We use cookies to give you the best experience and to help improve our website. By using our website you are accepting our cookies.  Learn More

UK Coaching Team
418
Females Self-care and development Inspiring Stories

Trailblazer Annie Tells Aspiring Female Coaches: Write Your Own Narrative

Annie Zaidi, aka Annie Z, is a woman of letters. A UEFA B Licence holder and A Licence candidate, she has the letters BEM after her name after receiving the British Empire Medal for services to football coaching in 2017. She also has the X factor and an impressive coaching CV, as UK Coaching’s Blake Richardson discovered when he spoke to her about her remarkable journey. And when we say remarkable, we mean remarkable with a capital R!

I am more than my headscarf. I am more than that narrative. I hold the pen and write my own narrative.”

Annie Zaidi’s coaching journey has the wow factor, which can be attributed in large part to her having the X factor.

She has multiple sought-after traits – she is, amongst other things, tenacious, fearless, self-confessed feisty, and resilient – which have helped her prevail over multiple limiting labels – gender, religion, race, image; labels that have prevented other women from ethnically diverse communities from reaching their full potential.

Annie jokes: “I think I’ve got more labels than a jar of jam.”

You can add sense of humour to her list of distinguishing qualities!

Her insatiable hunger for coaching is matched by a steely determination to change the narrative about succeeding in coaching in defiance of deep-seated stereotypes.

She refuses to be defined by those labels and rather than dwell on the barriers that hinder south Asian and Muslim females from entering grassroots coaching, Annie’s stirring message is that courage, spirit, and dedication can open doors to new opportunities and advancement.

I am not an X Factor sob story!” says Annie. “I want to celebrate my achievements and change the narrative. And to do that, the context has to change alongside it.

“For so long the context around south Asian and Muslim girls in football has been focused entirely on what they look like.

I want to showcase my successes and show my journey in a positive light, by celebrating how far I’ve come, so that other women know that, regardless of what they look like and represent to the outside world, they can follow their dreams.

“Don’t get me wrong, I get that I am perceived as a role model, but I am more than my headscarf. I am more than that narrative. I hold the pen and write my own narrative.

“Yes, it’s been hard, but painting a sob story is not me.”

Annie is referring to the time she managed a men’s Sunday League team ten years ago, when she experienced “the ugly side of football” from a small number of opposition managers and parents.

“I don’t want people to think I’ve got this far because of describing the racism and abuse I experienced then. People can be cynical.

“That was my former journey. I want to concentrate on my current journey, going back the last three years, not 10 years ago. Things have evolved since then. Society has evolved. The football industry has evolved.

Why would I want to talk about what it was like 10 years ago? That’s only going to put more fear into people. I can’t focus on the negative things that happened because that would stop other girls wanting to go down the coaching route. I will become their barrier.

“It’s like 10 years ago there were hardly any female footballers, now more female footballers have the opportunity to play and there are far more opportunities for women.”

Ambassador and award winner

When Annie says she wants to showcase her successes to show other girls and young women that real and perceived obstacles can be navigated around, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Aside from those already listed in the sub-header, Annie is one of the first Muslim women to acquire a Level 2 coaching badge from the Football Association and is a National Ambassador for Women in Football.

Somehow, she finds time between working full-time for Leicester City School Sport and Physical Activity Network as a Senior Female Engagement Officer to coach midweek at the West Bromwich Albion Girls Regional Talent Centre, and on Sunday afternoons encourages young girls and women to realise their potential through her Coach Annie Z Foundation.

She won the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration at the 2015 Sunday Times Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards, where she received a personal tribute from David Beckham.

But despite all the plaudits and accolades, Annie still believed she was the victim of a practical joke when she was informed that she had been awarded the British Empire Medal: “When I got the letter, I thought it was a hoax and phoned the Cabinet Office to check it was true.”

Returning to the subject of barriers, and Annie’s determination to find a way round, by hook or by crook. She echoes the sentiment of another empowering female coach I interviewed for International Women’s Day, Director of Rugby at Wasps Ladies, Giselle Mather, saying she looks forward to the day where her talent is what people see, not her hijab, and when women will simply be regarded as an excellent coach, without the qualification ‘female coach’ or ‘Asian coach’.

People put barriers up, but I don’t see them, because they are not my barriers. I know exactly where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Regardless of any roadblocks, I’m still going to get to my intended destination. I may have to take a different route, but I’ll get there. It’s like you’re in the car and the sat nav tells you it’s gridlocked ahead. You go a different route to get to your destination.

“I want to celebrate the achievements because it can be done. It has been done. I’m doing it. Yes, it’s been hard, but everything worth fighting for is hard and requires discipline, like getting my Masters… which was also mentally hard, emotionally hard, and hard timewise. Coaching is no different to everything else.”

‘I’m honest. I’m raw. I’m genuine’

When Annie coached a men’s Sunday League side, she was the only female manager out of 400 teams in the league.

The challenges would turn out to become an important rite of passage in her life cycle as a coach. Her emotional strength and resilience grew in the face of adversity.

She got back in the coaching saddle by working with the Under-11s at Leicester City FC Girls Centre of Excellence, before being invited to coach QPR Under-18s by then QPR manager (now Technical Director) Chris Ramsey as she was approaching her UEFA B License final assessment.

It was here that she built a rapport with QPR Director Les Ferdinand, which continues to this day.

Les Ferdinand is my go-to guy for a catch-up; my personal mentor rather than a professional one. He is my soundboard. He is brutally honest, with the same energy and vibe as me, and that’s the sort of people I need in my circle.”

While applauded and admired for her contagious positivity, Annie admits she can be headstrong and forthright – and is refreshingly unapologetic about it.

What you see is what you get with me. I’m honest, I’m raw, I’m genuine. I’ve got no ego and I say it as it is, and I don’t care who you are, CEO or anyone, I will voice my opinion and I will speak with integrity. And they are my non-negotiables.”

Her can-do attitude and relentless drive are what first drew fellow trailblazing coach Wallace Hermitt – the founder and director of the Black and Asian Coaches Association – to Annie. She refers to Hermitt as “my guardian angel”.

“He’s been my main guy, but I’ve been blessed with lots of other people too. It’s great to have a team behind you to support you. They’re my backroom staff.”

Hermitt describes Annie as tenacious and “a phenomenon”, and paid tribute to her when she was announced as the winner of the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration: “She is testimony to the fact that you can do anything in life, as long as you have the desire.”

Go out and get it!

Annie has achieved everything she has set out to achieve, and you get the distinct impression that there is still so much more to come.

In my final question, she succeeds in summarising her own remarkable journey in a few short sentences, whilst capturing the true essence of the drive for greater equality, diversity and inclusion.

I ask her what her message is to other girls and women who may be contemplating taking their first steps into coaching:

“Do it because you want to do it, don’t do it because you have to do it.

There is a place for anyone and everyone in sport. If you can see yourself in that sport, in that discipline, then you have every right to go for it and achieve it.”

 

Factfile

  • Former Solihull Moors boys’ youth team coach, technical coach and Under-16 boys’ elite players head coach
  • Former first team head coach Solihull Moors Ladies – National League (tier 4)
  • Former Development team head coach at Bedworth United Ladies FC – National Reserve League (tier 4)
  • Former Leicester City FC Girls Centre of Excellence Under-11s coach
  • Coached QPR Under-18s, and some players from the Under-21s, whilst approaching her UEFA B Licence final assessment
  • Currently the Under-14s head coach for West Bromwich Albion Girls Regional Talent Centre
  • Works full-time as Senior Female Engagement Officer for Leicester City School Sport and Physical Activity Network
  • In 2016 set up the Coach Annie Z Foundation, to empower, inspire and encourage predominantly girls and young women from ethnically diverse communities to realise their potential
  • UEFA B licence holder and A Licence Candidate
  • Women in Football National Ambassador
  • Won the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration at the 2015 Sunday Times Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards
  • Received a British Empire Medal for services to football coaching in 2017

Women Who Coach: Toolkit

Our digital guide features stories from more empowering female role models and advice from leading experts on how to get into coaching and develop your career.

THIS WAY

Related Resources

  • Muslim Coach a Role Model in Race for Greater Diversity

    View
  • Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner! The Mother of All Coaching Journeys

    View
  • Tackling Gender Bias: The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

    View

Unlock the secrets of #GreatCoaching

 

Join our exclusive UK Coaching Club to enjoy 12 months' unlimited access to industry-leading resources, member benefits and offers that will help you transform your coaching.

UK Coaching Team