Learning curve for Sheffield United Women’s manager Carla Ward in sporting lockdown

Very few professional footballers really want to be in lockdown at the moment and Sheffield United Women’s manager Carla Ward is no exception but at least she has been putting her enforced lay-off to good use.

Spending time with her 11-month-old daughter has been an unexpected bonus for the former midfielder, but Ward has also been using the time away from the club’s Shirecliffe training complex to develop as a manager. She completed her UEFA A licence shortly before lockdown but if anything her footballing education has only accelerated since, helped greatly by modern technology and a willingness amongst the coaching fraternity to share knowledge and ideas.

“Everyone wants to be back but I’d say I’ve learnt more in the last few months than I have in the last year or so,” she admits, talking to journalists over Skype. “It’s not only webinars, you also have time to sit back and reflect on the mistakes you made and areas of improvement. You never really look at what you’ve done right, let’s be honest, so you start delving into why you’ve done it wrong or why you’ve made these mistakes and how you can get better. You have to then go and find the answers. It’s been good.

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“I’ve been doing everything and anything from the LMA (League Manager’s Association), who have had some really good webinars with regard to leadership and management, but also Premier League managers have had theirs. (Leicester City’s) Brendan Rodgers has done one and (Manchester United assistant manager) Mike Phelan did one on the Sir Alex Ferguson days, which I found massively useful.

Carla Ward manager of Sheffield United Women.  Picture: Harry Marshall/SportimageCarla Ward manager of Sheffield United Women.  Picture: Harry Marshall/Sportimage
Carla Ward manager of Sheffield United Women. Picture: Harry Marshall/Sportimage | Sportimage

“The amount of webinars and the amount of people you can connect with who you wouldn’t have had time to really gives you the chance to learn and develop. They say coaches are thieves and they’re not wrong, you take what you can and you learn and implement it into your own ways.”

Ward’s studies have swelled her contacts book with names she can pick the brains of too.

“The A licence has been brilliant,” she says. “In the last year there’s been a lot of learning. I was on with 57 guys and four girls. They were all elite-level coaches so it was brilliant, you get to learn not just from the course but from each other as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

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Like most leading women’s clubs, Sheffield United – second in the Championship when the game went into lockdown – are attached to their male equivalents and that provides not only more people to learn from but also more resources to help get through the crisis coronavirus has inflicted on football clubs and businesses across the world.

Sheffield United Women's manager Carla Ward. Picture: James Wilson/SportimageSheffield United Women's manager Carla Ward. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage
Sheffield United Women's manager Carla Ward. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage | ©Sportimage

“I’ve got a very, very good relationship with Jack Lester, head of the academy,” reveals Ward. “I’m normally in his office every day discussing sessions, tactics and plans and you really do get ideas off each other. I spend a bit of time outside watching other coaches. Some of the academy lads will come and sit in our office and we start discussing sessions. We’re always asking each other’s opinions and trying to challenge each other so it’s a great learning environment. I love it.

“When people ask me how does Chris (Wilder, the men’s team manager) do it, and he does an unbelievable job, I think Chris will be as thankful as I am that we’ve got that support. It allows you to do things money can’t buy.

“Whereas other clubs might chuck money about, do they have the model and the stability to be able to kick on? I often wonder.

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“In the women’s side, there probably are clubs doing it very well and clubs that are supportive, but there certainly are clubs which can stand up and support their women in more ways than just money, that’s for sure.”

With the Women’s Championship suspended rather than abandoned, Ward is trying to juggle motherhood and development with looking after her part-time players and planning for next season, whatever that entails.

“In the first couple of weeks I was thinking I wasn’t going to cope with this,” she admits. “I’ve got an 11-month-old little one so I’ve spent some really good quality time with her and she’s started crawling so it’s been nice to catch the moments with her. In football management you don’t get to spend too much time at home.

“I’ve absolutely loved it from a personal point of view.

“I’ve been crazily busy, so it’s not been too bad.

“You can never make players do anything, you just hope they have enough unity to keep in touch. Naturally they’re all on calls together three times a week, they have a team quiz once a week so they probably see each other four or five times a week, probably more than they would if we weren’t in isolation.

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“I’d like to think they’ve done their best to stick together.

“The quiz is players only. They do theirs on a Friday night when we have a Sheff United staff quiz, so I don’t get involved. It’s player time.”

When it comes to the day-to-day business of management, Ward says: “There’s not much I’m able to do other than to plan for potentially getting back and for next season. Realistically at this point, with six games to go, we would already be planning for next season so that’s something we’re doing at the moment. We’re identifying new targets but the FA have put a hold on even approaching clubs at this moment, so it’s difficult.

“Where at this moment in time you’d normally be opening negotiations with players there’s a hold on that so we’re sort of ready to go and it’s just a case of when we can have those conversations.

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“Naturally you start looking around Christmas time so we’ve had targets in our head and you look to add to it as you go along and there will be some you probably stop thinking about or others who get put on your doorstep. We’ve had a target list now for a couple of months and we’ll still press ahead with it in terms of speaking to agents but we’ll be ready to go as soon as the FA say we can do.”

For Ward, as for so many people, it is just a waiting game. She is doing a lot more than simply twiddling her thumbs, though.

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