After spending nineteen years at King Edward’s Witley, there is not a lot that Mr Andrew Wyciechowski does not know about coaching 11-18 year old boys and girls! Andrew originally joined on a part-time basis as an in-house football coach and, after six years, went on to become Assistant Housemaster for Edward House – one of the nine boarding houses at the Surrey based independent boarding and day school.
But greatest legacy will undoubtedly be the pivotal role he has played in pioneering girls’ football at King Edward’s Witley.
Prior to joining the school, Andrew ran a successful football coaching business and had even had the opportunity to play soccer in the US during the 80s and 90s. It was whilst he was based in the States that Andrew recognized the massive potential to roll out in the UK, what was still then a sport primarily reserved for ‘the boys’.
Up until ten years ago, girls attending King Edwards had been restricted to playing hockey or netball. But a passing request from a former local pupil, Hannah Grealish, for Andrew to consider coaching a girls’ football team was all it took to get the ball rolling.
The girls’ football team started out with just eight pupils but very quickly started to attract the attention of other girls in the school, keen to make their mark in what had previously been such a male-dominated sport. In their very first season, the girls’ team won the Independent Schools Football Association (ISFA) Under 15 league and since then there have been numerous accolades culminating in winning the first ever ISFA Under 18 South Eastern League in 2014.
The standard of girls’ football at King Edward’s is such that a number of girls have been talent spotted by the Ladies team at Milford Football Club and they now regularly train with the squad there, in addition to maintaining their team responsibilities for the School.
When asked what the appeal of the sport is to girls, Andrew puts forward a number of theories: “It is relatively simple to play and the rules are similar to those of hockey. Any sport which emanates from our American cousins tends to have an immediate impact and of course, the mere fact that we have national TV coverage of women’s football and that a dedicated premier league now exists is indicative of the growing popularity of the game.”
Aside from the obvious attraction in terms of delivering an excellent physical work out, what other benefits does Andrew see for the girls that participate in the sport? “There is definitely a slight ‘what men can do, we can do better’ culture amongst the girls and I’ve certainly witnessed a significant boost in self confidence / self esteem amongst any of the pupils who’ve decided to take up football. In addition being able to cite involvement in the girls’ team on a CV automatically provides an interesting point of difference when reviewing candidates for a university place and is generally well received, especially if the application is sports related”.
Andrew points out that the successful introduction of a girls’ football at King Edward’s is largely due to the school’s commitment to ensuring that the game remains fun: “I see my role as a coach as twofold, firstly, to teach children how to play the game and secondly, to make it fun. Sport is not just about winning trophies, it is also very much about encouraging self-development. As long as we continue to focus on this I am confident that the teams here will continue to go from strength to strength.”
Girls’ football is definitely blossoming at King Edward’s Witley. One former pupil has gone on to play for Cambridge University; another has been selected for the ISFA National Team. It is only a matter of time before a pupil goes on to take up the game professionally.