Inspired by England 2022: Sharon Muxworthy
As we build up to the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, we spoke to FA Coach Development Officer, Sharon Muxworthy, to profile another one of our great female role models in Sussex Football.
“There's a choice today, if you want to play in a girls team you can, if you want to play in a mixed team you can, and that's the biggest thing now that we never used to have, is a choice.”
It sounds like such a simple thing, a choice. Today in football that is something that women and girls are lucky to have more of, but it wasn’t always so simple.
Sharon grew up in such time where she had little to no hope of playing competitive football as a child and recounts that experience to us.
“For me, it was just playing football in the playground with the boys and then coming to an age where I couldn't play in the same team as them.
“I wasn't allowed to play in primary school or the organised teams in secondary school. At 14 the mentality was you needed to go into another sport, football was for boys.
I'm from Wales and we were always a big rugby nation when I was growing up, so I suppose my first inspirations were when Swansea got promoted to the First Division under John Toshack.
“I then went into athletics which was my first real chance to see female role models. Growing up my role model really was Robbie James who played for Swansea under Toshack.
“I developed more female role models when I heard about them, people like Kelly Smith, Hope Powell, those were the ones that inspired me to know there was a place somewhere for me to play football. I remember thinking I needed to leave Wales to do it and I need to go to a University in England.
“I always felt it was so unfair and it made me quite head-strong to try and create positive change. Whether that was football or sport in general.”
University is where that journey for positive change started for Sharon, crossing the border to England.
“I trained in athletics but missed being part of a team because it is quite individual. There was no football for me though in Wales it wasn't an option. When I went to University at Plymouth Marjon, I saw that there were organised teams you could trial for and I couldn't believe it.
“It was my first taste of organised football but at first I didn't think I would be any good! But as it turned out I scored a lot of goals and got into the first team in my first year.
“At Uni we ran the team ourselves by one of the players and through that we built up the team and become very good. By second or third year we were national champions in 5-a-side and won gold medal in the plate for 11-a-side.
“Through that I eventually represented England Universities. There weren't many fixtures back then I think I only played once but it was strange being Welsh and representing England!”
A natural route for Sharon to follow if she wanted to make a difference was to become a teacher and following her degree, completed a PGCE , following a sabbatical year as Deputy President of the Student Union. Alongside that, her journey as a coach was about to begin.
“Whilst at Uni and when I finished my course, I completed a PGCE to train as a teacher in secondary P.E. At the same time I had the chance to go to America to coach with girls squads out there.
“University also gave me the opportunity to do my coaching qualifications - I initially did the FA Preliminary Award which is the equivalent or like an FA Level 2 today. That gave me lots of opportunities to start coaching. It opened a lot of doors for me coaching in America coaching very good girls' teams, which were Olympic development squads.
“It gave me the confidence to come home and develop football for girls in schools. I started in Dorset developing football for girls there setting up girls’ teams and small sided tournaments for Key Stage 3 and 4.”
America was a huge eye-opener for Sharon experiencing a culture that had put so much into women’s football, which gave her the urge to do the same in the UK.
“They thought you were famous being a British coach, you'd walk down the street or be at an event in camp and children wanted your autographs, radio shows wanted to interview you.
“Playing for England Universities that was like playing for America to them! It was really inspiring and also really inspiring that there were so many females involved in structured coaching.
“There were so many positive role models for me there from the American women's team. I was lucky enough to meet Mia Hamm out there when I was coaching an event in New Jersey.
“It was just really inspiring to be surrounded by women who had achieved their goals of playing football despite obstacles sometimes. It gives you that added motivation and I really believe football is everyone's game.”
It’s fair to say we have come a long way in this country and Sharon tells us how she thinks it has happened.
“You always need role models but it's probably a lot of people behind the scenes that have achieved positive change. People like Kelly Simmons, Donna McIvor, Lucy Wellings, Ros Potts , Hope Powell, Rachel Pavlou, these are all people employed by The FA when they realised the need for change.
“They gave me an opportunity as a female teacher to get involved volunteering and support these events happening on the weekend to transition girls into football and let them know there is a pathway for them.
“The biggest thing that's happened is the increased infrastructure, funding, and support for clubs to develop the women's game. Coupled with the rise of the Women's Super League, increase in media coverage, increased representation, it's allowed more and more girls to see that football belongs to everyone.
“There's a choice today, if you want to play in a girls team you can, if you want to play in a mixed team you can, and that's the biggest thing now that we never used to have, is a choice.
“It's so important because I always had that self-doubt, 'do I belong?' or 'should I be playing a different sport?' But young girls now have so many inspirational female footballers to look up to.
“We have so many positive role models and I think they are positive as well; you look at the women's game and they are all so humble, they show humility and they really appreciate the fans.
“I think what's also helping is the support and amount of energy that The FA are putting in to developing girls’ football in schools, upskilling all PE teachers to see the benefits football can have to girls.
Sharon returned to England from America still with an urge to play and whilst teaching in Bournemouth, played for Southampton Ladies. Unfortunately, she ruptured her ACL and missed out on their run that year to The FA Cup Final.
Upon her return from injury, she decided with the responsibilities she had as a PE teacher that her playing days were perhaps behind her and Southampton offered her the chance to coach the Under-16s girls.
Following her good work there and in Bournemouth as a teacher where she developed girls football hugely, she became Director of Sport at Bede’s School in Sussex.
“When I was there I helped develop the independent schools football association offer for girls, bringing girls football into the independent sector which has been really successful especially under the stewardship of Ian Bent and Chair Susannah Abbott.
“I saw the power of that and it made me realise, at Bede's we're lucky to have a good girls setup and actually I want all schools to have that.
“So, then an opportunity came up to join The FA's PE unit, which was to do with the upskilling of PE teachers and also working with Premier League clubs in upskilling their coaches on curriculum.
“I saw it as an opportunity to take the work I was doing in my school to 100 schools. I wanted to have more impact, I loved being a teacher working with the same children and managing the same staff, but it was an opportunity for me to show what a positive vehicle football can be.”
That’s what brings us to where Sharon is today continuing to create a positive change in female football.
“I'm now employed as a Coach Development Officer with particular focus on supporting women and girls' coaches. I look after six counties, Sussex Surrey, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Essex, and Kent.
“My role is to support the identification and recruitment of female coaches, support them and retain them in the game.
“In Sussex I lead the workforce group for the UEFA Women's EURO 2022, and that aligns in general with what we are trying to achieve in the women's game.
“We created a stepping over the side-lines workshop which is about making females aware of the attributes they already possess through football.
“We're also trying to work alongside women and girls officers in County FAs to deliver Female Friendly Clubs training which helps create the right environment for women and girls at clubs.”
Now, with UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 coming to England, and locally to Sussex, Sharon tells us the impact it will have.
“I think the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 will really shine a lens on the great work everyone has been doing. I think we've worked really hard to ensure there's infrastructure to support the legacy of the EUROs.
“For every girl to have the opportunity around the country to go and watch live games of females playing in a huge tournament, even just watching on TV, is incredible.
“Hopefully it encourages more investors, hopefully it encourages more clubs to want to grow the game, improve facilities, it will be instrumental I hope in continuing the surge of interest.
“Female players from all over the world will now be on posters and even Panini stickers, a small thing like that I never thought I'd see but I'm too old to collect them now unfortunately!”
It’s a highly inspirational journey that Sharon has been on and one that highlights the positive change we have made for women and girls’ football. She had a childhood where football was unavailable to her but today, works in the game professionally where she gets more and more females into the game.
Lastly, Sharon adds: “In the next five years I'd love to think that girl’s football is higher up on the agenda for more clubs, obviously more role models but also more females in high influence positions within clubs.
“I'd like to see every county, especially Sussex, that people see the County FA as somewhere they belong, it's their hub. If you are female and looking to get into football but maybe need that bit or reassurance, know that it is there for you.
“The Sussex County FA website has great resources for you to look at. You have Paul Ofei-Kwatia that you can contact from a playing perspective, there’s myself from a coaching perspective and you have Lisa Benn if you want to get into refereeing.”
For more information on Women & Girls' football in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 766855