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Newcastle United’s First Female Academy Coach, Natalie Henderson

Natalie Henderson, 23 from Newcastle delivers coaching in schools for Newcastle United Foundation and is also the first female coach on the Newcastle United Academy staff, where she is Assistant Coach for the under 10’s. 

Through a partnership between Newcastle United Foundation and Tyne Metropolitan College Natalie also coaches at the Women’s Football Academy at the college. 

We chatted to Natalie about her role, what inspired her to get involved with coaching and her aspirations for the future. 

Natalie, how did you first become interested in coaching?

“I’ve always loved football, my father has always been a big influence and I think from the moment I could walk he made me kick a ball.  When I was 16 I did my level one coaching certificate and it’s something that I really enjoyed. I originally wanted to be a PE teacher but once I started coaching everything fell into place – I started doing it more and more.  And I knew that’s what I wanted to do full time for the rest of my life. 

“From the age of 7, I was involved in the Newcastle Centre of Excellence as a player and the likes of Neil Winskill [Former Newcastle United Foundation Football Development Manager and current Newcastle United Youth Development Coach] was involved so I’ve always had a lot of support from that side.  Neil helped me at the centre of excellence as a player and then with the Foundation supported my move into coaching.  They also helped me get through my level one coaching badge and afterwards Neil employed me as a part time community coach where I started delivering some of the girls programmes. A big part of that was encouraging girls to participate in the first place.”

Having worked with the Foundation, how important do you think the work they do in the Community is?

“It’s vital, so important. I think a lot of kids now are so wrapped up in their XBox and Playstation that they’re not out playing, getting exercise or learning valuable life skills. The work the Foundation does out in the community coaching football and delivering sessions lets the coaches be positive role models.  The kids looks up to them and I believe that’s important in creating good players.  Another thing that I think is really valuable is the work the Foundation does with a range of different groups – disability, schools, college sessions and team training. For me as a coach, when I look back over the last year my experience coaching different groups is much greater. Three years ago I wouldn’t have had the experience of working with disabled group or a child with behavioural issues so the work the Foundation does makes a positive impact in their lives but is also valuable experience for a coach.”

Have you faced any particular challenges?

“I still played while I was coaching and it’s only been a few months since I stopped playing because of my increased roles.  I think the real challenge was still playing and coaching at the same time because I am trying to learn as much as I can as a coach but then I needed to separate myself from coaching to enjoy playing.  It was a difficult balance. My playing time was my time to let my hair down, away from coaching.  There were times where people I was playing with would ask my advice as a coach and actually that wasn’t my time to coach, it was my time to get away and play. I think that was difficult – there was pressure being known as a coach and a player.  As a player I’d come up against a player I had coached and that was difficult.

When I first got the job at Newcastle Academy I did get some funny looks off the kids and parents because they weren’t used to having a woman around but I think now everyone is used to it – it just becomes normality.”

How does a usual week look like?

“I very rarely get a night off or do nothing. Before I stopped playing football I was working on Wednesday nights with the Academy, training myself with Durham women on a Tuesday and Thursday night, coaching Friday night for the Foundation and at Tyne Met on a Monday night – so every night was full! Saturday night was my only free night but as I played on a Sunday that was used for preparation so I couldn’t go out or eat junk food. That does become difficult when your friends are out socialising and you’re constantly working but I believe that if you want to go far in your career then that’s what you have to do to go far.”

Have you set yourself any career goals?

“I always say I don’t have a target or a goal because I think if I achieved my goal then I would be comfortable and I don’t want that. I want to keep developing and see what comes up. I never imagined that I would be involved in a Premier League Academy and now I am. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and see what happens.”

What qualities do you think someone needs to be a good coach?

“I think it’s important to have a strong personality and I definitely feel that I have a strong character. I’m a big believer in that you should want to be the best and work as hard as you can.  I believe that my talent is coaching and I don’t want to waste that. I want to be the best I can be. I want to work hard and do everything I can to be the best possible coach I can be.  That’s what keeps me going – I have quite a lot of will power and I want be the best, do the best and live the best way I can.

“As a big believer in making the most of your talent, I try to pass that on to my players.  If you have a talent, you have to do everything you can to be better at it and I think that’s what keeps me and my players going. My father has been a big influence – he is always pushing me and making sure I’m on the right track and doing what I should be to keep getting better.”

What advice would you give to aspiring coaches?

“Love to learn. I don’t know what it is that has made me love learning because at High School I didn’t and in college I wasn’t that interested in traditional subjects.  But since working at the Foundation, and working under Neil Winskill, my attitude towards learning changed.  He taught me so much and I love to learn off him. I love to sit and pick his brains.  As a coach that’s what you’ve got to keep doing – keep on learning. You need to do everything you can to be better. You can’t sit there and say ‘I want to be a coach’ and then do nothing about it to keep progressing – watch games, get on the internet and research things, talk to coaches, watch top coaches and see how they do things and interact with players. If there was someone who said they want to coach they need to want to learn and never want to stop learning.”

Do you have a stand out moment in your career so far?

“That’s a tough question. The biggest thing for me, and the driving force behind be being a coach, is when a player can’t do something and you speak to them, coach them and show them how to do it and then the player progresses to be able to do it. It’s the best feeling and it’s priceless. It doesn’t cost me anything to give information to someone who can’t do something and by taking the time to work with them they’re over the moon because they’ve learnt something new.  I want to be a good person and I want to help people and if I can do that through football then that’s great.  Now I’m working with the Academy, if I can help someone in the smallest way achieve their dream of playing at St. James’ Park I’ll be happy.”    

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