Not sure of your next move? Struggling to find a team that fits? Have a look at my point of view on making a new start in the grassroots game!
It’s that time of year again: pre-season. It’s the perfect opportunity to get fit get to know new teammates and look ahead to what the coming season has in store. However, for the fourth year running, I miss out on all that. My pre-season will instead be spent trying to find a team with the right fit. A bit of context at this point; I havenn’t always been serial mover and shaker in grassroots women’s football! I was at Wycombe Wanderers Ladies FC from the age of 14 until I was 19 and left for university, and even then, I would still return intermittently when they were struggling for numbers. However, for the last few years, things have been up in the air.
I’m sure a lot of players may have faced the same issue as me if they have decided to leave home to go to college or university; rebuilding your confidence within the university football setup and potentially joining a local team on the side is a pretty daunting prospect, especially if you have been with the same team since youth football. For me, I had to contend with not only this scenario in my first year at the University of Bath, but as part of my degree I had to spend a year abroad, which meant finding two more suitable teams to play for in both Spain and Russia!
Now, as I am writing this, I am in this predicament again, searching for a team for the coming season. In September, I will be moving back homewards, which means joining yet another team, and one which I probably played against when I was 16. Having had my fair share of team trials, open training, and newbie nerves, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to give advice to any of you struggling to find a new club or team to join this season.
Here’s my 4-step guide to finding a new beginning this season!
1. Do your research
Arguably the most important step before you even consider going for an open training session or a trial is to do your research. Firstly, try and find some general information about the team as well as where it fits into the larger picture within the club and league. Is it a standalone team? Is it linked to a men’s side? How involved is the club with the women’s setup? These might seem like relatively unimportant questions, but unfortunately a lot of women’s teams do struggle financially, and clubs can be quick to cut them loose when things get tough. If the club seems supportive of the women’s team e.g., they feature them on their website and social media, they use the same ground or training facilities, and there’s a ‘one club’ mentality, that can be a good sign. Of course, appearances on social media can be deceptive, so don’t base your decision purely on whether the team play at a nice stadium or get shout-outs on Insta.
It’s not just the club and the team itself that you should look at though. Having a look at the league is also a good shout. Have a glance at where the prospective team has placed in the last few seasons, whether they’ve had to drop any games due to insufficient player numbers and also have a look at teams which you’ll be playing against. I normally look for a team which isn’t comfortably winning every game, but similarly isn’t losing convincingly week in week out. You can easily find the information on the league website or on FA Full Time.
2. Choose the right level for you
Leading on nicely from the issue of different leagues, choosing the right level that you want to be playing at is also key. Having played at all sorts of levels, I have a pretty good idea of where I’m comfortable, what level I need to be at to push myself, and what’s probably a no-go area at the moment. Over the past year, I played in the Segunda Division Catalana in Spain, the FA Women’s National League South West, the Southern Region Women’s Football League and with a Russian beach football team that boasts about 80% of the national representative side. I can freely admit that I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I would say that the benefits and drawbacks probably presented themselves in equal measure. For example, in the FA WNL, I definitely improved technically, but often found myself on the bench for long periods during matches. In Russia, apart from the language barrier, I was training with high-performance players who played like a well-oiled machine and knew each others moves inside-out, often leaving me feeling lost, but at the same time, the baptism of fire has really encouraged me to improve and aim for that same level as them in the future.
Learning from my past experiences, this season I’ve decided to head for the Southern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division. It’s a league that I know well, and boasts some great teams. AFC Bournemouth, Oxford City, Abingdon United and my old club Wycombe are some of the teams that will be going toe-to-toe this year. It’s a challenging league, with some stand out players, so I’m excited for the season.
This Sunday I tried out at a club in this league, but I will write about how that went in another post.
3. Think about travel
When you’re not a professional, finding a team that’s close and convenient is a really important factor. Especially for those of us who juggle full-time work with football training, the idea of a long drive or journey after the 9 till 5 grind is not an attractive one. If you’re having to drive a long way or get public transport to training and matches, it might have a knock-on effect on your ability to give it your all in training, and subsequently how you perform in matches.
In my experience, choosing a closer club is the best option. Although you might be tempted to go further afield for a more prestigious club or for a higher league, sometimes the best thing to do is to stay close to home and then work from there. If you think you can manage the travel, then go for it, but it’s better to start close and then move further afield, then to start at a club that’s miles away and burn yourself out for a season.
Another travel related tip to take note of! If you’re joining a regional league where away matches are likely to be a bit of a trek, it’s definitely worth asking about whether they take a team bus or lift share. I’ve played for a lot of teams where they didn’t really consider this, and it meant that there were 11 players all driving to fixtures in 11 different cars. Travelling together not only makes sense (money-wise and for the environment!) but it’s also a nice way to build team relationships if you’re a newbie.
4. Make sure you enjoy it!
You’re probably thinking that this is a bit of an obvious point to make, but I can’t stress it enough! At grassroots level, enjoying your football is the most important thing. Of course, you might enjoy football in challenging environments, or like a relaxed lower level club better, but wherever you end up, make sure that you are happy.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been to train with a few different clubs, and for me, it’s just as much about the attitude of the coaches and players, and how you’re welcomed into the team, as it is about the football itself. 15 years of football has taught me that I play best when I have supportive teammates and coaching staff backing me up. When you go and try out for teams, get a feel for the atmosphere and encouragement from other players, as in my experience, you’re more likely to be happy when you’re supported.
Sometimes, even if you’ve been with a club for years and loved it, you might really not enjoy the next season. That’s completely natural! Teams change as new players come in and old ones leave. Don’t be scared to make a change just because that club is all you know. That change might kick-start something amazing!
So, if you’re looking for a new beginning, don’t be afraid to go for it! Have a think about what’s best for you and go and take some teams for a spin. When you find a team where you feel happy and can’t wait to play with, you’ve hit the jackpot! If you’re a player who’s been on the move like I have, or who has just swapped teams, feel free to add any more advice in the comments or tweet me @LishaPovs!