As a player, Sara Hilton reached international standard.
Unfortunately, injury cut short her playing career, but she has gone on to excel as a coach.
In 2016, she was named Performance Coach of the Year at the FA Wales (FAW) Community Awards.
She has also managed Crewe Alexandra ladies team and was recently appointed manager of the newly-formed Connah’s Quay Nomads women’s side.
Sara is also Programme Leader & Lecturer of Football and Coaching Science at Glyndwr University, coach educator for the FAW Trust and a UEFA A Licence candidate.
She took time out from her busy schedule to talk to Grassroots North Wales.
How has life been since you were appointed manager of the very first Connah’s Quay Nomads women’s team?
Starting to get busier! The number of players who have got in touch with me to enquire about training is fantastic! Luckily the academic year doesn’t start until the end of September so at the minute it’s just about balancing the university recruitment and preparation with the league preparation for Connah’s Quay Nomads.
Have training sessions been well attended so far? What have been your early impressions of the players you’ve seen?
Last week we had 18 attend the first session. I was surprised by the number in all honesty. I thought my biggest struggle may have been getting enough players to play. Again, it’s early days but the turnout was brilliant and not only that, the level of performance was great too! More players have got in touch to come to training this week as well so yeah, I’m really happy with that.
You have worked at Connah’s Quay previously, as joint-manager of the under-13 team. How much has the club changed since those days?
Football is always changing and growing. The interest and investment in the game is consistently on the increase. The structure and organisation of the Nomads has always been something I respected. They have a solid structure, fantastic number of coaches and support staff in place for all age groups. That has been the case since I was last involved and I think that level of consistency sets the bar for their players. The club are passionate about ensuring all their coaches are FAW and/or UEFA qualified so again, this really supports the development of their players.
I can’t not mention the high quality facilities which are now in place. Last week was actually the first time I had seen the 3G in person – that’s how long it had been since I had been there! It’s brilliant to be able to turn up to training and have all the equipment at my disposal.
In the past four years, the Nomads as a club has come on in leaps and bounds. They have won the Welsh Cup, finished runners-up in the Welsh Premier League twice, been beaten finalists in the Irn-Bru Cup and pulled off some amazing results in Europe. What is the atmosphere like around the place?
Yeah I think with success come pressure and it’s great to see how the staff deal with the pressure of maintaining that level performance. I see the men’s management team putting in a lot of time going through their session plans in preparation for their upcoming fixtures and seeing also seeing all the academy players turning up excited to train. There is a real feel of professionalism from the players and again, it comes from that structure and organisation that’s put in place by the club and staff.
You are a UEFA A Licence candidate and lecturer at Glyndwr University, teaching football and science. I’d imagine life is pretty busy! And now, manager of a football team! How will you fit everything in?
Luckily this is something most coaches go through and have to balance. It’s something I’m used to doing!
Organisation and preparation are key skills in this line of work.
Please tell us a little about Sara Hilton the footballer. What did you achieve in your football career and why did you stop playing to focus on coaching?
Seems like a lifetime ago now! I played from a very young age. Represented my county, North Wales and then Wales from U15s to U19s. Like most players, I then went over to the States to play and unfortunately tore my ACL for the second time. I then had to make the decision to hang-up my boots.
Where have you coached? I believe you have been an international coach, also been a director of performance centres, as well as coaching at Welsh Premier academies and even been part of a management team in men’s football at Conwy Borough?
I’ve coached across various environments. I was heavily involved in the girls player development pathway for the FAW Trust for many years. I have also managed Crewe Alexandra Ladies FC for a season and it was after that I joined the management staff at Conwy Borough. After taking a few months away from the game, I was excited to get back involved and take on this exciting project.
Who was the finest player you played alongside? Also who is the most talented player you have coached?
I have been very fortunate to play alongside very talented players. Some who are still involved in the senior Wales squad! Again, I’ve been so fortunate as a coach to see so many players progress and develop in the game. There’s nothing more rewarding, especially given the opportunities that are out there for these players now, seeing them earn a career playing the sport we love.
What are your ambitions as manager of Connah’s Quay Nomads Ladies? Is there a mission to get to the Welsh Premier? Or is it a case of trying to excel in the North Wales League at first, then decide from there?
I think, like any manager, we want our team to succeed. The female game and league structures are always changing so it’s tough to identify specific goals as the leagues could change at some point and that may have an effect on attaining some of the targets we want to hit. It’s about developing female football. I’m fortunate to have the complete backing of the club and they’re really supportive and conversations are always developing and on-going with what we can do next and ways we can develop things further. For me, sustainability is key. I would like to develop a women’s team that will continue to grow and develop players.
As a highly qualified coach, what are your personal ambitions in the game? Would you like to be in Jayne Ludlow’s position one day?
I think anyone would love to coach/manage their country, I am yet to meet a coach that wouldn’t!
I’m just happy to be involved in this wonderful game.
Finally, how do you see the future of North Wales women’s football? We are not progressing in the Welsh Premier League, yet in North Wales, more and more teams are starting up and there is a noted increase in interest in recreational football. Are you optimistic about the future?
The number of new teams is a huge positive for football in North Wales. The interest in Women’s football is on the up and that can only be a good thing for the game. I think although many of these teams are recreational this year, there’s nothing to say some of these teams may not want to affiliate to the North Wales Women’s League next year. I’m definitely hopeful for women’s football in North Wales!