The Female Lead

Meet Annie Zaidi, the only hijab-wearing UEFA coach in Europe

Annie has been coaching since 2007 and since that time has faced sexism, racism & Islamophobia. She looks forward to the day when her talent is all anyone notices. 

How I broke into coaching: A Q&A with Annie Zaidi

How old were you when you first started playing football?

I was about 7-8 years old when I first started playing football in my back garden and down the local park with my brothers. They always used to put me in goals, which I wasn’t impressed about.

Have you always wanted to be a football coach?

I knew I wanted to have a job where I would be able to wear trainers and training bottoms. I’m a very active person so an office based job wouldn’t have suited me as I can’t stay still for long. I have a Masters degree from Durham University in Community Development & Youth Work Studies, which I have been doing alongside my coaching career, and again this suits me well as I can wear my trainers.

You’ve said that football is more than just a game, what is it for you?

It’s my life & it’s my identity. It’s a beautiful game as it breaks down barriers and creates community cohesion, it’s everyone’s game. There is something special about football the moment the ball touches my sole/soul it makes me become alive and the training ground is where I belong and feel the safest as there are no barriers or labels as I can be Coach Annie!

What barriers have you faced?

Like with anything, when you want to be successful and accomplish your dreams you will come across barriers. My dream is to become an excellent technical elite coach and barriers have been a fundamental part of my journey. These barriers have been put in front of me by other people, but it has made me more resilient, more determined and more hungry to succeed. You can continue to put barriers in my way but I will just go over them, under them and around them.

Who encouraged you to keep going?

It took a lot of self-encouragement but I’ve been fortunate enough to have my mentors Wallace Hermitt, Kelly Simmons, Marieanne Spacey, who have been pivotal in my coaching career. They’ve always seen my abilities and talent as a coach even before I believed in myself. Women In Football have been phenomenal supporting me and cheering me on from the sidelines as well as Solihull Moors FC who have given me opportunities I could only dream of, especially when they offered me the SMLFC Head Coach Role for First Team Ladies.

What message would you give to any young girls looking to follow in your footsteps?  

Don’t allow other people’s barriers to become your barriers and stop you from achieving your dreams. It’s not going to be easy, it’s a very lonely, scary path. I’ve sacrificed a lot including jobs, finances, relationship and I’m still working hard to achieve my goal but I promise you if you trust yourself and trust the process everything will be worth it. 

Tell us more about the Coach AnnieZ foundation?

Coach AnnieZ Foundation was set up to help empower, inspire and encourage women and girls to know that dreams do and can come true despite adversities and I’m living proof of that. The foundation delivers mentoring and football sessions to get more girls participating in the beautiful game and to help development centres to nurture the talented players onto professional clubs.

What are your dreams, what’s next for Annie?

I keep my dreams very close to my heart… I will tell you once I’ve achieved them. What’s next hopefully is a full-time role at a club where I can coach morning, afternoon and evening. All I know is my feet need and belong on the training pitch coaching football or else I will get homesick.

What would your advice be to your teenage-self?

  1. Always work with honesty
  2. Work with integrity
  3. Be prepared to constantly push yourself outside your comfort zone
  4. Be prepared to work hard
  5. Believe in yourself even on your bad days

I have a personal quote which keeps me on my toes … ‘What motivates me is the fear of being average!”

We partnered with Dream Team to tell Annie’s inspiring story in the video below:

 

Follow Annie on Twitter

Be prepared to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone. Believe in yourself, even on your bad days

 

We also spoke to Alex Alexandrou, Director of Sollihull Moors FC to find out more about Annie’s role at the club.


What impact has Annie had on the club?

Annie gives the players more self-belief, self-confidence and self-esteem which is important at all levels of football.

What are your thoughts on having a woman coach a men’s team? Is this something you think we’ll be seeing more of in the future in smaller clubs and professionally?

It’s great and why not? A coach must be judged on their qualifications, their people skills, technical knowledge and their commitment to improving players. I believe we will see more women coaches at all levels of the game. The younger generations will not be phased about it due to the strides we as a society have made in relation to diversity, equality and inclusion and will continue to make with role models such as Annie.

More and more women are getting into football and this World Cup just proves how far we’ve come – what can we all do to make football a more inclusive place for everyone?

First and foremost, encourage more girls to get involved in playing and enjoying football – for example, the Wildcats Football Centres which are about introducing young girls to football through enjoyment. Secondly, go to watch Women’s football matches – we have professional, semi-professional and amateur leagues up and down the country.

We would like more women to become involved at all levels in the club, from being coaches, volunteers, working for the club and having senior roles at the club (which is now happening since the new owners took over). Annie can play a key role in that in terms of inspiring and motivating them as a positive role model

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