8 March, 2022

IWD2022: Women in coaching, a spotlight on WPL Head Coach Rosie Williams

Photo credit: Carl Robertson

To commemorate and celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke to Cardiff Met Archers Head Coach Rosie Williams. Rosie shares her own personal journey into coaching, as well as discussing how the programme at Archers is about more than just the scoreboard.

Archers compete in the BWB Women’s Premier League, the first of its kind in women’s wheelchair basketball, and are certainly making an impact in the inaugural season. Rosie shares head coach duties with Tom Guntrip, and have proved a successful partnership in the development of one of four foundation teams within the league.

Rosie’s role makes her the first female coach in the Women’s Premier League, etching her name into the legacy of the league and paving the way for the future generations of women in coaching as a role model.

From a young age, Rosie was heavily interested in sports from the word go and got involved in just about everything she could. When Rosie was introduced to wheelchair basketball, she was immediately hooked.

“I fell in love with it because it was a sport you weren’t good at straight away. If you’re sporty in school you’d kind of be at the top of the class in PE, and for the first time I was bottom of the group. It was a really exciting prospect that I was put in a situation where I could really learn about something. That was my background in participating and then I went on to coaching pretty quickly because I was so obsessed with learning about the game. I’d just fallen in love with it. It was the first time in my life I could be a nerd about something and truly geek out about it!”

“At school I had to get some volunteering hours and I started volunteering at the development sessions, and became the leader and started leading that group.”

The transition from participating, to volunteering, to coaching was a natural progression for Rosie as her skills developed. From leading those initial development sessions to now coaching a High Performance team in the highest level of domestic competition in women’s wheelchair basketball, Rosie’s journey into her current role at Archers has been built on a foundation of dedication and sacrifices.

“When I played for my local football team aged eight, I would bring in session plans for my coach and I would like this is how you should do your game plan and I would write game plans out… so I have always been obsessed with the coaching side of sport, but I didn’t realise what it was or what I was doing because I was too young.”

“At the time, my club didn’t have a Women’s League team or a Junior League team. I’d go away and play for any team that would have me. As a 15 year old I was travelling the country, going to Nottingham where the women’s league was based. The GB Women’s head coach at the time had heard about what I was doing and had heard that I was also interested in being a coach. So he said that if I ever needed any support or help he’d be more than willing to help me because he’d seen the graft I was putting in as a kid and I took him up on it.”

“Between the ages of 16 to 18, I started travelling to Worcester, again, independently, sometimes there and back in a day on the train for ten hours for a single session so I could learn, observe and be a part of the programme. I was learning from Haj at the time as well, shadowing some of his sessions.”

“In my first year at university I became the assistant coach for Division 1 Coyotes Team which was the GB women’s team that played in the National League at the time. Initially I had played in one game and they said that I should assist in coaching. They would rotate me with the head coach and I’d assist them. I’d also started taking the lead on some performance analysis as we had nothing at the time.

“At the end of my first year they invited me to sit on the bench at Continental Clash with the seniors and I had started to be team manager for the under-25s group, so I was able to be around more performance groups. After that, I coached at Coventry, I coached for Wales, and in 2019 I was assistant coach for the Invictus Games. Now I also work with Wales Women, so lots of different and interesting groups.”

With International Women’s Day 2022 in view, Rosie reflected on the people who have empowered her to achieve her goals or have provided a source of inspiration in her sports coaching journey.

“When I was playing in the Women’s League, I had a match against London Titans and their coach Ann Wild, and immediately I just loved what she she did. The players felt so cared for and understood, even if they were sat on the bench and instantly I knew I just wanted to play for her because I wanted to learn. I wanted to be amongst it. I wanted to see what she was doing and why people were so captivated by what she was doing. It was an amazing year learning from her. And still, I stay in contact with her because anyone who has had an interaction with her just wants to have another one, and I think that that’s an amazing quality. I don’t particularly remember what she did, but I do remember how she made me feel – she made me feel seen and cared for, and that I could fulfill my potential.”

“I played for Wales U19 so played against Scotland quite a lot, and seeing Tina Gordon from Scotland on the other side was again a moment where you saw a woman amongst a group of male coaches not be fearful of being tenacious, and being verbal and expressive. That then taught me again that I didn’t have to be in my box. I think that she was just someone else who stood out to me because she went against the grain of what I perceived being a woman in coaching was.”

“Alongside that, I would watch international sport and would see the likes of Steph Wheeler from the USA. Steph leads a successful program at Illinois where people again want to be. She’s so passionate. You looked down the bench and see all the USA players holding hands at 2016 Rio like they felt a part of something. As the leader of that group, she was the person they looked at to go wow, we’ve got something really special here. What is it that she’s done and why has it been so special? I think more recently they’ve pushed against the grain and demanded more female coaches amongst the team which again, was led from the front from her and I’ve always looked to her and seen her as being a leader.”

Alongside women in sport who have directly inspired her journey, Rosie also cited allyship from male coaches as being vital in her development: “I also want to give a special mention to Mike Hayes at North Wales, because that’s a male coach that has not only given a voice to female players and female coaches, but has put his ego aside to let me mentor him after being his player so many years – not all coaches would do that. He really encourages players’ input in the women’s game – he embodies all the values that we want to see from a male coach in the women’s game. He cares about making those young women leaders and giving them ownership of their development.”

Moving her attention back onto the Women’s Premier League, Rosie reflects on how it feels to be a founding member of the league.

Rosie Williams coaching
BWB / SA Images

“It’s a privilege and an honour that we’re able to give people an opportunity to thrive in a genuine and authentic person-centred programme where they’re able to express themselves, and naturally that has had a knock-on effect in their ability to play basketball and their ability to trust each other. We aim to encourage our players to go out of their comfort zone, whether it’s on or off the basketball court.”

“We have athletes that come a day early to camp so they can coach an Inspire a Generation session and they’ve never coached before joining us. They are doing that because part of their recruitment was us asking “What can we do for your personal and professional development?” We really care about ‘the other stuff’.”

“We’ve got another player who hadn’t ever been a table official, and at the weekend they table officiated a WBBL game. Basketball is a medium in which we can give them access to opportunities and give them an amazing life experiences. It just feels amazing that we can give people an opportunity to do these things in a place where they feel safe.”

The Archers WPL side features several players who made their first international appearances as GB Juniors, combined with players who are relatively new to the sport. Across the league, this mix of experience means that players and coaches involved in the WPL can benefit from playing with, or against, senior players with years of experience, including GB Women’s athletes.

“I think for the players there’s an opportunity to grow, learn, develop by playing against the [GB Women] but it also gives them a platform to show what they can do because it’s hard to break the mould, right? These girls have a chance to each week go out there and show them what they can do and show that age isn’t a barrier. For example, I’m the only female coach but also the youngest coach in the league, so I’m embodying what I am trying to make the players do. It’s putting me outside my comfort zone, it’s putting the players outside their comfort zone by giving them roles that they’re not normally used to due to lack of opportunity outside the WPL.”

“In this team they get the opportunity to be a leader – to be a passionate leader, a quiet leader – whatever leadership looks like to them, they get to be that. We give them a chance to define themselves as a basketball player so they don’t have come in and be the next anybody. They get to be the player they want to be. They’re not parts of a machine, they’re not being coached to be robots – they’re being coached to be decision makers that can really lead by example. Everybody can bring something and I think that’s what is really exciting about our group because they know that is what I genuinely believe in.”

“They have dedicated so much time to the programme – it’s our duty to give them the skills to deal with life beyond sport through the medium of basketball. I guess I’m so passionate about that because I’m a Performance Lifestyle practitioner too and that’s what’s so unique about our programme. We have two head coaches that have experience beyond coaching basketball, so therefore we naturally just encourage them to do that too.”

The passion the coaching duo at Archers have for the development of their athletes and volunteers is far-reaching, Rosie concludes: “The players get to write their next chapter. It’s not going to be the game results, it’s going to be about what that group can do together, for each other for the social change they are creating together. I think it’s such a powerful tool that they have everybody on a mission to succeed in a way that they want to succeed.”

Each of the four teams in the Women’s Premier League are based at High Performance Partnerships (HPP), which are centres of excellence for wheelchair basketball within the UK. Reflecting on what impact these HPPs are having, Rosie particularly notes the development opportunities with the HPPs:

“The impact that the HPPs are having joins a movement that we’re seeing in football, in rugby, where the movement isn’t about sport, it’s not about a specific sport, it’s about women in sport getting opportunities. I think that the HPP has given a platform to disabled women and it’s an additional part of the movement where there’s real opportunity for change.”

“At Cardiff Met Archers, we’re investing in every part of the game. We’re not just invested in the WPL – we are invested in our BUCS programme, in our community programme, into the ‘Inspire a Generation’ programme, into our National League teams. We’re invested in making this a hub for wheelchair basketball, no matter what level you are you will get an experience you will enjoy.”

“At our first camp we had rugby players coming to that session and helping deliver the S&C. We’ve started to build relations with other societies of the the university – we’re not just seen as an isolated wheelchair basketball group. We have a thriving community and system that is really enabling people to make friends and connections, and I think it’s just an amazing opportunity to study and play. That play can be recreational or it can be elite.”

“Over the next year, we are going to focus on what we can do for Cardiff as a community as well. Already, we’re having primary schools and disability professionals email us, and we’re also motivating our athletes to make an impact in their local communities outside of Cardiff.”

Returning the spotlight to Rosie, the motivated and dedicated coach outlined her personal aspirations for the future: “Initially and immediately with Cardiff Met Archers I want to develop a programme where athletes deem success as more than just the result on a basketball court – that’s my immediate goal. Beyond that, I’m keen to break the mould and become a coach in the GB system. I love what I’ve done as team manager. I love that I’ve got to the World Championships and European championships and beyond. I’ve got to learn so much but I’m really ready for the next level. Beyond women’s basketball, again on breaking the mould, I want to coach a men’s team because I think it’s really important to do so.”

Find out more about the BWB Women’s Premier League: https://britishwheelchairbasketball.co.uk/womens-premier-league/

Find out more about Inspire a Generation: https://inspireageneration.com/

Find out more about the High Performance Partnerships: https://britishwheelchairbasketball.co.uk/high-performance-par/

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