NASCA COACH OF THE WEEK POWERED BY SPORT CAREERS AGENCY: ASHLEY BURNETT
- Turns around Pratt Community College programme in Kansas and makes it a respected place to play
- Stellar career as a player in USA Varsity soccer but has learned from the ground up as a coach
- Pratt lost a game 24-0 to her old old team Hutchinson Lady Blue Dragons the season before she took over
- Hails Irish coaching mentor Sammy Lane for his role in building her from player to coach
- Does every job from Strength and Conditioning to Recruitment in the JuCo environment - and relishes it
PICTURE the scene. You are one of the league's most decorated and respected players, a star Scottish import and a born winner.
You rack up titles and records with your boots on, then a career in coaching beckons.
And the job that lures you is with a team your old college in the USA once defeated 24-0.
That's the journey 31-year-old Head Coach Ashley Burnett has taken at Pratt Community College in the Midwest American state of Kansas.
As a goalscoring midfielder at Hutchinson Lady Blue Dragons, Ashley played two years in the Jayhawk Conference.
Her side racked up an incredible 38-4 record in 42 games under the guidance of veteran Irish boss Sammy Lane.
Burnett the coach, though, had to adapt to coming into a losing environment - then try to turn it all around.
She reflected: "When I took this job I knew it was going to be a challenge. I just wanted to change the reputation of the program.
"I knew it would take time because the local players knew where the program was at that time and they just wouldn't come here.
"To give you an idea of where we were when I came in the season before they hadn't won a game and it's true that they lost one game against my old team Hutch 24-0.
"That's what I took over but now I don't want to leave here until I have done something that I am really proud of.
"We have had the most wins in programme history and other landmarks but we haven't won a Conference yet.
"That is my ultimate goal here, we are respected now and I have the most Kansas kids I have ever had on the team.
"We are getting somewhere and my short-term goal is that Conference win."
Pratt, Kansas, is an hour west of Wichita and it's typical small-town America.
For a proud Scot from the East coast brought up in the likes of Carnoustie and Monifeith it's still a whole new world.
At home Ashley was 10 minutes from Dundee, here she has a three-hour round trip each week to do some club coaching and she is over FOUR HOURS from the bright lights of Kansas City.
She smiled: "When I first came to America I came over here to PLAY and I didn't think I would stay. Now I have been here for 11 YEARS.
"That wasn't the plan at first but I had two great years in junior college at Hutch then I went to University at Wesleyan in Oklahoma and in about my third year there something hit me.
"I knew I was falling in love with the country and the football opportunities I had here.
"I was playing college and then in semi-pro leagues in Tulsa and then California.
"Now California was a good choice, I needed to pick one league that would help me to get some sun in my bones!"
When the North American Scottish Coaches Association (NASCA) hosts one of our coach education Zoom calls you can always count on seeing Ashley's face in the thumbnails in the corner of the screen.
Walter Smith, Gordon Strachan, Shelley Kerr, Craig Brown, Alex McLeish. She was ever-present, always keen to learn and promote the cause of women in coaching, driven to get better.
There may be more opportunities for female coaches in America than there are back home in Scotland but it is STILL a daunting fight for recognition.
Ashley revealed: "I am still the only female Head Coach in my Conference so it is still a battle and it is something I feel very passionate about.
"I had one of the girls at our recent ID camp tell me she wants to be a coach and it was like music to my ears.
"Hearing girls want to do it still thrills me and I want to be the one who gives them the opportunities.
"I feel it is part of my position as a female in the game to help lead the way and show girls the environment they can grow in here."
If you are a fan of the superb Netflix series Last Chance U then you will have had an insight into the world of junior community college sports in America.
They have tackled American football and last time out basketball, illustrating the hopes and dreams of the players in these schools who are often desperate for a ticket out to bigger things.
Ashley admitted: "JuCo can be a grind as a player and a coach, you get thrown in and you have to be ready to compete.
"A lot of the players are there because they are looking for a way out to a University or a better programme.
"The recruitment process can seem like it is never-ending. It is a lot of change at times and as a coach I do EVERYTHING. I wear every single hat.
"I am the strength and conditioning coach, the advisor and I do the recruitment. I do it all myself and it's a hustle.
"Yet if you are trying to grow as a coach then I feel this is the best way to learn.
"This is my job as a Head Coach and I have had to learn REAL quick!
"It's a huge part of who I am now, though, I have educated myself in so many different facets of the game."
Now a United States Soccer Federation (USSF) C Licence holder, Ashley is firmly ensconced in the American pathway.
Like so many coaches over the last 18 months she has experienced the hurt of having what she loves most, the game, taken from her in the global pandemic.
She winced: "We had a weird year with COVID-19 and we only played half a season but in the end I felt privileged to even do that.
"The team couldn't play any non-Conference travel matches but we had nine games and then play-offs.
"We got nationally ranked in the USA at no19 which is the highest we have been.
"We finished second in our Conference to Allen Community College who are our big rivals from around two and a half hours away.
"We played them three times this season and we just can't take that final step against them yet.
"We lost one of the games in overtime and that's tough to take but they went to the Nationals tournament and they have to be our target now.
"Our goal for our returning players is to get that first place, they know that."
For now Burnett is part of the furniture at Pratt, the college has just built a new facility she loves to work in.
She's in a good place as a person and a coach, feeling blessed.
Ashley stressed: "We just hosted our first ID camp for players which was a big step forward. We have just built a new complex and I was proud to host it there.
"The target is to keep the programme progressing and we could land two players from that camp which is another significant step for us.
"After the camp I did an hour on the do's and don'ts of recruitment and it's just great to open their eyes to what the game can give them.
"Long-term? One day I would love to get back into a four-year University cycle as a coach in the NCAA.
"I want to keep learning as a coach and keep moving but none of that will ever happen until I achieve what I want to do here."
Behind every Scottish coach in North America lies a fascinating back-story.
How did they get here? What drove them to leave their beloved homeland and chase their dreams?
Ashley's tale is laced with a family tragedy that saw her lose her dad in a car accident when she was 18 before she opted to start a new life in America as a college player.
It takes a special kind of person to get over that and thrive and it took a special kind of coach to help her recover.
Ashley admitted: "I wish I had a female coach as my mentor but I don't. My biggest influence is my coach at Hutch who is an Irish guy called Sammy Lane.
"He gave me a sense of home and he took me under his wing. He was the first coach that I felt truly got me.
"Our record there at Hutch was unbelievable but he didn't just teach me football. He taught me LIFE.
"We had this close-knit team and the chemistry he created was off the charts. He taught me how to create a team off the field and a team on the field."
In one of those poignant twists that only football seems to produce when Lane was hunting his 200th win as a JuCo Head Coach the opposition he faced? Pratt Community College.
There in the opposite technical area was Ashley Burnett, now a coaching rival but once the kid he took to Walmart shopping before he helped her set up her first American bank account.
Lane affectionately calls Ashley Jockie after her tartan heritage and she said: "We are very different as coaches because he is tough as nails.
"Yet I remember looking at his life out here one day when I was a player and thinking: 'I want a piece of that.'
"He'd come from a similar background as me and he understood me, he was the first coach I had seen who coached the people rather than the players.
"I lost my dad when I was 18 before I came out to America and Sammy kind of filled that void in my life.
"He was my coach, my mentor and my father figure out here. We still text every other day."
Lane is proud of his protégé as she takes significant strides each season as a coach and 13 years on from the day her world was shattered there's no question her late dad would be too.
They will both be watching the next steps of the journey with full hearts.