Southern League’s only female coach is helping Hartpury grow the game

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As the only female football coach in the Southern League, Hartpury’s Nicky DeBonis is taking a leading role in getting more women to take up the game.

Alongside her coaching, the 19-year-old football diploma graduate is also working as a women and girls football intern at Hartpury. Her role sees her working closely with the Gloucestershire FA to encourage more girls to play football.

“There are a lot more people involved in the game now than there were back when I first started playing. There’s been a lot of interest in the England women’s team and it’s starting to get more young girls to realise it’s something they could do,” Nicky said.

“I go out to local schools and put on girls-only sessions. I also help to encourage them into grassroots football in the local area.”

Hartpury are set to launch a new weekend programme for girl’s football, with which Nicky is heavily involved. It will give girls in the county aged five to eleven somewhere to get involved in the sport and develop their skills.

Away from Hartpury, Nicky is also part of Steve Cleal’s staff at Bishops Cleeve FC. Her aim is to start working towards her UEFA B coaching license with the dream of coaching at the highest level possible, in either men’s or women’s football.

“You have to not be afraid of what other people think. You have to focus on yourself and push yourself to make sure you achieve your goals. I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone to get where I am today but I have learnt so much and improved massively because of it.

“Everyone at Cleeve has responded really well to me being there. Being the only female coach in the league obviously has it challenges but everyone involved in the team has accepted me and made me feel welcome.”

DeBonis started playing football at the age of three, following in the footsteps of her dad and uncles. She signed for Bishop's Cleeve Colts at the age of eight, remaining with the club through until the Under-16s, also playing for Woodmancote primary and Cleeve secondary school teams.

Not being able to start coaching until she was 16, Nicky qualified as a referee at the age of 14. She is qualified to level seven, which allows her to officiate games at junior level as well as in adult amateur leagues.

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