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Coaches Corner: Pam Chandler

Pam Chandler talks disability football, struggles growing up and life as a Coach Mentor

In the first of a new series we are putting the focus on the fantastic coaches in our county, talking through their journey and inspire the upcoming generation. First up we spoke to FA Coach Mentor and coach of our Disability Representative Squad, Pam Chandler. 

Pam, who is a UEFA B License coach, has quite the story to tell. From representing Team GB in Taekwondo, to coaching at the likes of Chelsea Ladies Centre of Excellence, Crystal Palace, Lewes and Worthing Town. 

There was only one place to start, Taekwondo. Pam’s pathway into martial arts allowed her to see the world whilst competing at the highest level and has always been close to her heart. 

“My dad died when I was eight and we as a family had always done martial arts, karate, judo and taekwondo then my mum got ill, and I ended up in foster care, so it was difficult to do all that. But I managed to stay with taekwondo, and it felt like a connection to my dad.”

As Pam’s taekwondo skills developed she was presented with a difficult decision, “I had to decide which sport I was going to go forward with, taekwondo or football, obviously at a high level for either they expect a lot of you and at the time taekwondo had more legs in it, so to speak, more funding, more coaching and it seemed to me the better option. 

“I chose taekwondo and stuck with it all the way until I got injured at 23 but doing that, I managed to travel the world representing Team GB, meeting lots of different people, it was an amazing opportunity.”

Pam Chandler Taekwondo
Pam says Taekwondo "felt like a connection to my dad"

Pam experienced many struggles growing up, but the one thing that strikes you when talking to her, is that she was never going to let them get in her way. 

Taekwondo was a way for her to be involved in a sport at a high level, something that, at the time, was difficult for women and girls in football. Football, however, was never going to be something she gave up on lightly. 

“I was always the kid that was massively into sport. I did swimming, hockey, football and also martial arts. I started being noticed a bit more with football originally. The highest level I played was with Arsenal’s Centre of Excellence (Now Girls Youth Academy RTC), I was enjoying it and I was still able to do Taekwondo.

“It was difficult growing up I had to play football in my brother’s team who let me train, but I couldn’t play. I was eight or nine when I started doing that and there was no girls’ team at school.

“So, when I got the opportunity to play in a girls’ team which was Charlton at the time, it was a nice experience because I hadn’t done it before. To compare that to what it’s like now, it’s not even comparable.

“I always tell women and girls now just how lucky they are, there’s still a long way to go of course, but it’s come a long way.

“But from my experience I was always singled out and I was called names because I was wanting to play football and certain assumptions being made so it was a difficult time.”

We’re beginning to see an endless list of great role models in the women’s game today, but when Pam was growing up, this was harder to come by; she does, however, recall her early influences.

“I had to do a lot of travelling to play for a girls’ team, not like now where there’s lots and lots of grassroots girls teams.

“I was fortunate enough in this time to meet Marieanne Spacey while she was still playing and kept following her career into coaching, so she was a big influence early on in my life.

“Family and friends have always been important to me on my journey, as well as coach developers including Pete Augustin (now a Surrey FA Coach Developer) and also Steve Smithies who is The FA’s National Coach Development Lead for diversity and inclusion, they have been massive supporters of mine.

“Then there’s been people like Matt Major (Sussex County FA Chairman) and Clare Nichols (Former Development Officer at Sussex County FA), they’ve always been there to support me.”

Pam Chandler Coach Mentor
Pam now works as an FA Coach Mentor

No doubt for Pam that sport was a very early passion and something she thrived at; they were, however, very different times and football wasn’t as easy for a female to be accepted in. 

“[The passion for] women and girls football girls came from the struggles I had when I was younger, and it has always stuck in my head that it wasn’t always the best experience for me. 

“From being told I can train with boys but not play competitively and trying to setup a girls’ team at school but the answer always being no, it’s always been in the back of my mind. 

“We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I had to at times.”

Pam says she had “always hoped” sport would be her profession and tells us that even a considered route into teaching would have been Physical Education! 

Into her early twenties and still competing in taekwondo, she achieved a Sports Science degree and picked up Level 1 qualifications in football, basketball, hockey and cricket. Although she does comment: “I wouldn’t come to any of my cricket sessions to be honest!”

There was only going to be one pathway for Pam from here and her first coaching role within football was where she really found here niche and went on to achieve her FA Level 2 qualification. 

“My first role within football coaching was with Albion in the Community (AITC) where I was coaching their soccer schools and stuff like that. 

“I then got involved with disability football with AITC alongside Teresa Sanders and Nikki Richardson who asked to see if I would give it a go.

“It was disability then that I kind of went with but when I left University, I did some grassroots stuff with Whitehawk and Worthing Town where I coached the likes of Harrison Reed who now plays for Fulham and also Toby Bull, a youth goalkeeper at Brighton.”

As well as the obvious passion for women and girls’ football, it was at this point that disability football became close to her heart. She does however relay that her biggest desire in coaching is simply helping and developing people. 

“Whether it’s players or coaches that’s where my passion lies. It’s about making people the best versions of themselves and that really is it. 

“In football in particular I’ve seen people try and help someone and make them their best versions of themselves but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about what they’re good at and what do they enjoy and how we can help them.”

Disability football really took off for Pam from a coaching perspective and insists she is still educating herself even now and doesn’t underestimate the challenges. 

“I’ve been involved with disability football for around fifteen years and I’m still learning, but the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to just be open and speak to the players, and the parents, because no one knows their disability and experiences better than them. 

“You’re constantly adapting and it’s not as simple as just reading a book or going on a course, you’ve just got to keep listening especially as there are a lot of hidden disabilities and people that from the outside, look perfectly well, but they’re not. 

“These are people that have experienced discrimination which creates enormous anxiety, so you also have to manage that as well as the disability. 

“Most of the Sussex County FA Disability Representative Squad for example, will have tried to play mainstream, like a pub side or something like that, but it’s whether they can cope with that long term. 

“You’re never an expert, there’s always room to learn more and adapt more and I’m always trying to communicate with the players and the coaching staff.”

As part of her work in disability football, she has coached notable names such as Martin Sinclair, Josh Beecham, Billy Thompson, Sam Whatley and Richard Fox who have represented England and/or GB Cerebral Palsy team.

Pam Chandler Coaching disability representative squad
I’m still learning, but the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to just be open"

Pam has come a long way since the days of schools not having a girls’ team, and thankfully football is doing the same. She is also very humble about her own impact on young players but is happy with the direction football is going in. 

“I’m hoping things will change and I think it is changing. I mean in terms of the young girls I’ve coached I think just seeing a female coach is a big thing. I never saw that when I was younger!

“I don’t remember ever seeing one, and I certainly never saw a female referee, so for young girls to see more females involved in the game now, they will look at it and think ‘oh maybe I can do that when I’m older’. 

“‘If I can’t play when I’m older maybe I can be a coach’ or ‘maybe I can be a referee’. So, for me to be there and just talking about my experience, that’s the best way I can influence them.” 

In 2014, a defining moment came for Pam when she was employed by The FA to become a Coach Mentor allowing her to give back the invaluable knowledge she has gained. 

“My partner, Ian [Hickley-Smith], was already a coach mentor and he suggested I apply for the role when it came up. I didn’t honestly expect to get it and then I was offered the job. 

“I was actually the only female coach mentor in Sussex until the 2019-20 season. I did think I had the skills and experience to be able to do the role, but you just never know, and you don’t think it’s ever going to be you. About a year later I was asked to be the lead for Sussex which was quite a shock!

“It’s absolutely a pathway I’d recommend for aspiring coaches. It’s probably the best decision I ever made. I’ve developed more as a coach and a person being a coach mentor than if I hadn’t of done this.”

In 2016 Pam furthered her own development and became qualified as a UEFA B License Coach. On the course she was lucky enough to be joined on her course with Fara Williams (Reading and England), Remi Allen (Leicester City), Lucy Staniforth (Manchester United and England) and Sophie Barker (Leicester City) just to name a few.

Pam Chandler UEFA B Course
Pam on the UEFA B course with a star-studded lineup.

What’s more, in 2018, Pam started guest lecturing at Universities, an opportunity she’s taken in her stride to further give back and help the coaching community. 

“It’s just the satisfaction of helping people and if you’re someone who wants to do that and help develop players and coaches then it’s 100% the role to do. 

“I put a lot of pressure on my shoulders! It’s an amazing opportunity and especially as a lot of the guest lecturing I do is around disability football and sport in general, and for me that’s just incredible. 

“A lot of people don’t know what to expect when it comes to disability football so to be able to break down that barrier and say to them it is ok to ask the question, because the players won’t get offended if you ask about their disability.

“Also letting people know that they can coach disability football and feel comfortable, that’s the biggest thing. But to guest lecture at universities on modules such as inclusion and disability sport it’s just really nice to be asked. 

“It’s not something I take lightly being in a room full of young minds who trust you to help them, I really enjoy it.”

To top off a successful few years, Pam graduated from the University of Chichester with a Masters Degree in Sports Coaching Science after also doing work there with the Women’s High Performance Centre. 

Pam Chandler has been a great person to open this series and her journey has been an adventurous one to say the least. She’s seen the world, took her limited opportunities from an early age, and started a coaching journey which has seen her give back to underrepresented groups and inspire a new generation that will hopefully not have to experience the same challenges she had to.

Lastly, she added words of advice for anyone in the same shoes: “Don’t be scared to do it. Always seek support because they’ll always be support out there for you.”

For more information on coaching in Sussex please contact: 

T: 01903 766855

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