Returning as a player after starting a family

Returning to playing after having a child is not something I once considered possible, let alone doing it twice.

When I was growing up, and into my early 20s, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many mothers I knew who were still playing. Fortunately, I was a teammate of two of them at different times in my career.

Both Katie Chapman (a teammate at Arsenal) and Katie Sherwood (formerly Katie Daley, a teammate for Wales and Chelsea) were hugely inspirational to me. But I don’t think I ever truly appreciated what they were doing until I had started a family myself.

Both Katies returned to the game’s highest level, and international football, after giving birth and I take immense pride in the fact I was able to do the same.

Wales striker Helen Ward, 35, played for Arsenal, Chelsea and Reading but has spent the last four years at Watford, who are now back in the English second tier this season

For me, it was not so much the physical achievement but actually the psychological side of it that I found – and still do find – the most challenging part.

That psychological element is the most important – but perhaps the most overlooked – part of being a mother who plays, one which coaches really should consider.

The physical aspect is also hugely important and it is vital that clubs have the right people in place who have the knowledge of pre and post-natal exercise to make sure both mother and baby are protected – but also so the incredible physical benefits of pregnancy can really be taken advantage of.

For example, pregnant women produce more red blood cells than women who are not pregnant, and that can be very beneficial when trying to achieve greater aerobic fitness – those effects can last up to a year after the birth of the child.

This is something all coaches, physios and strength and conditioning coaches should be aware of.

There are obviously all the other considerations that need to be put in place to ensure the player’s return to the pitch is as safe as possible and everything is done to reduce the risk of injury. Each case must be treated on its own, as no two pregnancies, let alone women, will be the same.

A child changes a lot of things in a person’s life. For me, having the responsibility of another human being’s life weighed heavily, and the guilt of leaving my daughter with others or needing family or friends to put themselves out in order to support my return to football was, and still is, really tough to deal with.


“Allowing a child to come on the team bus or attend training can make a difference…”


I often feel like my career is a burden on others, even though I know I have the full support of everyone to continue playing for as long as possible.

None of my family actually consider my playing commitments a burden at all, of course, but that guilt will never go away while I am still playing.

I think it is important coaches and managers realise players may feel that way, and if they can offer any support or practical solutions – such as allowing the child to come on the team bus or attend a training session, for example – it can make the world of difference.

I have been fortunate that both my club and country have been accommodating and understanding. It certainly won’t be the case for every player, but I haven’t had many occasions where I felt I had to choose between my children and my sport.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. I’ve sometimes felt there is an unconscious bias against mothers, with an expectation that we can’t do now what we used to do before having a child, or that we can’t cope with certain schedules.

But please, even if you think that as a coach or manager you know what a mother can or can’t do, please check in with them first before making that assumption.

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