams. Then there are players that move to other teams and try and get players to move with them, right up to finding out a player has changed their mind and wants to join another team three hours before kick-off on the opening day of the season. All these can seriously impact your squad dynamics and season plans.
What this season has already told me is to never underestimate a squad with a great team ethic and an inviting environment. These girls have come together over the summer through some intensive physical fitness training, the likes some had not seen for a number of seasons, and they kept coming back for more with a smile on their face.
The team themselves have kicked on with quality performances throughout pre-season and are now three months in. Matches against Portsmouth in the Community and Southampton Women in pre-season tested their resolve and helped to identify each other’s strengths for the team.
We currently sit third in the Hampshire Girls Youth League U18 East Division. October and November have basically been turned over to cup competitions with five out of our six fixtures being cup games – Hampshire FA Cup, HGYFL League Cup and Southampton Division Cup.
Even with two league defeats to the two Winchester Flyers teams (Jays and Swallows) this did not stop Wasps getting their revenge against the Swallows side in the HGYFL League Cup. Earning us a tie at home against Poole Town at Warsash’s high-quality pitch at New Road. (If you ever get the chance to play there, I highly recommend it).
I have to say that even with the quality of teams we had already played, Poole Town were definitely the strongest and best that we have played this season.
A 3-2 win against Poole Town saw us progress to the quarter-finals of the Hampshire FA Cup. Then we met against for a rematch in the HGYFL League Cup Quarter-Finals three weeks later. What a return game that was too! We found ourselves 4-1 down at half-time to see the girls dig deep and bring it back to 4-4 with 30 seconds of the game left. Then we went straight to the dreaded penalty shoot-out, which Poole won 5-4. So currently we sit one win each and hopefully we will get to play a decider after the winter break.
Last weekend saw us drop out of the Hampshire FA cup to Winchester Flyers (Jays). That was a game decided by three mistakes but never allowed our heads to drop. We continued to fight for justice during the game.
With only the Southampton Divisional Cup left to play for outside of the league, we will be welcoming Redlynch & Woodfalls to Warsash in a bid to extend our stay in at least one cup (fingers crossed) before returning to league action and the Christmas break.
This season so far has shown me that the more trust you put in your players the more they will not only give you but also give to each other. As much as I wish those that have left us to progress their football within a different environment all the best, I would not change a single player in my squad now because I know they see the bigger picture and will run and fight for each other till that final whistle is blown.
I also realise that despite minimal knowledge of football when I entered into coaching all those years ago, my horizons and knowledge has developed by learning with and from an amazing group of girls. Some of which are still with me, some have progressed to Academy clubs or adult teams at 16 yrs old.
What do I see for the rest of the season? I’m not quite sure but if the first half is anything to go by, it will be an enjoyable ride with an amazing bunch of young ladies and I’m sure that is all as coaches can hope for. Trophies are nice to have, but seeing the influence that you have on their lives as they grow and also realising the influence they have had on ours is a much bigger win than any scoreline.
By Andy Rowlands