Shelley Kerr talks about her first months in charge of Scotland and her management journey

Scotland boss sits down in Spain

Shelley Kerr talks about her first months in charge of Scotland and her management journey
Credit: Getty/ David Price/Arsenal FC

Fresh off of the back of her first loss as Scotland manager, Shelley Kerr took the time to sit and talk with VAVEL about her management style, her belief in giving opportunity where’s it’s earned and what fans can expect to see from Scotland.

Discipline and organisation

With three wins in three matches (before the loss to Norway), Kerr’s new look Scotland has been settling in well and the coach is pleased of how well the team have been taking to her philosophy,

It’s been a few months since I’ve been in the post and on the back of the recent success of the Euros, the players have put in the foundations to build on. The one thing that has eluded us in the past perhaps is when we play the better nations, maybe we’re not expansive and don’t have the fluidity in terms of our attacking options so that’s something we’ve been working on quite heavily.”

The transition made easier by her time spent not just in the team but with the under-19s,

Obviously being a former player in the national team and working alongside the U19s, that’s helped the transition coming in after Anna [Signeul]. It’s been fantastic, the players have been very receptive to everything we’ve thrown their way but still very early on in the process.

But what exactly is the Shelley Kerr management style™?

I think I always pride myself on two things and that’s discipline and organisation. We like to be really meticulous and do a lot of work on the training pitch, that’s my forte; being on the pitch, trying to paint different pictures and game scenarios so the players can learn. I like to think we allow a bit of autonomy in terms of the decision making process for the players because that’s the only way we’ll learn.

After the boom of finally reaching a major tournament, Scotland rather let themselves down in the Netherlands with a poor start to the tournament, the next step not just reaching another major but staying the course,

The number one priority was a bit of critical reflection. We came in off of the back of going to the Euros and as a group we discussed what we need to do to get to the next level, the players are of the same mind-set that, no longer should we be saying that we just want to get to a finals but we want to be doing better and competition better against the better nations. So we set some parameters as a group in terms of our philosophy and how we want to play – and the coaching and support staff have a framework we adhere to try and get the group of players to where we want to be.”

With a high number of Scottish players playing outside of the SWPL whether in the English WSL or players like Fiona Brown and Shannon Lynn in the Swedish Damallsvenskan or Sophie Howard in the Frauen-Bundesliga, the level is only a plus point for the national team,

The higher level the players play in a profession environment is only going to benefit the national team and our ‘exiled players’ are playing in competitive leagues and we’re trying to create a competitive environment when they come to the national team so in turn they know that when they go into a game they’ve already had that in training and we can replicate it. Its’s really important that our players are playing at the highest level possible.

After three wins, the first match of the calendar year against Norway marked Kerr’s first loss at the helm and in a strange way the coach admits it’s a bit of a relief to get it out of the way,  

The week was always about learning – and even our first friendly against Hungary – we set some objectives with the team prior to those games and there’s been a few areas we wanted to work on specifically but also a key objective for us was giving all the players an opportunity to get minutes. And I feel that’s really important, that when you first come in all the players are getting the chance to showcase the abilities they’ve got, obviously nearer the qualification games in terms of Switzerland and Poland we have to make sure we’re specifically working with a group of players we feel can win us those games.

Despite the scoreline the British side weren’t blown out of the water by Norway, Kerr’s job to remind the players of all that they did well throughout the match and work on how to remedy where they fell down,

It’s sometimes quite hard – the players have a perception when you concede three goals but in parts of the game you’ve played well and when you’ve executed the game plan really well, so it can be tough as a player. But as a coach and a manager, you have to reinforce all the positive parts of the game, we had a game plan that was more generic because we’re trying to go through a learning phase right now. But in essence, the key is after the game you sit down, you review it and you reflect and say this is what we’re going to work on in the future.

The match also showed how the winter rust played its’ part on the players,

We also factored in the time of the season; for some of our players that was the first game for a long time, and we’re trying things out, players in different positions. Even though we lost the game, for us, there were lots of positives. In the last two days we’ve worked on the things that weren’t so good and we’ve done a bit of video analysis, it’s just reinforcing the positive parts of the game that you’re playing a top, top nation in Norway – we learnt more in the Norway game that in the last three games and that’s really important for us as a group.

Attack, attack, attack

A nation that can boast a good number of young attacking talents, Kerr is looking to harness the offensive prowess more, attacking something she’s already worked heavily on,

It's two things, it’s to try and have more options in the final third and have an end product – to win games you’ve got to score goals, of course you can’t afford to concede them but to win games you need to be able to create chances and score goals. I’d say of the training sessions we’ve had, we’ve probably weighted it to 95% on attacking, that’s because predominantly in the past Scotland have always been quite robust defensively. So now we need to try and be in a position where we’re creating more problems against the bigger nations, we know we can do it against the teams around about us and the lower ranked ones.

The next step to working up the rankings a simple one,

But for us to get to the next level as a nation we need to be getting an end product in the final third and get more supporting players. I thought again, in the Norway game, we saw some evidence of it – in the past we’ve played Norway and created quite little but we did create chances and that’s quite a positive for us."

With most of the top 30 nations set to take part in either the She Believes, Algarve or Cyprus cups this March, Kerr has opted to return to Murcia for a double-bill against the Football Ferns instead,

“We’ve been going to the Cyprus Cup since it started and what we wanted to do was have a summer camp in La Manga in January, so we thought whilst having the two games here now and the two at the start of March against New Zealand would be more beneficial in terms of the World Cup campaign for us. In the past when we went to Cyprus – I went to Cyprus as a player – sometimes it’s good to have a fresh approach, again I took on board some of the feedback from the players. In terms of travel, Spain is closer, baring in my now we have so many players who play abroad, we had a lot of factors to take on board. Even just coming to La Manga to play top quality nations in Norway and Russia has been fantastic – to go and play New Zealand in the double-header in Pinatar is great. That was the reasoning rational behind and this is the first time that the players have been here with the A squad and they’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, so I think it’s better and more beneficial for our preparation.

Anyone paying attention to this camp would already be well aware that every player who came out to La Manga with Scotland (bar Joelle Murray for an injury she picked up) got minutes under the Spanish sun, Kerr keen to give everyone a chance to prove themselves,

Absolutely, it’s always going to be based on performance, attitude and application. If players are doing well in their club environment – and better than what the players are doing in the squad – and I think we’ve already shown that, even from Hungary, all the players got an opportunity to get minutes from the Belarus game to the Albania game we made five changes, we made six or seven changes for the Norway game and more for Russia. I think the message is quite clear that if you’re doing well, you’re going to get an opportunity."

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The gaffer

Coaching for longer than most of the current squad have been alive, Kerr’s journey to Scotland boss has been a long one,

I think I first started coaching when I was 18 or 19, so that’s quite some time ago, 30 plus years. But the national team job is the real pinnacle of coaching, you know there’s certainly no doubt I miss coaching on a daily basis, I think every coach is like that but what I’ve been really keen on doing is setting myself, not targets, but getting myself into different organisations, whether that’s a club to extend my knowledge or expertise and skill set by being in different environments and that in turn equips you for the future.

She continued, “When you’ve been a player with the national team, you get an opportunity to captain the national team, you take a job with the U19s… I’ve really enjoyed my coaching journey because it’s been quite diverse. I’ve coached in the men’s game, I’ve coached boys teams, women’s teams, I’ve been a player coach and that’s really key because you get an opportunity to experience different things. Even the management of players if you work at a grassroots club and then a professional environment with players that get paid, I’ve worked out with scholar-athletes it all gives you more opportunity to get that side of it right.

Not pin-pointing one coach who had the deepest effect on her, Kerr has used the sum total of her experience as a buffet, picking and choosing, shaping her own style,

I’ve had many, many coaches who’ve been important. I think what you do is take little parts from each of them and think, “I really like that” or “I like the methodology behind that” or “I wouldn’t do that” and you have you own ideas as well and you put them all together and it’s what works best for you. But I think the key thing I’ve learnt in my experience is you have to have a plan, you have to have a philosophy of how you want to play the game then it comes into your management technic, how can you sell that and get the players to buy into how you want to play the game.”

Keen not just to utilise what she’s learned in football but from all walks, Kerr consistently remains reflective and eager to learn and grow,

But there’s been many, many coaches and different people in different environments that have helped me along the way – I still use mentors that I can pick up the phone and have a chat with, sometimes it helps to get the input of someone not involved in football because they can give you an impartial view. In my opinion, nobody is ever the finished article, you’re always learning, all the time and it’s something I’m really open to. We operate a system with the players that we constantly ask for feedback because it’s important to get how they feel so that we can make the environment the best learning environment possible.

Making headlines when she took charge of a men’s team with Stirling University, the experience has only been another that’s helped the coach on her journey,

It was really good, it really tests your knowledge and your expertise as well. The game is faster and more physical so your decision making – certainly my decision making, developed massively because you’re having to make the decisions quicker just by the speed of the game. The management side of the players was probably a little bit easier, I think managing men is different from managing women, but coaching women… women are more receptive than men or boys so that’s the major difference. I thoroughly enjoyed it but again, it was another opportunity to learn.”

A woman in a man’s world, Kerr looks back on her time with Sterling with nothing but fond memories, the team more than receptive to her as a coach, regardless of gender,

I actually didn’t, I’ve been very fortunate that when I first went into Stirling University as a coach I knew a couple of the players which really help and I think once you get on the pitch and you’re confident and the players understand you know what you’re talking about I don’t think there’s a problem. Sometimes having the softer skills, especially now we’ve changed as society and the way you have to communicate with people so I certainly think softer skills are good.”