A team is truly a sum of its parts. The players, front office, and coaching staff all play pivotal roles in ensuring success for the team on the pitch. In the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), ten teams competed in the 2021 season, but at any given time, only two of the teams were coached by women. Slightly higher numbers of women appear in other positions, with about half a dozen appearing in various assistant coaching roles.
Although Gotham FC started out with Freya Coombe as head coach, she was poached mid-season by 2022 expansion team Angel City FC and replaced by Scott Parkinson, the former assistant coach of the Chicago Red Stars. At the same time, the club also brought in NWSL legend Beverly Yanez as first assistant coach.
English Background, Jersey Roots
Although her British accent might fool you, Becki Tweed is a Jersey girl. Originally from England, she found her way to New Jersey nearly eleven years ago when she was given the opportunity to play in the WPSL and coach youth teams for a summer. Previously, she played professionally in her home country for Bristol City and Millwall.
“It was very random!” Tweed explained about how she ended up in New Jersey. "It all happened very quickly." When the opportunity presented itself to move to the United States to play and coach, she could not turn it down. “It was a short term thing, but I realized that I liked the area, the lifestyle, the coaching, and I felt like the balance of coaching and playing was cool,” she said. "Eleven years later, here I am!”
For Tweed, New Jersey has been the perfect place. She loves experiencing all the seasons in the northeast, appreciates the proximity to New York City, and loves the ability to fly out of Newark and be back in England in just a few hours. “I’ve been here for all of my twenties,” Tweed said. “I’ve built my life here.”
The soccer community of New Jersey has provided Tweed with the building blocks to make her life here. She coached a girl’s academy in Morristown, worked as an assistant coach for Monmouth University’s women’s program, and played for two WPSL teams in the area: Jersey Blues and Millburn Magic.
All of these experiences have shaped her into the coach she has become, and the coach she wants to be. She felt fortunate to be constantly surrounded by so many people who have helped her develop as a coach throughout those experiences. As she progressed in her career, she figured out more and more what kind of coaching fit her best.
Sometimes women can feel defeated, but you have to figure out that one moment, one failure, does not define your career.
“I have always had that competitive, winning drive,” Tweed said. “The more I got into coaching, the more I saw how different the youth game is from college.” She appreciated how coaching the youth game means focusing on development, but enjoyed coaching college where you played to win. “When I got into college coaching, it was a different mindset,” she explained. “Student athletes have to go to their classes, but we’re putting them on the field to go play for a conference title.”
Tweed sees herself as a career oriented individual. “I always look for what’s next,” she said. She relishes being challenged by her peers and players. And she likes to win.
A Transatlantic Vantage Point
Because of Tweed’s unique experience playing in England and the United States, she has seen first hand the different systems in which players develop in the two countries. Despite having a front row seat to the different pathways a player can take, Tweed does not think one way is better than the other.
“Everyone has their own pathway, everyone’s journey is different,” Tweed explained. She sees the college pathway as an incredible experience. “There’s no better way to prepare yourself to become a pro-athlete,” she said. “To train, to be responsible for your schedule, but still get your education at the same time.” This experience teaches the players how to balance and sacrifice.
Tweed loved her experience coaching collegiately. “There’s nothing better than being surrounded by people trying to achieve the same things as you are,” she explained. She appreciated the quality of coaching and the excellent facilities available at American institutions.
However, Tweed does not believe that every player must take the collegiate pathway. “Some people are not designed for that,” she said. “I didn’t play in college, and I don’t regret it.” In England, the culture around soccer is very different. “Football was part of my entire family - we did it every weekend,” Tweed said. Whether it was season tickets for a team or playing for youth clubs, soccer was like another member of the family.
In the United States, soccer culture is very different. For those that play in college, you either go pro afterwards, or you’re done. “It’s different in England,” Tweed explained. “If you don’t play in Premier League or Super League, there’s still 15 more levels below where you can play and enjoy.”
The Coach Gotham Deserved
Once Tweed found her love of coaching, she also realized she was looking for more than just the short season that college coaching provided. “I want to coach at this level all year!” Tweed said. She decided to take her career in her own hands, and in early 2020, she sent her resume to the head coach of New Jersey's professional women's soccer team, and the only woman coach in the NWSL at the time: Freya Coombe.
Coombe had just started coaching Sky Blue FC in the middle of the 2019 season, and Tweed wanted to get her resume into the coach's hands. She was ecstatic when Coombe invited her to watch some training sessions during the 2020 preseason. “Women supporting women is huge,” Tweed explained.
It all seemed to be falling into place for Tweed, but just a few weeks later, COVID-19 ravaged the world and shut down the regular NWSL season. “The club did a great job,” Tweed said, explaining how they all stayed connected via virtual workouts, coffee zooms, and reviewing film from past games. “I was on every zoom, even though I was pretty new.”
This group is special. They have that team bond that is hard to get at this level.
Then came the decision to move the entire league out to Utah to play in a bubble, and Tweed decided to make the best of her situation. “It was crazy, but a great time because we did what we loved, and got support from home,” she explained. “My friends were watching because there was nothing else going on, even the boys I coached were watching games and getting into it!”
To be challenged by her surroundings in the bubble was something Tweed did not take for granted. She was very well aware that she was helping to coach some of the world’s most elite players including World Cup champions and Olympic medalists.
It was during this time that Tweed knew she had found her next step. “This is where I want to be,” she recalled thinking. And in 2021, she was able to stay on with the team and complete a full year in the NWSL.
A Taste of the Future
It has been a rollercoaster experience at Gotham FC these last two years. Whether it was several multi-game weeks, switching up head coaches in the middle of a season, playing a tournament in a bubble, or traveling around the country, Tweed has never had a dull moment with the organization.
One of the more significant moments for Tweed came when she was asked to act as head coach for a home game against the Chicago Red Stars on September 4th. Scott Parkinson, the former assistant coach of the Chicago Red Stars and newly minted Gotham FC head coach, was unable to attend the match due to a personal matter. Freya Coombe had just departed the club, and so the team turned to Tweed to take over in their stead. The team ended up tying the Red Stars 0-0, breaking a lengthy losing streak.
“I was very nervous,” Tweed recalled. “People have asked me if I want to be a head coach, and I do, but I want to be a head coach at the right time.” It is important for Tweed to learn and become the best assistant coach she can be to prepare her for that right moment.
You have to find the people to support you, whether they are male or female, and have them push and challenge you.
Despite the nerves, Tweed wanted to take advantage and gain whatever insight she could through the experience of leading the team for a game. The confidence that Scott Parkinson showed he had in her helped propel her forward in preparation that for that week.
“I remember thinking, wow, I can really do this!” Tweed said. “For five days leading up to the game, I had my notebook and laid in bed making notes and going over things in my mind.”
Then game day arrived. Tweed felt the team was ready tactically and had prepared as much as they could in the week leading up to it. What she was most concerned about for herself was the motivational side of coaching. “How could I motivate this group knowing everything we had been through over the past few weeks?” Tweed said.
When she walked into the locker room to give her pre-game talk, she was blown away by the reaction of the players. “When I stopped speaking I had to run out of the locker room because I was smiling from ear to ear!” Tweed said. “The players were so great. You have big names like Kailen Sheridan, Naho Kawasumi, Carli Lloyd, and Allie Long there, so you have to speak with knowledge and conviction.”
The support she received from the players is indicative of the environment that Gotham FC has created. “The players were almost as happy for me as they were for each other when they win a game,” Tweed said. “That’s the culture this team has, and that vibe and mentality from the players gave me confidence.”
The experience solidified her drive to one day become a head coach for a professional team. “The support from the players and staff was something I was so proud of. I got a taste of it, and now I want it even more.”
— Scott Parkinson (@parkinson_scott) October 18, 2021
Over the course of her career, Tweed has felt extremely lucky to have worked with so many incredible people. She sees Scott Parkinson breathing new life into Gotham FC, and is in awe of Bev Yanez’s knowledge of the league. “It’s always tough when there’s a change mid season, but this group is special,” Tweed said of Gotham. “They have that team bond that is hard to get at this level.”
Change can be tough, but the new coaching duo has done a great job in Tweed’s estimation. “They did not come in to try to change who the club was, but instead put their twist on it,” she said.
Building a Player to Coach Pipeline
Tweed is very well aware of the lack of women coaches at the professional level. “Opportunity is big,” she said, explaining that sometimes women have to create their own opportunities, and find the confidence to go after what they want. “You have to find the people to support you, whether they are male or female, and have them push and challenge you.”
She cautioned against feeling overly competitive with other coaches, suggesting instead to focus on finding the right job or group that suits you as an individual. “Find your group, and when you support them, they’ll support you in your journey, too.”
On top of finding that support, Tweed stressed the importance of self-awareness, confidence and vulnerability to fail. “You have to take risks, which is never easy,” she explained. “That’s what I took away from the game I coached.”
Although she was stressed about being acting head coach for that match, she remembered a piece of advice she was given: the result of one game will not define your future. “Sometimes women can feel defeated, but you have to figure out that one moment, one failure does not define your career.”
With a league full of talented players, there are bound to be a few of them destined to coach. Tweed believes the league is beginning to identify ways to get these players into coaching, including offering licensing courses for current and former NWSL players. “It is important to get players into coaching environments so they can figure out if they want to do it,” she explained. “Just because you like to play doesn’t mean you’ll like to coach.”
Accessibility to coaching opportunities is one area where Tweed believes there could be improvement. She sees youth teams like Gotham Reserves as great opportunities for current NWSL players to find a safe environment to see if coaching is right for them.
Tweed coached Gotham Reserves this year, and saw first hand how the girls who played on the team looked up to the senior team. “Many of those players said when they were done with college, they wanted to play for Gotham. They loved putting that jersey on,” she said. “Imagine if NWSL players could coach with us in the reserves? What a great way to have them decide if it’s for them.”
Becki Tweed has certainly decided that coaching is for her. Her consistent presence on Gotham FC saw the team make it to the final of the 2021 Challenge Cup and earn their first playoff spot in eight years. She has certainly made her make on the team, and hopefully one day for one lucky club, will make her mark as a head coach.