Doncaster Belles: Emma Coates interview - “I’ve worked hard for this opportunity”

Emma Coates
Emma Coates
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She probably won’t mind me saying it. At least I hope that’s the case.

But Emma Coates, who has stepped up from her position as assistant coach to become the new manager of Doncaster Rovers Belles, comes across as much older and wiser than her years.

Taking charge of a top flight club at the tender age of 25 is a quite extraordinary achievement. But very quickly after meeting her, you realise she is no ordinary twenty-something.

Coates, one of only three female managers in FAWSL1, now shines like a beacon for the Belles’ Female Mentoring Scheme, launched earlier this year to turn more women into top level coaches and managers.

But her appointment is not down to circumstance. She is keen to point out that she’s worked damn hard to get where she is now.

“I was quite focused from a young age,” said York-born Coates, who has a UEFA B Licence and has worked at Leeds United.

“I got into coaching when I was only 12 or 13 so I probably started before a lot of people. I was doing formal qualifications when I was 16, and even when I was playing I was constantly coaching.

“My dad worked with professional clubs so I was going to work with him, and then I got to know Julie Chipchase [Belles’ director of football] and she took me under her wing.

“I probably do sound young but in terms of football experience I’ve got a big range of experiences.”

Coates came through Leeds United’s centre of excellence but as she remained on the fringes of the first team, coaching became a more serious career option. A serious knee injury which kept her out for 18 months then pretty much made up her mind.

“I just wasn’t good enough to play,” she admitted.

“I was never good enough to play at this level so the next best thing was coaching. I made the decision from a young age that playing was secondary to coaching.

“I thought I’ll carry on playing so I can learn the game from a player’s perspective but even when I was playing it was always to aid my coaching rather than the other way round.”

She added: “I was on the periphery of the first team at Leeds United and then I did my knee. I was out for about 18 months and it was then that I realised I wasn’t in love with playing as much as I thought and I started to take the coaching much more seriously. I was about 18 then.

“I’ve always wanted to work in football and I thought I’d always want to go down the coaching and education route. I got involved here a couple of years ago and as soon as I got a taste of the elite professional side of the game I was hooked.

“As much as I enjoyed the youth development work, this is just a feeling like no other working at this level.

“I’m very open-minded,” she said of her coaching style. “I think I connect very well with the players. I’ve been at the club a long time and formed relationships with the players. I’d like to believe that they trust me and that they can come and discuss things openly with me.”

Coates joins Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and Reading’s Kelly Chambers as the female bosses currently working in FAWSL1. But is the landscape changing?

“I look back to the opportunities for female coaches when I was playing and there weren’t as many,” she said.

“Two female managers won both FAWSL1 and FAWSL2 last season. Hopefully that’ll inspire more coaches and clubs. But at the same time I don’t think we can rush the development of female coaches.

“I appreciate I’m young but people overlook the things that I’ve done and how hard I’ve worked to get into the position that I’m in. Other female coaches have to work hard but they have to gain that experience and someone has to provide that for them.”