My career in sport.

Written by Natalie Doyle

November 10, 2023

Natalie Doyle standing on a football terrace

I often get asked by people how to get a job in sport, or how to build a career in sport. I find this so interesting because I know so many different routes that people have taken to working in sport and there is no right way to do it. I thought I’d use this week’s blog to share my career journey and some advice I’ve picked up along the way. Hopefully it will be helpful.

I was never the person who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they were younger. I went through lots of different ideas – hotel owner, actress, pilot – some of the ones that spring to mind but there were plenty of others! I looked into some more than others and experienced some success but never settled with any of them. I didn’t go to University after College because it didn’t interest me at that time and in the early 2000s I saw an advert from Dorset FA for a free female only Level 1 coaching course. My mum lived in Dorset so I decided to sign up for the course and give it a go. I’d always loved football, played a little bit but then drifted away, and I loved that Level 1 course. I was fascinated to start learning the basics of coaching and see where football could lead me. Once I’d completed the course, I got a volunteer role with a women’s team, Staines Town WFC, and my first experience of team management. I was inexperienced so it was a steep learning curve but there were some great players in the team and I really enjoyed the role. This is my first piece of advice for anyone looking for a career in sport – volunteer wherever you can. Especially when you’re younger and you don’t have as many commitments. Use this time to get experience, build connections and develop your skills. I had multiple volunteer roles through my career – coach, manager, secretary, chairperson – and I gained so much experience and understanding from those roles.

At the same time as my role at Staines Town, I managed to get some coaching work in schools with Woking FC in the Community – my first paid job in football and I loved it. It was a great experience with great people. I completed my Level 2 coaching badge and got some more part-time work with Slough Borough Council, coaching in youth clubs and with other community groups.

In 2006, I landed my first full-time role in football, working for Runnymede Council, managing their football offering at Egham Leisure Centre. This role taught me so much about sports development, building relationships, and managing multiple areas of responsibility. In 2007, I interviewed for a role as one of two Women’s and Girls’ Football Development Officers at London FA. I remember being told I hadn’t got the role and being very disappointed. I went away for a weekend with some colleagues and we were in the pub on the Friday afternoon when my phone rang – there had been a reshuffle of roles, and they were offering me the job! I obviously accepted…and then had a very good weekend!

The London FA role really took my development to the next level. Working as part of an amazing team, supported by a network of Women’s and Girls’ Officers, growing the game and feeling part of something. I was at London FA for over a decade – I worked my way up the ladder, working across so may different areas of the game, and that’s my second key piece of advice – be open to new opportunities. I often took on additional responsibilities outside my job role. I wanted to learn new things, and get experience in new areas. I was passionate about developing myself and moving forward. I saw a lot of change during my time at London FA, and sometimes that change was difficult, but it made me more resilient, and that’s something I’ve really needed since becoming self-employed.

In 2016, I attended the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy. Anyone that has attended one of these weeks will know the impact it has on you as an individual – the confidence it gives you, the development you see in yourself. I felt ready to take the next step. I moved into a new role at London FA, which was a lot of responsibility in very hectic conditions! It taught me a lot. In 2018, I was on maternity leave after having my second son, and I saw a role advertised at The FA, working with clubs and leagues to grow the women’s and girls’ game. The FA had always been the dream for me, but I had no expectation of getting the role! I applied, got an interview and then received one of the best phone calls ever, offering me the job. I remember so clearly how proud and excited I felt. I felt ready for the role. It was a great job. I worked with some fantastic people, a great network of County FAs, but in some ways it was difficult. I had a young baby at home and I was away a lot – it was a lot to juggle for me and my family, but I was so passionate about the work I was doing.

And then the pandemic hit. I’ve written previously about the impact of the pandemic on my career so give that a read if you haven’t already. It was a challenging time but what came out of it was amazing. Launching Sport Sister and starting to work for myself felt like a big step, but that’s where my final piece of advice comes from – always back yourself. No-one knows what you’re capable of like you do, and you can achieve amazing things if you back yourself. Surround yourself with good people, and be open to opportunities that come your way.

I know people working in sport with degrees, PHDs, and also no formal qualifications at all. Whatever your skills are, they can lead to a career in sport. You just need to find the right fit for you. Get as much experience as you can in a variety of environments. It won’t always be easy, but you learn much more from the challenging times than the easy times. If anyone ever wants advice for a career in sport, you know where to find me, and I’d love to help.

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