We spoke to United Women’s Assistant Manager Tom Hartley about the highlights of his first season at the club since joining last summer, as well as how the coaching team has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic.
“It’s been a fantastic first season,” Tom said. “I think this year has been full of opportunity and it’s been an interesting learning curve, both on and off the pitch. I look back towards the start of the campaign when I joined the team and I think that everyone has been on a really positive journey, whether that’s the players and the opportunities and growth in potential which they’ve had or the coaching team.
“I think this season has challenged us as coaches to think about the type of environment and training practice that we deliver, bearing in mind all of the restrictions around Covid. But also, with the huge gaps between matches which we have faced due to the lockdowns, it has been important to understand what is most important when we have played. I think rather than individual coaching sessions, the thing which has really stood out is the value of playing games and designing practices which look like games, so players have plenty of opportunity to picture what we want to see on matchday in practice. That’s something which we will continue into next year.”
Despite the pauses to the season brought about by lockdowns, the U’s managed to play ten competitive games as well as five post-season friendlies, and Tom highlighted his enjoyment of working at the club during this campaign.
“Training and matchdays are the highlight of my week. When I first joined the club, one of the things which Liam [Gilbert] said to me was how it’s not just about recruiting good players, it about recruiting great people too, and you can really see that within the depth of character among the players and coaching team. Everyone wants to work together; there’s a real sense of family. That sort of environment helps to make the tough times easier, because you can work together, but it makes the good times even better.
“The one thing which has really stood out this season from my perspective is the opportunities that there have been for younger players within the first-team squad and those in the development squad to really stake their claim for their place in the first team. We’ve got players like Carly Johns and Georgia Brown, who probably weren’t at the top of the list for the starting eleven every single week at the beginning of the season, but they’ve earned themselves consistent places within the team. That’s something which they should be really proud of.
“Also, that sends out a message to the younger players in the development squad and RTC to say that that if you really work hard and apply yourself there is opportunity to move up and make an impact at the next level.”
Now attention turns towards next season for the U’s, who are aiming high for the next campaign.
“There are so many positive things happening at the football club, both on and off the pitch. I think that what we do have is a really clear pathway for players, as they have real clarity in their roles and what is expected of them. So, I think that’s really exciting; players have clarity in the journey that they can go on. Off the pitch as well, as a group of players and staff, everyone with a huge amount of expertise dedicates a huge amount of time and energy due to our enthusiasm, and I believe that will give us a competitive edge to bring into next season. I just can’t wait to get started again even though it’s only been just over a week since we stopped!”