In the eleventh of our UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 series with Women in Football we sit down with Sara Harnett, Women’s Recreational Football Officer in the host cities of Sheffield and Rotherham!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m Sara Harnett, a wife, daughter, doggy mama, friend, coach, women’s football supporter, bookworm and lover of all things silly. I am a Women’s Recreational Football Officer in the host cities of Sheffield and Rotherham. I have previously worked in a range of roles including PE teacher, Events Manager at an Active Partnership, Assistant Director at a Maths & English tuition centre, primary school sport coach and Membership Manager at Youth Sport Trust.
What do you do in your current role?
In short, I aim to ‘Put Football Where Women Are’! So, my job is to enable, empower and ensure women can access football wherever they are, whenever they want and however they want it.
We’ve delivered taster sessions with community groups in spaces that they feel comfortable in such as community halls, meeting rooms, cul-de-sacs and faith rooms. I’m also conscious that football can be perceived as being quite formal, 2 teams, a full kit, training sessions and game days. We’re trying to show women that casual football is an option for them and they don’t have to go for the traditional routes if they don’t want to.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
Meetings with various people about starting sessions, keeping sessions going or how to get into sessions. There is usually a little bit of delivery in there, so out and about coaching sessions and putting on taster sessions. A chunk of my work is around development, so organizing events, programmes and CPD’s to help women get into the game as easily as possible.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I’ve always wanted to work in sport, it’s been a solid consistent throughout my life. I loved playing all types of sport as a kid and I really enjoyed GCSE and A Level PE. I did my degree in Sport & Exercise Science so I guess I was destined to work in the industry. Through sport I’m curious about people, psychology and learning, so moving between physical education development, teaching and football development has felt fairly natural.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
To make football as accessible as possible for women. People laugh at me when I use the phrase ‘putting football where women are’ (mainly because I say it a lot) but it is incredibly important that women feel that they can mould it in their environments and make it work for them.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I’ve been through a couple of redundancies and they initially felt like failures. I really struggled with them at the time, they were very small scale. I went into fight mode and wanted to keep my pride and integrity throughout each process which I feel I managed but once the fight was over, I was battered and bruised. I have learned that I can fail, with integrity and pride, and dust myself off, get back up and go again. I also learned that I don’t have to pick myself back up on my own, people want to give you a helping hand up and to accept that is a gift for both parties.
What excited you most about UEFA Women’s EURO 2022?
If I say everything is that too generic??? There are so many things but to whittle it down would be –
- The fans in the stadiums and fan parties – they have really come together and celebrated each other, there’s been such a sense of unity.
- The conversations of the converted – overhearing conversations of people saying ‘I didn’t used to like women’s football but now …..’ This tournament is literally changing hearts and minds, which will in turn change lives.
- The legacy – this is so much more than a tournament. There are so many cogs to this beautiful machine we call the tournament that includes getting more women and girls involved in every part of the game. In years to come we will see more women and girls coaching, playing, spectating, in the boardrooms, refereeing and so much more.
- Talking about it with family and friends – my wife and I have been to most of our local games and the first England game. We’ve got my mum and dad tickets to the semi final and final and they came with us to a game in Rotherham. This tournament is creating memories that we’ll keep for a lifetime, and doing the same for other families, groups of friends and communities across the country.
- That feeling when it finally ‘came home’.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
The diversity of it, it would be great to see people from all different backgrounds involved in sport with different opinions, thoughts and ways of doing things. We’re seeing a change but I’d like to see that accelerated further.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Ironically, I coach. I love coaching and even though it is more football, it feels completely different. I love spending time with family, walking our dog, reading and exploring. And of course, following the Lionesses.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Do it. Seems like simple advice but just keep plugging away. I always wanted to work in women’s football in some way shape or form, it took me until I was 35 to get there but here I am. Do it and be yourself doing it, people invest in people.
How to follow Sara Harnett…
I’ve only really got work socials – I’m not a big social media fan so:
Thanks for reading our chat with Sara Harnett! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.