In the second of our series of interviews with the club's coaches, we caught up with Stephen Farrell the U14's coach to get his views on the season so far and coaching at Redbacks
Firstly, can you give us a little bit of a background about yourself and how you came to be with us?
I'm married with 2 kids, a 14-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl, Meghan who plays in the Redbacks U18s team. This is my seventh year as a coach. The first five, I coached Meghan's girl's teams at Melville City (now MUMFC) and for the last two years, I've been the assistant coach for Forrestfield United State League reserves team, where I am working with two of the highest calibre coaches in WA, in Mike Hartley and Graham Normanton. I'm currently completing my C license but due to illness last year and Covid this year, that has been delayed a bit.
I have a couple of links to Northern Redbacks. The President, Tony Mullen is a very close family friend, and two years ago, I was coaching MUMFC's U16 girls team. In that season we had three great games against Redbacks who were coached by Ally at that time. We lost all three and Ally has been asking Meghan ever since when she is going to come to the club and this year she decided to join.
When Ally had to withdraw from coaching, I was talking to Tony shortly afterwards and we had a short chat about me coming on board. Whilst I love coaching at Forrestfield, I do miss coaching girls so I talked to the TD at Forrestfield and we worked things out so that I can continue coaching both sides. Tim and I had a chat and the rest is history.
Would you agree that you have probably the most important coaching job in the club? Why?
No, I don't. I actually think that all coaches have an important role to play and none is more important than another. We just have different focuses. I have the youngest group so I'm focusing more on skill development, rather than tactical awareness and I am more interested in the girls' development as players, rather than results so that as they grow older they can hopefully become the nucleus of the club's women's teams of the future, whether it be the NPLW teams, amateurs or metros. Greg and Conrad are working with the club's elite players in the club's flagship teams which attract higher quality players, media and sponsorship (hopefully). They are more focused on results than I am, which is at it should be.
Shane and Michael are working hard with their group to push the NPL teams and provide support, as well as competition for players, plus they provide another pathway for players who either do not want to or do not have the capability of playing at the elite level, which as I learned with Melville, is crucial for the game to develop.
Finally, Carlos and Cam build on the foundations set in the players' early years of playing football, exposing them to more competition and challenges. Without these teams, players can either be lost to the game, through a lack of opportunity or leave the club for that same reason.
As a new coach to the club, how have you found things? Has it been easy to settle in with the squad?
I have really enjoyed coming to and being at Redbacks. The coaching group are very supportive and I have been made to feel very welcome. I am also very lucky to have a great group of supportive parents and the girls are amazing. They all love the game and are extremely talented, plus Ally did a great job of preparing them for this season and so it wasn't difficult to build onto his work and I think a number of the girls' performances have demonstrated the talent that is in this group.
I also have a brilliant manager in Craig Coates, whose organisational skills are way better than mine. He has the team humming and all I need to worry about is planning the training sessions and what I'm looking to achieve out of each game.
COVID obviously had a major impact, and you were drafted in at short notice to take the U14’s. What have been your biggest challenges?
Probably the biggest challenge I faced was getting to know the girls, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what positions they play, what their personalities are like and all in such a short space of time before the games started. I have made mistakes with the girls and had to learn from those mistakes quite quickly. To be fair, they have also had to get to know me, how I coach, what my expectations are and get used to my 'Dad' jokes, which are very entertaining!
Another challenge has been organising my own children and getting them to their games. As luck would have it, when Meghan's team is at home, my team is away and with my son playing for Forrestfield NPL, the three of us can be all over Perth.
Apart from the two recent losses the season so far has been almost flawless. What are your expectations of the girls and how do you feel they have reacted to your coaching?
The two losses have set us back a little bit and I know the girls are very disappointed. For me, whilst I am a competitive person and I do want to win, I am more focused on how the girls have developed. A few people contacted me after we lost to UWA-Nedlands to see how I was and I made the point that I learned more from that loss than I did from all the previous games when we were thrashing teams. Players will always make mistakes and I want the girls to feel the freedom to try things and work on their skills, rather than be scared because they might make a mistake which may cost us a game.
We worked on one of the weaknesses I identified in training this week and that paid dividends in the game last Sunday as we were better in that area. There is still improvement needed but the girls were better than last week, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Whilst I would have preferred to have won last Sunday, seeing that improvement meant more to me.
From my experience, young female footballers are inherently scared to try new things or make mistakes because they don't want to be the cause of their team losing a goal or a game. Girls, compared to boys, generally play sport mainly for social reasons, the interaction with their teammates or the social activities they engage in. If they try something new and make a mistake as a result, they feel they could be ostracised or blamed which threatens their feeling of belonging. If I can remove that fear, the girls will be exposed to more learning opportunities which can only help their development.
At the first training session, I spoke to the girls about my expectations and I really only have two, which is that I expect every player to be committed to the team and put in 100% effort at all times. The girls have exceeded my expectations. After the game last week, I was looking at their faces and every one of them was totally exhausted. I knew that they had left nothing on the field and for that, I am extremely proud of them. The team, I think, have reacted well to me and I hope they are enjoying my coaching. We will soon find out! ;-)