Amy Merricks HERO

Coaches Corner: Amy Merricks

The former Brighton & Hove Albion coach talks learning her trade in the States, managing in the WSL, and her new role with the Lionesses Under-19s!

In the latest of our Coaches Corner series, we spoke with former Brighton & Hove Albion Interim Manager and current Lionesses Under-19s Head Coach, Amy Merricks.

For Amy Merricks, football has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.

“If I go right back to the beginning, playing football in the garden with my brothers and being taken to games with my grandad are some of my earliest memories,” said Merricks.

“When it came to playing, I’d often go at full-back, I was more of a technical player than a physical player.

“But those grassroots games were a great experience; playing for coaches who were giving up their time for free out of love for the game.

“Looking back, I might have been able to play at a higher level than I thought, but in those days, in the women’s game, you didn’t get paid to play, you paid to play, so it was a real commitment.”

It was this passion for the game that saw Merricks go on to study a Spots BTEC programme whilst playing for Crystal Palace.

“It was funny looking back, because when you’re 16/17 people take different things more seriously than others,” she said.

“For me, the most important part of the course soon became the coaching sessions we had to put together.

“I was just in my element and completely engrossed by it, despite the fact that all my mates were taking the mick out of me for it!

“But it gave me that first taste of coaching, and from there I managed to find myself a little job at a football schools company in Kent and didn’t look back.”

A career as a football coach was now firmly at the forefront of Merricks’ mind.

However, a woman going into such a male dominated environment certainly led to questions from her parents around just how viable a career path it could be.

“I think they were just a bit worried, because at that point they just couldn’t see me making a career out of it, because aside from the likes of Hope Powell on the international stage, female coaches just weren’t seen in the game.

“But then that’s where my stubborn side came in, because although they had doubts, that almost made me more determined to make it in the game.”

It was that determination that led Merricks to take her first big step in her coaching career.

“Going out to America was something that was first put in my mind by James Marrs, who was the first to really open my eyes to coaching, and the impact that a good coach can have on a player.

“I remember that he, and a few others at the time, had mentioned how going out to America has really helped them develop early in their careers.

“Anyway, what started out as just something maybe for a couple of months, turned into the whole summer, and then six months the next year.”

Amy and the rest of the Brighton side celebrate securing promotion

Amy and the rest of the Brighton & Hove Albion squad celebrate promotion to the Second Division 

Straight away Merricks found her early coaching know-how being put to the test, as she was plunged into the world of American summer soccer camps.

“You’d turn up to some camps and there’d just be 20 kids waiting for you, and it was on your shoulders to have a session prepared that would be entertaining and at the right level for them.

“But it taught me how to adapt and do so quickly. For example, we had a boy turn up in a wheelchair, with no feeling below the waist, who was a goalkeeper.

“So, the question became ‘how do I ensure this player gets the most out of this session?’ and it was those little bits about adapting the session and working out how to engage everyone at the same time that I think is still a large part of my coaching philosophy today.”

Of course, the battle against the perception of a women coaching football was still something Merricks had to deal with, even in a country famed for its women’s national team.

“Out of a pool of about 40 coaches working on the programme, I was one of three women.

“So when you show up, the assumption is always that you’re going to take the two-year-olds, because you’re the female coach.

“But overtime, something I learnt was that you can prove your worth, just by doing a really good job and focusing on those actions first and foremost.”

Yet as enjoyable as life State-side proved to be, the call of home was too strong for Merricks, and soon she found herself back out on the grass, this time coaching at Gillingham.

“When I got to Gillingham in August 2013 I was playing for the reserves, but I remember James [Marrs], who was coaching there at the time, asking if I wanted to combine that into a player/coach role?

“At first, I thought it might be a bit strange, me being only 20-years-old, coaching players who were as old as 35, but I just focused on doing a good job and making sure I was as prepared as possible.

“Now I’ll admit, the player/coach situation really doesn’t work, and it wasn’t always an easy ride, but it taught me a lot about leading, so it’s an experience I was incredibly grateful for.”

That experience of management would prove vital for Merricks as she moved into her next role, joining the Millwall Lionesses in July 2014 as their Under-17s Head Coach and Development Squad Assistant Manager.

“Millwall was my first paid coaching role with a team,” said Merricks, “and on top of that, for the first time, I was very much on my own and deciding things for myself and implementing my own philosophy.

“That development squad was full of players with a great tactical understanding, which meant I was able to go into a level of detail with them that I hadn’t been able to do with previous players.”

Yet whilst the role with Millwall was paid, Merricks was still spinning a fair few plates.

Amy as part of the coaching team behind Brighton's 2016/17 Sussex Women's Challenge Cup victory

Amy in the post game celebrations after Brighton won the Sussex Women's Challenge Cup in 2017

“I was jumping from team to team and spending a ridiculous amount of time both out on the grass and also in my car! 

“Yet there was still full conviction in my mind that I was on the right path, and I was helping those individual players fulfil their potential.

“But of course, there was sacrifice, because it takes a lot to make a career in coaching.

“Coaching can take a big chunk out of your social life for example, but for me, because I’m quite an energetic person, I’m going to make sure I’m bringing that fun to the grass.”

That hard work at Millwall soon started to bear fruit though, and started to open doors to new opportunities, this time with Brighton & Hove Albion.

“Brighton first came around through James [Marrs], who was the women’s first team coach at the time, but what brought me to their attention was when their Under-17s team played the Millwall Under-17s, and we beat them, and played really well.

“So, after the game, the Centre of Excellence General Manager, Tracy Doe, came up to me and told me about the opening coming up, and though it was a lot to consider, I knew the chance was too big for me to turn down.

“And when, on my first day, Tracy told me I needed to eat, sleep and breathe Brighton, she didn’t have to tell me twice!”

In her role as Brighton’s Development Squad and Academy Manager, Merricks was working with some of the most exciting young talents in the county and helping shape their game.

“There are tons of players looking back that I’m so proud of how they’ve gone on to develop,” reflects Merricks.

“I remember having Libby Bance all the way back when she was in our Under-13s team, and to have seen her come up through the age groups and make it to the first team with me, was very special.

“Of course, there’s also the likes of Katie Robinson, who’s now getting ready to play in the World Cup this summer, which is so rewarding to see.”

A season in this role came and went for Merricks, yet things were set to take an unexpected turn following the dismissal of James Marrs from his role as First Team Manager, and the appointment of George Parris as Interim Manager, and Amy as Assistant Manager.

“That was such a strange time for the team,” said Merricks, “they’d just won the league and were training for their play-off final to get into the second division, which is now the Women’s Championship.

“And I remember there was a 6 to 7-week gap between their last game and the final, and those weeks felt like years!

“So, for me and George it was just about making sure the players were ready for that game, and just providing clarity, because the foundations were already there for them to go on and get that win."

Amy talking pre-game with then Brighton & Hove Albion Women Manager, Hope Powell

Amy in conversation with former Brighton Manager, Hope Powell 

And get that win they did, with Brighton beating Northern Champions, Sporting Club Albion to achieve promotion.

“There were a lot of emotions from players and staff after that game, and after such a hectic few weeks. I certainly went home and enjoyed a big glass of wine that night, that's for sure!

“We couldn’t appreciate it at the time just how huge a result that was for the club, because all of a sudden we’re training more and being paid travel expenses, and then we’re in the WSL being managed by Hope Powell.”

Powell’s arrival at the club was certainly a turning point, and one that Merricks could scarcely believe.

“I really downplayed it at the time,” she said, “and I’ve never told her this, but the summer she arrived I was reading her book, so when she first came in, I had to quickly hide it so she didn’t think I was so strange!

“But when she started, I remember my mentality was to just be a sponge and soak up as much information and experience from her as I could.

“At the same time though, I didn’t want to just be a ‘yes’ person; the role of the Assistant should be to check and challenge, but then also support as much as possible. You want to make sure that you’re providing value.”

The next few seasons continued at the same frenetic pace for Merricks and her team, with Brighton continuing to grow season on season.

“It was a mad time looking back," said Merricks, “and there were a couple of points where I went ‘wow’ such as our first game in the WSL, and later on, getting to The FA Cup Semi-Final and then going onto finish sixth in the 2020/21 season.

“They were huge moments, and we were really making history, and thankfully I was able to take a step back then, and really be proud of what we’d achieved.”

Of course, during this time Merricks was also continuing her own professional development, growing, and learning with the club.

“Through continuing my work with individual players, I really learnt a lot about the craft of teaching and learning, which I think is so important if you want to be a good coach.

“Then of course we were always on the grass and around the players 24/7, which meant that we had a real opportunity to positively impact every single one of them.”

All of that experience Merricks had been able to gain under Powell was about to come to fruition, following her dismissal from the post of First Team Manager last season, and

Amy’s appointment to the role of Interim Manager, the first of two interim stints she’d take on over the season, the second following Jens Scheuer’s short period in charge.

“When last season came to an end, the first thing I did was take a holiday and just sit down and not think about the game, purely just relax,” she said.

Amy Merricks being awarded her UEFA Pro Licence

Amy receiving her UEFA Pro Licence back in June 

“We speak about the intensity of the game and the sacrifices that you have to make, and looking back now I can’t really find the words to sum up that year. 

“I don’t think I slept those first few nights during that first interim period, I think I was just awake planning and making sure I was as prepared as possible.

“I was constantly thinking about the decisions I was making and the impact that they’ll have on players and staff, it takes a lot out of you.

“I was extremely grateful to have had that experience, I enjoyed the challenge and looking back I could have done things differently, but that’s how you learn and grow.”

Reflecting on such a tumultuous season, it’s clear how grateful Amy was and continues to be, for the professional and personal support she received during that time.

“One of the first things I did after taking charge was contact coaches and tutors, I’d met doing various courses over the years, essentially the Pro Licence, because a lot of them had taken charge on an interim basis at some point in their time.

“I’m very comfortable saying I don’t know everything, but from speaking to them I knew how important it was for me to stay true to myself and not try and become somebody else.

“And of course, my parents were incredibly supportive, from coming to the play-off final back in the day under George, to just being such a support behind the scenes.

“My brothers were the ones who really blew me away though, because they came to majority of the games and I just couldn’t believe how invested and supportive they were, which after years of getting stick from them was certainly a surprise!”

Despite helping ensure the club's position in the WSL for another season, for Merricks it was time to look ahead to pastures new, and a fresh challenge.

“It had been an incredible eight years with Brighton, but I knew the time was right for a new experience, and then along came the role with the Lionesses Under-19s side, which straight away was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t say no to.”

Starting the role back in May, Amy’s role as Head Coach will see her work with the next generation of Lionesses as they look to qualify for the 2023-24 UEFA Women’s Under-19s Championship.

“We’ve got such a talented group of players, I’m so excited to get out on the grass with them and start preparing for Round One with our first camp.

“I feel like it’s really going to add another string to my bow, so I just can’t wait to get going!”

Finally, Merricks gave her advice for the next generation of coaches coming through.

“Staying true to yourself and being the most authentic version of yourself is so important,” she said, “I would also say to make sure you’re putting people first, and keeping them at the forefront of your decisions, be that with players or colleagues.

“And finally, remember to take a step back when you can and see the bigger picture. Take a moment to zoom out and appreciate where you’re at and how far you’ve come!”

For more information on coaching in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 766855

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