When Martin Scott said he wanted to become a football coach, some questioned whether he could do it. But with a 15-year career behind him, including a spell coaching in America, it’s been the best thing he ever did.
I, like many others, have had a stammer ever since I can remember. What’s interesting is that my dad and my brother also stammer, although mine is far more evident.
I grew up in a small northern town where everyone knows everyone and nothing is hidden. My schoolmates soon noticed my stammer, which made things difficult as I knew of no-one else who stammered.
I remember the teacher taking the register one day but instead of saying our names, she wanted us to say numbers in the order of where we sat from then on. My number was 9, which I always struggled to say, so I said something that sounded similar, like ‘twine’. The rest of the class noticed and sniggered. The teacher never asked me why I did it or told me to stop, but never offered to change my number either.
I wasn’t the most confident child. I found myself being reserved and I didn’t put myself forward for conversation much; I had my group of friends but that was about it. I enjoyed sport but my low confidence held me back and I struggled to express myself around other people.
Growing confidence through sport
I wanted to leave school as soon as possible. My friends went off to uni but I just wanted to be out of that environment. I saw a careers advisor who recommended I go for some speech therapy. I went for a few weeks and things started to improve — I got a job working at my local sports centre and I began to feel more confident within myself.
When I told my speech therapist that I wanted to coach football, she said, "Are you sure you want to get into something like this?" I could understand her concern but I’d made up my mind and the desire to do it outweighed the fear. So I went on a training course.
My advice is to put yourself out there and trust yourself. It’ll be scary and tough at first, but it’ll be for the best in the long run.
I’m sure we can agree that there is nothing more nerve-wracking than sitting in a room full of strangers who have no idea about your stammer and then having to speak in front of them. This is what it’s like when you do a coaching course. At the beginning they do the old “Let’s go round the room and find out who you are and where you’re from”. Easy for some but for us it’s a big deal and it adds a lot of pressure. I wasn't the most outspoken person on the training course, which I’d say had an effect on my learning.
A game of two halves
I passed the course and I’ve been coaching for nearly 15 years now. I spent a summer working in America and I am now married and living in Newcastle — although coaching hasn’t been all plain sailing. After passing the course I coached under 8s. You could tell they weren't sure what was going on and some found my stammer funny. This affected me but you can't get angry at a 7-year-old. I tried to educate them about it as much as I could.
I now coach under 16s, which is a bit easier as they are more understanding. But when I need to add some technical detail at important moments, that's where I struggle. And when the team needs a bit of a telling off, it can take about ten minutes!
Lack of awareness
In my near-15 years in coaching, I’ve never met another coach who has a stammer or any other speech impediment. It’s not mentioned at FA courses or seminars; it’s like they expect all coaches to be able to talk perfectly. Fellow coaches I've encountered are understanding but there's definitely a lack of knowledge and awareness about it.
I’ve since began my own research into speech impediments in sport — how it affects those getting into sport, what sporting bodies/organisations know about speech impediments and what they do to help. A lot of people are now on board and there are some really exciting times ahead. I’ll share my findings with the BSA soon.
Although coaching has been daunting and has pushed me out my comfort zone regularly, it’s been the best thing I could have done. My speech has improved and I’m more comfortable in front of people than I’ve ever been. My advice is to put yourself out there and trust yourself. It’ll be scary and tough at first, but it’ll be for the best in the long run.
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