Sport Sister Podcast - Season 3, Episode 2

Episode 2 – Developing Life Skills Through Sport: Donna Fraser and Sarah Browning.

Donna Fraser and Sarah Browning

Donna Fraser is a 4x Olympian and former 400m sprinter for Great Britain, with a successful athletics career which spanned over 20 years and has a host of European, Commonwealth and World medals. She now works as an international speaker, strategist, and charity ambassador, dedicating much of her time to working in Business, Sport, and the charity sector to inspire and embed inclusive and diverse cultures.

Sarah Browning founded the Time for Kindness programme to encourage people to ‘see kind’ and teach them to make noticing it a habit. She also works as a communications consultant for organisations with visions of a kind world, and is mum to a 16-year-old daughter who has been playing football for more than a decade.

Donna and Sarah join Natalie Doyle to discuss the many life skills that can be developed through sport. The talk about how this has impacted their lives and the lives of people around them, why these skills are so important for women and girls, and give advice on how to support the development of these skills in young people.

Let’s be real here. We know that women and girls experience so many more inequalities than men do and unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to achieve equality. But I know now we’re talking more about equity, offering different types of support to different groups of people to achieve equality. So, it’s not the case of giving exactly the same as what men have for women, but it’s really listening to our young girls and women as to what issues they’re experiencing and putting things in place to make sure opportunities are accessible for them.

- Donna Fraser

Read this episode’s transcript

Natalie Doyle

Welcome to the Sport Sister Podcast where we bring together professional experts with grassroots pioneers to discuss key topics for women and girls sport. I’m Natalie Doyle and today I’m joined by 2 amazing women ready to discuss the fantastic skills that you develop through sport.

Sarah Browning founded the Time for Kindness program to encourage people to ‘see’ kind and teach them to make noticing it a habit. She also works as a communications consultant for organisations with visions of a kind world and is a mum to a 16-year-old daughter who has been playing football for more than a decade.

Donna Fraser is a 4 times Olympian and former four-hundred-metre sprinter for Great Britain with a successful athletics career which spread over 20 years and a host of European Commonwealth and World medals. She now works as an international speaker strategist and charity ambassador, dedicating much of her time to working in business, sport and the charity sector to inspire and embed inclusive and diverse cultures. This is a really good conversation and the chemistry between Donna and Sarah and the way that they just chatted around the subject makes it a really enjoyable episode, so I hope that you enjoy it.

Sarah and Donna, thank you so much for joining me today. We’re going to talk about the life skills that are developed through sport and the impact that these skills can have on women and girls. Obviously, there’s loads that we can talk about and I’m sure we’ve got lots that we’re going to get into over the next few minutes, so if I start with you Sarah, what key life skills have you or the people around you developed through sport?

Sarah Browning

Sure. So, yeah, I’m not a sporty person myself or at least I’m probably the classic, didn’t think of myself as a sporty person as a teenager and my brain has spent the last forty years catching up. But my daughter is a very keen footballer and has played since she was 5 or 6 and I think as you say, there’s loads of things that she’s got from it. Interestingly I asked her what would she say was the kind of main thing, and it was something that was on my list but probably not what I would have put top and so she said that making friends from different schools. And because she’s been playing for a long time, she’s actually played for the same team for most of that time, and so when she joined there were girls that were already there, others have come in along the way, and they have gone to various different schools, but it’s that team sport thing that I think has been really important. They’ve kind of got together, they’ve got to know each other and they’ve grown up together actually as well which I think is part of it. So I think that that kind of human communication and connection skills have been important. The thing that I would say from my sort of parents perspective that has been huge for her through her football, is it’s about identity. So when she was at primary school, she was known as the girl who likes football. To my knowledge, none of her male peers were the boy that likes football. They might have been the boy that was good at football but not that liked football and so I think you know not from her family but from the sort of wider world as it were, she has had that message of girl liking football, perhaps a bit unusual, a bit different, whatever, and she has run with it and gone you know what? Yeah, that’s who I am. I love football. This is me. And there has been a real sort of identity and confidence to that, that she has always had I think since that time, and I think it does come from the fact she genuinely loves the game. She loves playing it. She loves watching it. But from that of course it has given her all sorts of things. For example, you know when she’s had to do projects at school and you have to pick a topic and you have to talk about a topic. You know, it’s been Fran Kirby or it’s been The Lionesses or it’s been, you know, women’s football. So again I think that’s really helped develop her confidence through things like presenting and she’s just in her GCSE year now, last year she had to do I think it was, a sort of persuasive presentation or something, it was a piece of coursework and she talked about women’s football and of course that lends itself to say well this is where we’ve been, this is where we are now, this is what it feels like to be a fan, this is what we need, this is the change we want. So it lent itself very well to that project but also because she cares about it, she was able to really deliver that argument with passion. So I think you know, as you say, there are loads of other things that I’m sure we’ll get onto but for her and I, those are the top 2

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, I really love that example as well. You’ve talked about her being referred to as the girl who likes football and how she’s just run with that, because for some girls that might feel a bit self-conscious about that because it can be difficult isn’t it when you’re sort of put in that little box of, this is who you are. I really love that she’s fully embraced that and gone yeah, I absolutely love it.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I’m very proud of her.

Natalie Doyle

What about you Donna? What skills have you seen?

Donna Fraser

Wow, yeah I mean I was nodding away as Sarah spoke there and when I hear that journey that Sarah’s daughter’s gone through, it absolutely resonates with me as a very young 8-year-old getting into athletics myself where I was extremely shy, hardly spoke to anyone. Of course, you have your close friends, friends that I’m still friends with to this very day but it was sport that brought me out of my shell. And it absolutely does give you that self-identity, the confidence. You have to communicate. My primary school teacher was absolutely awesome. She’d always say to her girls, because I went to an all-girls primary school which is very rare even to this day, and she would tell her girls, she’d say you’re my girls, be determined in everything that you do no matter what because I guess as young as I was, I never truly understood what that meant but reading between the lines, what she was saying is, girls will have it tough. And you’re going to have to be determined and navigate your way through challenges after challenges. I have a long list of those skills and I think sport has brought those on somewhat so communication, dealing with pressure for example, especially when you’re at that elite level.

Those interpersonal skills, that self-awareness that I absolutely developed and taking on new challenges because you’re forever setting goals, that goal-setting piece naturally comes with sport. You’re aiming to get better and better each time you, in my case, step foot on the track. So I think those skills can absolutely be transferred into the world of work and people don’t realise that. So sports play an absolutely critical role in developing those softer skills as they say.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, 100%, and it’s interesting as well Donna when you talk about athletics, obviously, athletics is generally a much more individual sport, whereas obviously, Sarah talked about her daughter being involved in football, a team sport, and obviously, now Donna, the work you do within cricket. Do you see that there are different skills developed depending on whether they’re team sports or individual or are a lot of the skills very similar?

Donna Fraser

Yeah, I think they switch. I mean in athletics, not only did I do my individual event but I also was part of a relay. So having to race someone who’s going to be in your relay team, you still have to have that rapport and respect for one another. If you underperform it’s no one else’s fault apart from yourself. So again, managing how you are and how you deal with failure and I hate using that word, but I say that very lightly.

It really does come into play where you need your peers around you and your support network to help you get through those tough moments, but at the same time when things don’t go as well, you are learning and if you can learn from your mistakes, that again is a skill that is developed through experience year on year, day after day, and it is pretty much, you know before we came on air talking about you know projects and things and knowing what you’re going to be focusing on, that is goal setting in itself. So you’re doing it on a day-to-day basis without having that label against it. Time management is another one. No one wants to turn up for school late. You don’t want to turn up for work late either. That is time management. So you make sure you have your breakfast on time, you make sure you get the right bus, all of those things absolutely are developed through sport. And I will say that hand-on-heart sport makes those skills come through.

Sarah Browning

Absolutely. I think it’s interesting, what you were saying there Donna about sort of learning from things that go well and the things that go less well and resilience is another of those things where you know, through sport, there are days when Kissie’s gone out and you know they’ve lost seven nil, and it’s been hailing and all the rest of it and yeah, in that moment, it might be quite tough but it’s an experience and coming off the pitch and warming up having a hot chocolate, or whatever, but taking time to reflect on that, you know, I think has been important and for her every time, she will say well it wasn’t fun in the moment but I’d always rather do it than not. And so I think that’s sort of resilience, that kind of classic resilience around whether you win or lose, is a thing that’s been important for her.

Also at a grassroots level, things like the resilience around the weather particularly this season, you know you think you’re gonna play, you think you’re playing on Saturday and then it starts raining and you’re not able to play. So I think managing some of that disappointment, has been important not that I hope that there’s a lot of disappointment in her life obviously, but there will be things that we think are going to happen and then don’t, and so again learning to sort of deal with those, process those feelings, understanding it’s perfectly okay and normal to feel disappointed when something you were looking forward to doesn’t happen. But being able to then work through that and move beyond it and move on to the next thing, I think again as you’re saying Donna, there are skills to take into working life and again I think that’s something that will be really important in the future.

Donna Fraser

Definitely. And resilience is such a big word at the moment that people are talking about and I often get asked, well, why are you so resilient? That is a really tough question because I don’t get up and go well I’m going to be resilient today. It’s not about that. It comes with experiences and how you deal with those experiences. And I often used to say to myself, you know it’s really up to the individuals themselves whether they want, if they get knocked down whether they choose to stay down or get up and keep moving and that is how resilience is built. It’s about choices, and I really do believe that especially in sport you’re getting thrown curve balls time after time things that you’re not even expecting, the weather, those elements, different things, your shoelaces break all those little things, it’s how you deal with them that builds that resilience, how you navigate and still stand up and do a good performance and sometimes it doesn’t work out. But even when it doesn’t work out, how you deal with that disappointment and bounce back time after time and yeah, again people say gosh Donna, you’ve stayed in the sport for so long and, yeah I did over 20 years, but because in the back of my mind, I don’t feel that I achieved what I wanted to, so I kept getting back up and kept going as much as I possibly could and probably couldn’t run for a bus now but that’s not the point, but you know, when you’re in it and you’ve got your teammates around you and you’re seeing others progress and you’ve already set that goal of where you want to achieve, there’s nothing that will stand in your way to stop you keeping moving forward and I think young people now sometimes struggle with that because of the peer pressure. Social media has a lot to answer for unfortunately, I mean, not saying that there aren’t positive role models out there, but there’s also fake role models out there that young people are trying to aspire to especially young girls and that’s what they’re seeing. It’s accessible. But going back to what you said Sarah, it’s about that self-identity, knowing who they are. Of course, you can still go on social media, but as long as it doesn’t sway you, that you recognise that this is me, I am not them, and accepting that and building on that is just so, so important and Sarah you know you’ve got your daughter who you’re I’m sure constantly giving that type of advice all the time.

Sarah Browning

Absolutely and I think what’s been interesting is the way that obviously with the rise of The Lionesses and you know their success and so on, we have watched football, we’re a footballing family. We have been to men’s and women’s football for a long time. We were in Holland in 2017 when The Lionesses beat France, you know, so it’s been part of our world and part of hers. But it’s that role model thing, has been really interesting to see that develop over the years, so has her own football skills have developed she will watch matches and she will understand the game. I’m not a player myself. So I don’t understand the game, I watch it but I don’t understand it from that same perspective but she will say things like ‘oh that was an amazing pass’, and I will say ‘you do that, you can do that sort of thing’.

So some of that’s reinforcing what she’s seeing and wanting to sort of learn from that and do it in her own game but also, they’re showing her, these role models are showing her how she can be the woman she wants to be and that that could be any number of ways or routes that she goes down, and she did say to me a few years back, ‘I really like mum that they play football, they’re really good sports players, and they do the hair and makeup’. Absolutely yeah, it doesn’t have to be either/or you know you can do both.

And so I think some of that has been, not that she going to want to slavishly copy them but being able to as you said Donna, there are different examples out there and they do see a lot more because of social media than perhaps we would have done in the past. But it gives those sort of choices I think which you also mentioned didn’t you, that it gives you choices to say well actually I want to be like that or I don’t want to be like that, and I think maybe because you know when she was much younger she was going to be Chelsea women’s captain, and then over time, she started to think well actually I can see my footballing, it’s not at that level. However, I’m still a footballer. I’m still a girl that loves football. They are girls that love football, we have that in common and it shows up in different ways and so she’s sixteen now. I’m interested to see where it goes from here as it were.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, that role model bit is really interesting, isn’t it? I think because it’s, I mean much like you said Donna about your primary school teacher who said ‘be determined’ because you know that it is sometimes more difficult in certain areas for women and girls. Are there certain skills that you develop for sport that you think are especially important for women and girls maybe more so than they would be for boys?

Donna Fraser

I think the big one, and we’ve mentioned it already, it’s that confidence piece. Getting constantly judged. I think young girls get judged a lot more, that confidence level, and we know the stats, women are less likely to go for a role if there’s only 1 thing on that job description that they haven’t done or achieved before, whereas men, if there’s a long list of things they’ve not done, they will go for it regardless. So I do think that confidence piece plays a big role. And Sarah touched upon this, is you know, just highlighting those moments where her daughter is doing exactly the same thing as what’s being seen on TV, which naturally won’t be recognized because you’re just in the doing, and I was lucky enough to have those individuals like my primary school teacher, my parents, just constantly drip feeding those little bits of words of encouragement that would make you think ‘oh actually, no, I can do this.’ Yeah absolutely I can because we have that self-doubt, we have imposter syndrome. We all have it. But if you allow that to take over, we will never move forward. So for young girls, it’s important to have those individuals that, sharing and giving that nudge and hence why I’m a huge advocate of any sports stars who have made it, to go back into the community, back to their primary school, like I’ve done, and to go back to their sports club and share that knowledge because not all of us were born with, yes we were born with talent, but you had to work for it. It’s not the case of click your fingers and everything will be fine and dandy as to what you tend to see, you have to work for it. So that word of understanding of that journey that there needs to be work put in, but you have to build from within, and that comes from your support network. So confidence is a big one for me. I do think that focus again because you can be swayed. It’s easy and this is just not a girl’s thing, I think young boys as well. Your friends are out there going out and having fun, where you’re focused on training. You really find out who your true friends are in terms of they understand that you’re travelling away or wherever you have to go training. Because you’re aiming for something great, it’s not about ‘oh well, yes, she’s no good. She’s not joining in with us.’ Well, then they’re not your real friends. So it’s that focus piece as well. I’ll let Sarah Jump in.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I think for me, there is something about having a voice, realizing that you have a voice and that you can use it, and that people will listen. And I absolutely agree with you Donna about the importance of a support network, and teachers in particular actually, at both primary and secondary Kes has had really supportive female PE teachers who have arranged fixtures for girl’s teams and have supported them. So that has sort of been the practical support. But then also there has been the whole element of the training and the confidence building and the playing other schools and all of that side of things. A couple of years back, Kes had a thing to do at school, an assignment, that was based around the women’s game and was based around, you know, the kind of where we’ve come to, where we’ve got to, where we need to be, that sort of thing and Kesia’s response to that was she wrote a letter to her PE department to tell them that she didn’t think it was fair that the girls and boys were having different sports made available to them. She goes to a school where there is a lot of sport. Actually, they are a very sporty school. But nevertheless, the girls and boys were doing different things. She put some things in there about some of the comments from male peers that they get, and talked about, you know, how they as teenagers need support to deal with that etc etc. Anyway, her teacher then put that letter on Twitter, anonymized obviously, but put it out there saying look at what one of my year nine’s has written and the response was phenomenal, in terms of that support of ‘Yes! She’s right, go her!’, you know those types of responses. But for me, the biggest thing was that I then showed it to her and said look, you know, this is what has happened with your letter and this is the response. She was absolutely blown away. The idea that grown-ups would listen to her and say yes, you’re right and all of that, and it was amazing to see that difference. And she has since then I think, that was the point and she would have been 13/14 at the time, so absolutely right at that point where you are really just trying to get used to so many changes as a girl, aren’t you? And so many physical and emotional changes, all the rest of it. I think it was a sort of perfect storm of timing if you like, plus it was the summer that The Lionesses were about to go and do the Euro’s so there was a whole lot of stuff came together, but nevertheless, it was that point of time when she thought ‘yes, I do know what I’m talking about and people will listen to me’. That’s not always the case, of course not, you know as you said, we all have imposter syndrome. We all kind of go up and down. But I think having that as quite a formative experience at that age will stand her in good stead. And you know we’ve also, in terms of having a voice, we have talked to her as have her teachers and her coaches about being a leader and having a voice on the pitch. So she’s not her team Captain. She was a school team captain actually but the club that plays, she’s not the captain. And that’s fine and we’ve said but you can still lead. You know you can still have that voice. You know you are a team you do all need to talk to each other and because she’s a defender, so she can see the whole pitch in front of her as well, she has a vision of the game that perhaps some of the others might not kind of have that whole thing. So that I think has been a learning experience to sort of say but I’m not in that role, but you don’t have to have and that’s true in the workplace as well isn’t it? You know you don’t have to be the senior manager or the director or whatever to be a leader within your office and within your team. So you know in terms of life skills I think that’s one that’s been interesting to see her develop it and to kind of understand it in a context that makes sense to her at the moment, because the working world, of course, she’s not there yet, that makes no sense to her whatsoever really, but learning those skills in a context that does make sense at the moment is what you will then have and take forward with you in life as it develops.

Donna Fraser

And we’ve spoken so much about the different types of skills, but you know, let’s be real here. We know that women and girls experience so many more inequalities than men do and unfortunately, we still have a long way to go yet to achieve equality. But I know now in the space we’re talking more about equity, offering different types of support to different groups of people to achieve equality, that’s what we’re talking about now. So, it’s not the case of giving exactly the same as what men have for women, but it’s really listening, which is what you spoke about Sarah, listening to our young girls and women who are going up the ladder, as to what the issues they’re experiencing and looking at that and putting things in place that opportunities are accessible etc for them. It’s not well, we want to be the same as the men. It’s not always the case. Yes, of course, there are some like access to different sports, for example, yes, absolutely I think that’s right, but we still have such a long way to go. So when our young girls are experiencing those inequalities, again, it comes back to the support that they have to navigate that and deal with it and not get pushed back all the time. Otherwise, we will not make any progress.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, one hundred per cent. I have to say, Sarah, I mean I think I’ve got a job for your daughter as soon as she’s ready based on that letter because I could really do with somebody like that in Sports Sister, to be honest.

Sarah Browning

Absolutely.

Natalie Doyle

We talked earlier, a lot about resilience, and I think that’s a real key one that comes from sport isn’t it? And it’s really interesting to think about these life skills that are developed, whether they’re consciously developed or whether it’s just a sort of fortunate byproduct, because the thing is with resilience, you can’t force it, can you? You can’t manufacture these situations where people become more resilient, it happens by dealing with failure or disappointment or difficult circumstances. Do you think that’s generally the case for developing these skills through sport? Is it usually just a fortunate byproduct or are there things that we can do to help create these situations where we can develop these skills within girls, especially?

Donna Fraser

Do you want to take that one Sarah?

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I think, I imagine that the answer to that may vary depending on the age of the sportsperson. So certainly because Kez has been doing this since she was 5 or 6, and what’s been interesting is to see over that time, how it has changed even within her team. How some of them have become more and more interested in playing the game and developing their sporting skills and so on, and then others it has remained much more of a social experience and doing something fun with their friends. And there’s nothing wrong with either of those approaches. It has presented sometimes challenges to the coaches because they’ve got to sort of balance that out. But I think the key element is about making it fun. And so actually they have developed these skills in different ways at different ages. But it’s been fun and I think if you had said to them or you know, come along for some resilience training or come along to build your confidence or whatever, at various times you’d have got a lot of eye-rolling actually as well. But, you know, it doesn’t sound very interesting. It doesn’t sound very fun. It doesn’t actually sound very relevant to them either as children, for all that we know as adults, it is relevant and will continue to be relevant to develop those skills.

So I think, where for her it has started to become a little bit more deliberate as she has now got older, and as I said she’s in GCSE year, last year she had to do some work experience and that was the point where it became a bit more of a conscious, ‘I want to work in this world’. You know, this is my world at the moment but I want to work in this world. And so she ended up doing work experience at Maidenhead United Football Club. She’s a season ticket holder there. She goes to see the men and the women so, you know, she feels part of that family if you like. But they’re a fantastic community club as well. So she went and did some work experience and they were brilliant at showing her all the different things that go into running a football club because there are so many different roles, aren’t there, which again, you don’t know unless you go in and have a look and she, you know, was able to meet with the chairman and the club secretary and take part in the training session and run something with the brownies. You know there was a whole kind of range of things. Social media, she made some videos for that. So that’s when it became a bit more conscious but I think that’s because that’s the age she has got to now and that’s the next sort of step in her life as a whole, will be to move on to A-levels and then think what do I do after that. So I think, you know, whether it’s conscious or not, for me, is about the the kind of context and what you’re living in at that point in time. I don’t know if that was your experience as well, Donna?

Donna Fraser

Yeah, it’s an interesting one and, you know, with this particular question I thought about myself, and I think it starts from the minute you’re born. For me, and I use me as an example, I was often told from my parents and my sisters that, you know, Donna’s so stubborn. If Donna says she’s going to do something and wants to do something, even before I can even talk she was going to do it. And that I believe is part of my DNA. But on top of that, going through the stages of growing up, something as simple as my sister saying ‘Let’s see how fast you can run between this lamp post and the next lamppost’ that was, ‘Right, I am going to prove her wrong. I am going to do it in a quick time’ you know, all those little things that happened with me growing up, and again, with exams setting in my mind ‘right, I am aiming for A.’ All those things, pushing myself and when I didn’t get the A’s it’s like ‘okay, right, well what did I do wrong?’ evaluating that and bouncing back. But I think that resilience in me was instilled from a very early age, however, what supplemented that was my environment and the people around me to keep going.

And again I’ll use a family member of mine, and I remember my sister had a daughter, my niece, and, you know, little things when she was a baby were like ‘no, let her hold a bottle herself’, but instead my sister was feeding her all the time, and to me, I thought that created a bit of laziness and over a period of time you could see certain things like ‘no, you can do that’ and the self-doubt came in ‘okay, come on. You can climb that tree.’ ‘No, I can’t Auntie Donna’. ‘Yes, you can.’ It’s all of those kinds of things. So I do think that it starts from the minute that you are born and the environment that you’re in and of course as you get older, again Sarah’s given great examples of that, you do build it over a period of time. If you don’t and learn from those experiences you will stay how you are. So everyone is different and it’s different circumstances, and unfortunately, if we were all the same, It would be a pretty boring world, but I do think if we’re thinking about young girls and women as well who, you know, we’re all women here, when we look back and we see what we’re seeing on TV now, I do think that young girls need a lot of support. And we’re seeing more and more mental health now, and sport I think we’re missing a trick here, sport is not just about physical activity. It’s about mental healthness as well and I think we need to move away from, okay, sport means building muscle. It means being elite. It’s not just about that. It’s as simple as going out for a walk at lunchtime and getting some fresh air in the wildlife, experiencing that rather than being stuck in front of the TV. So I think there’s a lot of things that us, on this particular podcast, could share with young girls that can help them progress in life moving forward.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it’s really interesting how you’ve both, throughout this episode, talked about the importance of that supportive network. Donna, you’ve talked about your parents being supportive and encouraging you to push yourself, and Sarah you’re obviously doing the same for your daughter as well. Do you see as well that the same thing applies in a sporting setting? Sarah, are you seeing with your daughter that she’s got really supportive coaches who are encouraging her to to push herself and providing that sort of safe environment? Because it seems clear that that’s a really important element as well.

Sarah Browning

Absolutely. She’s had a change of coach at her team recently, and it’s been interesting to see how the style develops as they get older and getting that point of balance between as I said, the ones that want it just to be fun and the ones that want to be more competitive with it, and how you sort of encourage both and, you know, keep them involved. I think one of the areas that we need to look at and develop is that her coaches have all been male. The club that she plays at, they do have some female coaches for female teams. They’re a youth team so they don’t have adults, they’re a youth club. And I think it was this season maybe last season, they’ve always been supportive of girl’s football and this or last season they got to fifty-fifty girls and boys teams. So it’s a fantastic setup to be part of. You know, they are genuinely supportive of those girls’ teams. But I know that the coaching element is a bit more of a struggle because with youth teams they do tend to be parents that are the coaches. And so when it came up that her team was going to need a new coach I did briefly moot the idea that perhaps I could step in and do it.

Natalie Doyle

That was going to be my suggestion.

Sarah Browning

Well, she was absolutely mortified. There was no way this was gonna happen but actually, also it wouldn’t have been right because, you know, I don’t understand the game well enough, and I am very much of that generation where I didn’t play football growing up. Not because I didn’t have the opportunity, though I probably wouldn’t have done. I just, I’m of the generation it just never even occurred to me that I might want to because it wasn’t a girl’s sport. It was a boy’s thing. And so I do wonder whether now as the parents that are coming through are younger, and the Mums themselves may well have been playing football and perhaps stopped as teenagers or when they were parents or whatever. I know that there are, you know, conversations going on, you know, in a lot of grassroots clubs around how do we get those Mums back in and how do we get them back involved with it.

I have a close friend who I’ve known since I was at school, who played rugby at University, and she now is a coach for her son’s rugby team because she felt, well I know the game, I played it, you know, and I’m going to be there anyway taking him to the sessions, you know I’ll get involved. So I think there is something. Don’t get me wrong, male coaches can be brilliant, can be fantastic, can be very supportive. They can be great allies but there are things which they just won’t understand in the same way in terms of what the girls are facing, what the girls are feeling like, what they will face in the future that you might want to, you know, develop skills to deal with now. So I think that that is definitely an area that needs to be developed in terms of getting more women involved. I don’t run the line either. My husband runs the line. He did the course.

Natalie Doyle

High pressure that situation. That position’s very high pressure.

Sarah Browning

Absolutely, but he genuinely really enjoys it. Actually you know, he’s even got his own flag. Kez bought him 1 for Father’s Day.

Donna Fraser

Love it, love it. And that is, that’s such an interesting one because you mentioned there Natalie, around our support networks, you know, pushing us all the time, but there’s also a fine line of pushing too hard, that it has an adverse effect on the young person. So it’s getting that balance right, and there is no book for this. It’s just knowing your audience, as simple as that. I’m sure Sarah, you know how much you can push your daughter to the point where it’s like actually this is doing more damage than good?

Sarah Browning

Absolutely.

Donna Fraser

And we have to be mindful of that. And there are coaches out there that do cross the line. We know that, hence why a lot more safeguarding is put in place in sport which is brilliant, but to your point around women’s coach representation, that is definitely something that I looked at when I was working in athletics and to identify the reasons why they were not coming up and coming forward because they absolutely had the skills to coach, and what were those barriers and identifying those. And it goes back to that equity question, in terms of what provisions were being put in place in order for women coaches to come forward and coach, in a sport that they absolutely love, and again, it wouldn’t be the same as men, but we need to think about what are those barriers. And something as simple as having a creche at the athletics track, for example, so you can bring your children there, leave them there, and then carry on coaching and of course now, that comes down to funding. Of course, I realised that, but that was just an example. But you’re absolutely right that our young girls need to see people in their support network who look like them so that they can relate to, share the challenges that they may not necessarily feel comfortable sharing with a male coach. You know, having their menstrual cycle etc. All those things. It’s quite challenging for young girls. It’s embarrassing for young girls, and I know we’re trying to normalise all of those things talking about it, but it’s not so easy if you are a shy person just to come out and say, well, you know, I don’t feel too well coach because XYZ, so you’d feel much more comfortable saying it to another female coach because they will go through it themselves. So we have to be mindful of that environment that we’re creating for our young girls to thrive in the sport that they want to enjoy.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I agree. You know, we have had situations where, you know, girls needed to be subbed off because they’re in pain, and, you know, it’s been absolutely fine, but again, like you say, I think there’s that sort of embarrassment of having to say I need to come off because of this reason when it’s a male coach. And for all we can say, as you said, you know, we’re trying to normalise it, etc, that’s just not the reality particularly when you’re a teenager.

Donna Fraser

No, absolutely not.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, hundred per cent. I’ve literally just written down, the female coaches area is something that we could talk about for ages isn’t it, and I’ve just written down that we need to make sure that we do an episode dedicated to female coaches at some point in the next couple of seasons I think, because it’s such a massive topic around why it’s so important and why the numbers aren’t there and the different barriers there are. So, it’s on my to-do list. I’ve added that one down.

I just want to extract the last final bits of genius from the two of you, because it’s been such a brilliant conversation so far. My final question to you both is, if we have clubs or organisations or coaches listening who want to try and develop these life skills in the girls that they’re working with, what advice or tips would you give to them?

Donna Fraser

I think the advice I would give is to listen. Because whatever service they’re putting in place you have to listen to your people. We can all sit around a table and come up with some wonderful ideas to ensure that it’s an inclusive environment for young girls and boys to come and join in a club. And if we’re talking about organisations, this is part and parcel of my day job, is creating that inclusive environment. I will have my own ideas as to what inclusivity looks like. But for my audience, until I ask the question ‘What does good look like for you? What will make you feel welcome, have that sense of belonging to enable you to do well and thrive and the support?’ you know I need to know that information. And if we’re talking about from an organisational level, this is why we have employee surveys, to find out that information, so then you can put initiatives and programs in place to supplement that. But of course, sometimes not everyone speaks their truth. So it’s having that psychological safety environment as well, that people feel comfortable speaking their truth, can be open and honest and say you know what? I’m not happy with this. This is what I would like to happen and then you can manage that accordingly. So I think listening, taking that time out to listen to your audience is just really key. Having that conversation.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I think, I would add to that, that once you’ve done that piece and not that it’s a one-off, but you know as you’re developing that inclusive and welcoming culture, there is something certainly for kind of youth teams and as a parent, around communication that I want to know that you genuinely value your girl’s teams and your girls that are playing that it’s not just, and again in particular in football, you know there’s as I understand it, there’s a lot more money around girls and teams and so on now, and I’m not interested if your club is just chasing the money. And you get a feel as a parent and the girls do as well, they get a feel for if this is genuine or not and I think some of the kind of practical ways that clubs can show that you know they place genuine equal importance is things like, you know, if you are sharing your team’s fixtures or results on social media, put the girls and boys ones together. Don’t have them separately. And very often put the boys out first and then do the girls, have them mixed in together so they are just your club’s results. With the images perhaps that you’re using and photos and so on, again, you know, making sure that there’s equal representation, and those sorts of things I think are really important to show that this is a culture that is going to value my girl, that is going to value my daughter, it’s going to give her a positive experience that you know it’s something she will enjoy and then, actually as you said Donna, that kind of listening piece continues to be important once you know they’re in as it were to kind of keep listening to them, keep involving them, give them, I mean a lot of of these clubs give girls and the boy’s opportunities I think I can’t remember what age it is when some I think it’s when they get to 14, they can get involved in refereeing if they would like to, so you know, and there are kind of coaching opportunities and all those sorts of things so having those kinds of different options for them so that they can continue to learn and develop over time, I think is key.

Donna Fraser

And that’s an interesting one as well Sarah in terms of the opportunities, because again you know, let’s be real, not every young person that joins a sports club is going to make it to the ultimate, to that extreme elite level. So it’s exposing them to other roles that they can play in sport. And you mentioned refereeing. I know we have a demographic that is ageing in terms of athletics officials for example and again the perception of ‘Oh that’s boring’. Well no, you can make it fun, but you’re giving back to the sport that you love and want to be involved in, so of course, strive to be the best you can be as an athlete but also think further afield than that. In administration every club needs a treasurer, every club needs a finance department, thinking like that, how you can stay in sport and building some other skills that can really help in sport and I think it’s widening that net a little bit more to expose young people to those opportunities.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, I agree. You know there’s a lot isn’t there around, you know, and you alluded to this right at the start Donna, when you talk about your time in athletics and how it can be seen as an individual sport. But actually, you know, there’s a lot more people around there that perhaps aren’t the ones that are visible on the track or are visible on the TV or whatever, and even with football where there is a team of them on the pitch, actually, the team is much, much bigger and you only have to look don’t you, at you at the end of matches when they all come out and they’re in their huddles and all the rest of it. You know there’s more than eleven there isn’t there, or 15 or whatever with subs, you know, there’s so many people involved. There’s so many different options. And again, particularly for young people, how do they know that? You know, as adults we we might know that because we can kind of extrapolate from our own working experiences, but actually if all you know about sport is what you see on TV or social media, then how do you know that there’s all that other stuff going on unless that is also represented and shown on the TV or social media and magazines and all the rest of it. So I think that’s something that we as grownups can be conscious of and think about as well and, you know to your point Natalie about what can clubs do, again, that’s something that they can in their communications, is not just talk about the teams and maybe the coaches but talk more broadly about who’s involved because there are so many.

Donna Fraser

Absolutely. And just a quick one just to add to that is in terms of I know you’re gonna do a whole episode on women coaches, but just again the automatic thought is, okay, this is my sport I’m gonna go into coaching. That is not something that is always going to transpire. But that’s not a must. And I think especially in what we’re doing in cricket and we’ve done it in athletics is, clubs can really create those opportunities whether it’s shadowing or create a specific initiative for young girls to create their succession plans for moving forward because it’s got to start somewhere. So then you’re creating the future of sports administrators and hopefully, there’ll be more women because there’s not that many women working in sports administration, and yet we’re creating so many athletes. So it is changing that narrative and as you say that visibility of that will help, being in the front of everything and you know EDI leads, Oh it’s a woman, fantastic or we’ve got an events manager at football who’s a woman, fantastic. We shouldn’t have to celebrate that, but we have to because it creates that visibility. But I’d like to see a time if I had a crystal ball that oh absolutely fantastic, Natalie, events manager or director of events. Fine. It’s the norm. So I’d like to see that in the future that it’s not oh, our first female, etc, etc.

Sarah Browning

Yeah, yeah, I think it’s something about legacy isn’t it? You know there’s a lot of talk as you know women’s sport in general but particularly with football you know it is becoming much more high profile, much more talked about, there’s a lot of talk about legacy. And it seems to me that at the moment a lot of the legacy conversation is around that kind of pro elite level of legacy or it’s the little girls coming in at the very bottom to be players and player pathways. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s brilliant that little girls now think they could play football in Princess dresses, you know that’s brilliant and they don’t have to choose either/or, but there’s something about the teenagers who have chosen to play under sometimes quite difficult circumstances, you know, remembering them and acknowledging where they are now, but also, as you say where they could be and where they could go and that legacy of being again, about much more than just the boots on the pitch. So you know, I think I’d like to see that too Donna, and I think we will. I think it’s very exciting that we have this kind of power quite frankly and energy and motivation from a lot of us and a growing number. And you know Kezia and her generation. They won’t put up with things that we would put up with actually, for all that there are also challenges and so on I can see that it’s quite different, so you know, it does give me lots of hope and excitement for you know, the hopefully not too distant future.

Donna Fraser

Well when we’re in our rocking chair, rocking away and we’re watching we’ll be like yes I remember that podcast we spoke about this we had that crystal ball. We knew.

Natalie Doyle

I think that’s a really good point, Donna, not but the rocking chair, but the aspirational role model showing girls these opportunities that are available to them. And there are some really great clubs, Grassroots clubs who have good volunteering programs to encourage young people into these roles so I will share some links into some of those clubs in the notes to this episode because I think if there are any clubs listening who would be interested in that, that it’s definitely worth going to check out what some other clubs are doing and sharing those ideas across the country.

I feel like I could have talked to you two for hours and hours on end. Thank you so much for all of your advice and some great stories and examples as well. It’s been really interesting. So thank you both very much for joining me.

Donna Fraser

Thank you for having me.

Sarah Browning

Thank you to you too. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Natalie Doyle

Wow! Weren’t Sarah and Donna amazing? I absolutely loved that conversation. It was great to chat with them I think we could have gone off for hours and hours and we did carry on chatting for a while after the recording finished as well. Just great passion and enthusiasm for the subject, a huge amount of knowledge and examples of different things that they see that sport can bring out in young people and how important it is especially for women and girls.

I hope that you found that episode useful. I think for me, the real key bits that came out of it were the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people and if you’re a parent or a coach or you’re involved in a club, you’re working with young people, the importance of providing that safe environment where they can flourish and develop themselves is so important. Communication, time management, resilience, focus the list goes on in terms of the skills that you can develop through sport and I hope that you see that with the young people that you’re involved with either from a parent’s point of view or from a coach or club point of view.

Thank you so much, Donna and Sarah. They were absolutely fantastic and we’ll be back again in a couple of weeks with another episode for you. See you then.

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