What were Women’s Soccer United guaranteed from an interview with manager Keith Boanas? Honesty, respect and a genuine love for the women’s game, as highlighted in Keith’s responses below. The UEFA Pro licensed coach has made a huge impression on the development of the women’s game both at home and abroad.

Women’s Soccer United:

What influenced your decision to withdraw from the Lincoln Ladies managerial role in the English WSL and to continue work with Estonia Women’s National Team?

Keith Boanas:

I was without doubt excited and enthused to have the opportunity to return home closer to my wife Pauline and my siblings and to not only work in the WSL but also to be reunited with a player I regard as close as family namely Casey Stoney. I was one year into a new three year deal with Estonia when this offer came from Lincoln.

It got my attention straight away mainly due to Casey and the offer discussed was attractive and despite money NOT being my main incentive it almost matched my situation in Estonia and of course I would be much nearer home . Initially Casey had not resigned and I know she had spoken to another club but once we talked and I said I was coming she went ahead and signed not just because of me but Lincoln sensibly recognised her worth and gave her a respectable contract deal .

Due to my busy schedule in Estonia all of my discussions were dealt with on phone or Skype and there were some things on the contract I wished reworded and clarified before I signed . I was to be honest always struggling with the decision anyway because I am a very loyal person in football terms so everything had to be right in my mind . The Estonians have given me the utmost respect and the experiences I have had have been amazing and things not possible for me had I remained in the UK. I felt I owed them to fulfil my contract and there was still so much work to do.

So it was always a split decision and when I finally was able to be in the UK after I had verbally agreed with Lincoln and not being able to meet with the Estonian FA prior to this due to commitments with the teams myself and Pauline drove to Lincoln from our home in Kent to meet with the CEO . I was fully expecting to sign an amended contract and agree on accommodation and other issues ready for me to begin in January some 2-3 weeks later. Unfortunately the contract was not ready and elements of the meeting did not go as well as I had expected and even Pauline was unhappy at what she heard. I tried to contact the Chairman but unfortunately he was ill and unable to get back to me before I had discussions with colleagues in Estonia and my wife. The Estonians once hearing I had not signed with Lincoln made it very clear to me that they would welcome my return and happy to continue my contract with them. Again this showed massive respect and I humbly accepted. So the tears shed by many players, turned to smiles and I am now back on track.

I spoke to Casey and our friendship will not be affected and I wish her and all the players at Lincoln every success and am genuinely happy that a coach of the quality and experience of Rick Passmore has taken the position, he was my tip and would have been my recommendation.

WSU:

What are the noticeable similarities/differences to coaching in England and abroad?

Keith Boanas:

Using Estonia as an example plus what I have seen travelling to different tournaments and seminars the differences for me in coaching abroad vary. The obvious ones are dealing with language barriers and cultural differences, the real positives for me were the instant respect I received for my qualifications and experience not only from the players and staff in Estonia but also from many of our opponents . The players in Estonia are prepared and used to training 4-5 times a week regardless of jobs school etc and sometimes in harsh conditions that players in England would not dream of and we are talking amateur players . Of course elite players or those with that ambition will push themselves Casey was and is a prime example but in Estonia all players are prepared to do this. So if the coach is dedicated enough to work at their trade then you can get time with the players and help them improve. The issues in Estonia and some of the other developing nations is the low numbers of the right quality of coach, something we are working on. Similarities are you still face the same issues with lack of access to the best facilities and fighting against the negativity for women and girls to be playing and sharing at the best levels . Plus of course the normal issues of emotions and parents not always being supportive of their little girl playing this tough game.

WSU:

Has English Women’s Football made it? In your opinion is the Women’s Super League successfully meeting its proposed plans?

Keith Boanas:

For me the WSL has been fairly successful in its infancy, the staff involved around it are always striving to not only maintain but constantly improve it. I like to think from outside that they have learned from problems faced by the US leagues and I am confident that they have a solid ethos and philosophy for its growth. The bottom line is it will still depend on media coverage and major sponsors believing in it and of course building on the recent hype surrounding Team GB and England hopefully doing well in Sweden. Need to keep working hard on making attractive to spectators both on and off the pitch, the level of technical play is definitely rising and lets hope even the detractors can recognise and respect that. Although I am concerned that an influx of foreign stars could hold back our own young talent. As long as it does not get out of control then the overall standard of play can raise even higher and our youngsters can learn from these players in things like training and lifestyle dedicated to the game . The way a young David Beckham learned from the likes of Eric Cantona and Theo Walcott from Thierry Henry . But it must be monitored so that it does not become monopolised by foreign players for the long term .

WSU:

What work are you doing in Estonia to develop the women’s game?

Keith Boanas:

In Estonia when I arrived in January 2009 I spent the first few months in minus 8 or around that doing my best to find out what was already in place and began working with players identified to me and my assistant at that time Pete McGovern as existing or potential National team players. It became clear that this was much more than a 3 year job the initial contract but we had to start somewhere. With only 4 to 500 registered female players and very small pool of national team candidates the choice was push recruitment of girls or work with what we had. I chose in this first period to try and raise the standard of the players in the National teams so as to be able to use them as role models recognisable to young girls in schools and this I feel we achieved as much as was possible. In years 2 & 3 we started development training for teenage girls around the country we did fun camps for all ages free of charge and we did open invitation camps for U15s then selected from these camps to come back to a more intensive camp. We used various simple fitness and technical skill tests sending players and their clubs all our results. In 2012 we had our first female only C licence course where 20 former and current players all passed 2 of which have since passed their UEFA B to join one other plus at the moment our one A and now passed her PRO LICENCE coach, who is my assistant with all National teams and a Coach educator Katrin Kaarna. We have been boosted this year by a woman being appointed as general secretary who is very supportive of the women and girls game and has been invited on the women’s football committee at UEFA. Anne Rei, and in fact she was also very instrumental in my decision to stay because I now believe even bigger steps forward can be achieved with the support we also receive from UEFA and FIFA who are fantastic in their initiatives to help those countries wishing to grow the game . Changing the mindset of players on strength and conditioning with an excellent coach in Anders Suvari we along with all the newly qualified coaches are now on a big grassroots promotion push in schools and through summer camps. Our numbers are up to over 800 now and the aim for this year is to top 1000 participating female players. Bear in mind the overall population is around only 1.3 million and it really was not a football culture especially for girls until the last couple of decades.

WSU:

What have been your biggest achievements since taking the role in Estonia?

Keith Boanas:

Hmm biggest achievements since being here? On a personal development note obviously gaining my UEFA PRO Licence and learning so much from every experience. As far as the game is concerned, No1 Seeing definitive improvement in players experienced and young. But especially seeing younger ones developing and believing in their dreams Three young players gaining scholarships in US universities would have been unheard of when I first came. No2 Would definitely be 2010 when we gained shock victories at the time against higher ranked opponents in World Cup qualifiers, beating Croatian in Croatia then N/Ireland at home finally reversing a 4-0 defeat to Serbia away to a 1-0 win in Estonia and after heavy defeats to Iceland and France respectively both 12-0 halving those scores in the return games with both being low at half time showed our work was paying off. No 3 Establishing ourselves as the leading team amongst the three Baltic states. No 4 Working with Katrin to change the format of coach education to make it more friendly for female coaches and add content relevant to coaching in the female game.

WSU:

On a global level, how can women’s football coaching development continue to improve?

Keith Boanas:

Globally the development of coaches especially female coaches is being heavily supported by UEFA and FIFA, I was fortunate enough to attend a 2 week FIFA workshop in partnership with UEFA at the youth world cup in Azerbaijan with coaches male and female from the women and girls game in almost all of the Russian speaking countries. It was an intensive workshop with match analysis and practical demonstrations and student sessions as well as a lot of classroom work to help develop all of these coaches. I think you will find these are ongoing initiatives around the world with FIFA and other associations including in Africa and Asia.

WSU:

Are there any managers/coaches involved in the women’s game (past or present) that have inspired/impressed you?

Keith Boanas:

I have to be very honest here having been in the game myself as a coach and player for so many years when I started coaching girls there was no one that inspired me. My inspiration in coaching came from two of my early teachers Nicky Milo ( R.I.P ) and Les Reed former FA tech director now at Southampton football club, plus the late great Sir Bobby Robson. When I started coaching girls it was questioned why a guy with the UEFA A licence would waste his time, well at that time I was coaching boys, men and girls and Nicky who became a close friend and colleague encouraged me to do whatever I wanted and basically (xxxx) what they think. The rest as they say is history. Coaches I have met or opposed in the women’s game that have impressed me enough to make a lasting impression asides from those I have worked alongside or been members of my staff? Well, always enjoyed meeting and competing with Mick Mulhearn and he has done a fantastic job at Sunderland finally gaining success and developed some fantastic players with great ability and as importantly a superb attitude. Lots of mutual respect there. On the International stage I like the way Bruno Bini works. I have to put Pia Sundhage in, but I cannot see anyone failing with the resources she had at her disposal. If she can repeat that with her home country then she will be truly great.
I said I would be honest and I have to say many other coaches which you might expect me to say have either gained success due to their environment and strong support mechanisms. Or in my opinion actually underachieved given what they had to work with. So whilst I fully respect every one of them in professional terms. Right place, right time etc…

WSU:

What are your personal goals for the future?

Keith Boanas:

My personal goals for the future, for so long it was to achieve the UEFA PRO and now that has been done. I have to say it is to be the best husband I can be for a very understanding and massively supportive wife and to provide her with all the happiness she deserves. In football terms I hope wherever I go or whatever I do that I can leave a positive long lasting impression and legacy continuing to grow the game that I love and helping others do the same in the right way.

WSU:

Any advice to the Women’s Soccer United International community about how to have an involvement in the managerial side of women’s football?

Keith Boanas:

To all those male and female with genuine aspirations to manage at the higher levels of the game. Simply believe its possible and coming from the background I did proves that. Nothing was handed to me on a plate. I not only worked hard to gain my qualifications. I hardly ever if asked to help someone or take a coaching session said no. Be humble and patient enough to work with all levels of ability any age any gender and in any country you get the chance. Eventually that door will open then it is up to you to walk through it, but if it does not open, batter it down just never quit believing in yourself and there will be times when that will be hard. I wish you every success in your journey.

 

Women’s Soccer United would like to thank Keith Boanas for taking the time to participate in WSU’s interview. Massive respect for the work Keith has done and continues to do for the women’s game, we wish Keith all the best now and for the future.

 

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