Arsenal in the Community

Laura Kirk, Arsenal Gap Year 2014

Laura Kirk, Arsenal Gap Year 2014

 

From: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Pre-Gap Year: Studied Languages and Management at University of Cambridge, plus one year working in Sponsorship and Marketing

Post-Gap Year: Working in Sports Strategy and Marketing

Gap Year placement(s): Ghana

What did you gain from doing the Arsenal Gap Year? 

A huge amount of self-confidence and self-belief, as well as a real appreciation for how powerful football is as a social vehicle. 

Being a coach means being a huge number of things, not just a teacher but a friend, a support, a confidant in some cases. Because of this you need to constantly think on your feet, and that type of spontaneity, and confidence in yourself that you can deal with anything that’s thrown at you, is completely invaluable.

Ultimately, if you can stand in front of 100 kids, with whom you do not share a common language, with no equipment other than a ball and maybe a couple of cones, and keep them entertained for an hour, there will be very few things you can’t do. Since the Gap Year I have given presentations to very senior people, and not felt half as intimidated as I was before my first coaching session.

What was your favourite part of the programme? 

The first few weeks of Coach Education were the most challenging but most enjoyable. Being able to learn from such experienced coaches, as well as being encouraged to try out your own sessions in a supportive environment is a completely unique experience.

I felt wildly out of my comfort zone for the majority of Coach Education, being the least experienced footballer and having no experience coaching either. But everyone is in a different position and this is really important for your learning. Sometimes I felt slightly embarrassed in front of my fellow Gappers, some of whom were very good footballers. But it’s important to use that insight to consider how a child might feel in the same position, and how to adapt the session accordingly.

The first few weeks are tough but give you a really good foundation and coaching toolkit to prepare you for schools. Although, nothing can quite replicate the first time you have 30 blank faces staring at you and waiting for instruction! 

How would you describe your overall experience on the Arsenal Gap Year?

The hardest, but also the best thing I’ve ever done and the most challenged I’ve ever felt in my entire life. You get such a variety of opportunities beyond coaching, such as getting involved in all of the projects run by Arsenal in the Community, as well as Junior Gunners events, and you essentially get out what you put in.

For the duration of the programme you are seen as an integral part of the Arsenal in the Community team – not just an extra pair of hands – and it’s great to feel that you are trusted and relied upon to continue the amazing work they do both at home and abroad. As an Arsenal fan, it was just awesome to be a small part of the club for a year.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing the Arsenal Gap Year?

Speaking particularly from a female point of view, I don’t think we can underestimate how important it is for girls in schools to have role models – not just celebrities or figures in the media, but people who they interact with on a daily basis. As a coach going into schools you have a huge responsibility to be a role model for girls, particularly those who might be unmotivated to play any kind of sport, let alone football, because of societal or even religious pressures not to. My most rewarding moment was a young girl in a school telling me she used to hate PE, but now looked forward to it every week because of the work my partner and I did.

You have a huge opportunity to ensure the girls you come across consider sport as not just something they have to do once a week because the government says so, but something they actively want to participate in throughout school and hopefully well into the future. You don’t need to be the next Lionel Messi or Alex Scott to gain a huge amount of value from playing sport – not just the health benefits, but the values it teaches, so it’s your job to demonstrate that to those who appear less keen!

I would also add that female coaches have a place in the male game, and you shouldn’t be put off by being faced with a group of rowdy 18 year old boys either. That role model effect still applies to boys – if they are being coached by a confident, friendly and ultimately inspiring coach, it doesn’t matter if they are male or female, and they could have a huge positive effect on that child’s life. 

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