Human Performance, Performance | Apr 20, 2021
Former Wales Head Coach Jayne Ludlow ponders the future of the women’s game.

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When Jayne Ludlow departed as Wales Women Head Coach in January, she left the team in a far stronger position than when she first stepped into the role in 2014.

By John Portch

The women’s game still has considerable scope for development and, during this period where Ludlow is between coaching roles (while also serving as a technical consultant with Fifa), it was an ideal time to ask her to reflect on her seven years coaching her national team at senior, under-17 and under-18 level.

The Leaders Performance Institute has asked Ludlow to reflect on psychological safety as part of our latest Special Report, the link between learning and confidence, the development of the next generation of talent and, in this final instalment of our interview, we ask her to predict where the women’s game is heading in the next five to ten years.

“From a female perspective – and this is to do with finances more than anything – there will be an increasingly holistic approach to player development, with specialists honing in on certain areas,” she says.

“I think you’re looking at bigger, better support systems for the players, which means a more professional player development environment; better and stronger learning environments. In ten years’ time we’ll end up with players who will be physically better, technically better and I’d like to think better decision makers as well.”

The last point is crucial for Ludlow and was reflected in her most recent work with Wales Women. “I think you’ll end up with more coaches taking the approach that I’ve taken,” she continues. “We’re the guys on the side, we’re the monitors, we’re the leaders in the sense that we’re setting the vision. Before we do that, we’re obviously analysing everything; then we set the vision, then we’re monitoring and managing as we go, but it is a case of creating the programme that ends up developing both decision making and leaders. That’s how I want my women’s football programmes to go in the future.

“The monitoring of female players is huge. It’s important in the men’s game, but it’s only now that we’re starting to develop our understanding of the reproductive system and how the menstrual cycle affects the female. It’s really early days in that, but ten years ahead, you’ve potentially got really individualised programmes for female players, not just physically, but because of hormonal issues; the cycle is an important part of that as well. I’m excited to see how that evolves.”

Ludlow also ponders the future in more general terms. “One of our challenges is to make the global game more competitive,” she says of her work with Fifa. “The ones who have less or are less structurally developed, we need to accelerate that development so that football on the biggest stage is more competitive. That means better support systems, better technical environments for players and obviously safe and secure environments as well.”

Ultimately, it comes back to decision making in her mind. “At the top level, the decisions that individuals make are the difference between winning trophies and not winning trophies. That’s going to be based on surroundings, awareness, seeing space and players; and their technical ability. We’ve got to the point where we can take individual athletes to the best that they can be physically. But I think there’s still work to do on the cognitive side; on the decisions you make, why you make those decisions, how you make those decisions, how quickly do you respond to situations in a game? A massive push on decision making opportunities.

“It’s a bigger project in terms of the sports systems that need to be created and I think physically the female game has a lot more exploration to do in having the right programmes for those individuals based on multiple things.”

Download the latest Performance Special Report, Psychological Safety: The origins, reality and shelf life of an evolving high performance concept – featuring the athlete, coach and academic perspectives.

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