Here at the Kent FA, we want to celebrate and promote the female volunteer workforce in Kent, and we will be running regular features to showcase incredible women who continue to inspire more females into the beautiful game. Countless women have shattered stereotypes and broken barriers, leaving an indelible mark on the beautiful game.
First, we meet Kirsty Herbert: a former athlete, U10s coach at Aylesford FC and a player for the Vintage Anchorians. Like many parents, Kirsty became involved as a coach when her son's team were at risk of folding, and she refused to let that happen. Let's find out more about her.
Tell us about your journey into coaching grassroots football at Aylesford.
"My son Will started at Aylesford FC soccer school when he was four. When he got to six, the club asked for volunteers from the parents to take a handful of kids and form a team. All the parents took a step backwards, which left me out on my own (as I wasn't quick enough). So, I took the boys, made a team, and took my qualifications. We are now in our 4th season as a team, and I love it."
What or who has inspired you to become a coach?
"The fact that my son and nine other kids wouldn't be able to play league football if no one volunteered to be a coach was my inspiration and drive. Before football, I was an athlete, and when I retired from athletics, I became an England javelin coach, so I had a good idea about coaching and managing children."
What do you find most rewarding about coaching young players?
"I find the rewards are their smiles as they have just achieved the best pass, the best saves or the best finish. My team have just bought into the process that working as a team and trusting each other is paying off as they play some beautiful football, and seeing their abilities and characters grow weekly is the best thing for me as a coach."
What coaching techniques or methods do you believe are essential to building a strong foundation for young football?
"For me, building a strong team starts with team bonding, learning to be kind and supporting each other no matter what. With this, we have built confidence and respect, which will accompany them throughout their football career and life. I have built-in agility and balance drills to aid in the movements on and off the ball, as well as conditioning and speed. I have a varied ability range within my team as a couple of my boys struggle still with what would be deemed basic ball skills, but they are operating at the highest rung of their ability ladder, whereas some are still on their ladder journey. With this, I must be aware of challenging those who can and encouraging those who can't. I'm a strict and direct coach but fair always.
“I try to find ways to support each player. I give them all a voice through weekly feedback opportunities and listen to their suggestions regarding what they enjoy/don't enjoy in training. I also encourage my kids to stretch and teach them muscle groups and the involvement of that muscle in training, why we stretch and the importance of keeping a healthy body. I also encourage standards in the team of wearing clean and presentable kit, always shaking hands with the opposition and referee post-match, and respecting the ref at all times regardless of the decision. These I believe, build a strong foundation at these early stages of their football journey."
You are also a player in the Kent game. Tell us how you got into playing and what you enjoy most.
"I started football late, as I was an athlete from 11 to 30. I retired from athletics and then found that I wanted to play football as I loved football as a kid at school, but where I lived, there were no girls' teams, and teams were very much just for boys. I started at Lordswood Ladies for a few years until the team disbanded. We went to Aylesford FC and joined the ladies' team there. I retired initially from football at 37 to start a family. After 3 years, I got a call from Caz, who I played with at Lordswood and Aylesford and asked if I wanted to be involved in playing for a new team, Medway Reunited. The team was made up of a dozen or so ladies who used to play together through different teams throughout the past 10/20 years. After a couple of years, we wanted to join an established club, so we approached Anchorians FC, who embraced us and welcomed us on board as the new ladies' vets’ team. We've been at Anchorians FC for about 4/5 years now, and what I love about playing for Vintage Anchorians is that training is fun, friendly, and competitive. Even though we are a bunch of older women, we never pull out of a tackle and love winning; we can be bears with sore heads when we lose. You never lose the wanting to be competitive; it's just sometimes the body that lets you down.
Describe Kent football in three words.
"Giving Women Football
"Without the FA, this league wouldn't have found the legs needed to make it work, so with this, it has been a lifesaver in football terms for many, many women."
Sadly, we are seeing increasing negative pitch side behaviour across the whole game from players, spectators, and parents. How are your young players affected by this behaviour?
"I had a really bad pitch side situation when my team were U8s. The opposition coach started swearing so loud that all ten boys on the pitch stopped playing and were subject to words they should not be at seven years old. The manager's attitude and behaviour led me to report him to the Aylesford’s Safeguarding Officer, who corresponded with the opposition committee. The positive result was that the manager was withdrawn from his team, but, unfortunately, he is still at the club and, I believe is still involved with coaching. With this behaviour, the referee, who was under 18, was scared stiff, and my team were subject to witnessing threatening behaviour to myself and my assistant coach. My only concern was to get the boys away from the situation and reassure them that it was nothing they had done wrong and that everything was okay. It was a hair-raising situation which has never been repeated since. My team was okay, but it was an absolute eye-opener for my parents and highlighted the unfortunate negative side of grassroots football."
What can the Kent FA do to encourage and support more women into the game, whether as a player, coaching, volunteering, or taking up the whistle as a referee?
"To be honest, I think Kent FA has done an amazing job in supporting and offering football in all aspects to women. At Anchorians, we get messages from 3/4 people every week wanting to come along and play, which is brilliant. The social media push is great in advertising the women's game. Still, posters, leaflets on club notice boards or through club social media sites/ club websites would help draw more attention to get more women interested in football. It would be great to see more female refs but having seen the awful disrespect from some parents towards young refs, I can understand why young boys and girls would be put off taking their referee qualifications."
You are an active member of the Kent Female Volunteer Forum. What does this support mean to you?
"The forum is great in that we can share stories, answer questions that we may have experienced individually and be able to network with others in other clubs. Also, to have that direct contact with the Kent FA and knowing that support is always there when needed."
It's evident that the grassroots game has been enriched and empowered by remarkable women who are getting involved on the pitch, the side-lines, and the boardrooms. We hope this series of articles reminds us that the beautiful game has no gender, and the power of resilience, teamwork and unwavering belief can propel individuals forward.
On behalf of everyone at Kent FA, thank you for all you do for the beautiful game Kirsty. It is incredible to see more females getting involved in the game in Kent. Women like Kirsty are inspirational.