What is it like... to coach football to girls in a Muslim country

Lee Mitchell, the director of wellness at American University of Sharjah talks about his experience of starting from scratch in a different setting from the United States.

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For a lot of the girls I work with it is the first time they have done anything such as football. The first thing that is good about the girls is that they love the game and turn up every week. They actually want more sessions, so it's a good thing they are so enthusiastic and wanting to learn. They really enjoy playing and that is a positive thing. For many of the girls who I worked with in the United States, it was more of a means to an end. It was a full college scholarship, which is what they were playing for more than, sometimes, the fun of the game.

These girls here get nothing out of it, but the fun side of things. So it's quite good to work with a group who are just wanting to play because they enjoy it more than anything. That's the positive side of working with the girls here. Most of the girls that I have worked with are from 10 to 12 years, with a few 14 and 16-year- olds. The demands of the game are really the same [as with the boys]. They do have to train for it. They do have to do what we call SAQ, which is the speed, agility and quickness training. It works with their footwork, co-ordination, power, speed and things.

So we do have to do quite a bit of football specific training with them to improve their endurance for the demands of the game and reach the next level. Many of these girls don't even have the basics technical skills needed, so we are really starting from scratch with a lot of them, which was a huge change for me. The structure in the United States is very different. They start in sports as three-years-old and by the time you get to 10 or 11 they have got most of the basics down. You are really moving on, just trying to improve on what they already do.

With the girls here, they haven't got the basics because they have never been coached before. They have never been in a structured environment. They just play with the boys on the field or they have a kick around. The first thing I did was set up a basic coaching session, which was 90 minutes long. That started going and I then realised that I really needed to change things quickly and go back to even more basic than that because they have never been in structured coaching before.

So my biggest challenge was, 'OK, where do I need to start from and how to go from here?' The positive side of things were that we had many, many kids come out, wanting to be coached, play and reach the next level. The kids just play football all day, every day. For girls, a training environment has to be created. What I have found over the past 10 or 12 years is that the girls don't care so much about winning. It's not like they don't like winning - they do, of course - but their priority is friendships. They are very much team- oriented and they don't like letting each other down. So you have to teach girls that it is OK to compete.

Lee Mitchell is director of wellness at American University of Sharjah and has spent the past 15 years on the coaching side of professional football. He was on the national staff in the United States, educating and developing local coaches.