AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH LIZZIE FLUKE: A PERFORMANCE COACH OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

  • Developed her craft in key season working under Danish legend Jon Dahl Tomasson at Swedish champions Malmo
  • Has faced up to the challenges of gender inequity and racism in High Performance sport
  • Took the plunge to begin travelling to broaden her horizons and learn from other cultures
  • Has a multi-sport CV that includes football, rugby, hockey, sprinting and fighting sports
  • In the throes of self-improvement to keep evolving as an expert in her sphere

AN INNER STRENGTH...Lizzie Fluke in her element in the gym working with athletes to improve themlizziefitness.com

LIZZIE FLUKE watched Jon Dahl Tomasson's coaching passion begin to turn Swedish giants Malmo into a Champions League club again and knew this was the place to level up.

The highly respected performance coach spent a season working under the guidance of the Danish legend who starred for Newcastle United, Feyernoord and AC Milan in his playing days.

Sport Careers Agency client Lizzie was there as Sweden's champions proved their worth in the Europa League environment before their elite adventure this time around.

And she revealed: "Malmo was a superb experience, over the season I added to my existing skills to confirm that I can work at that level.

"I experienced what it takes to coach at that level and the slickness of the operations.

"The mentality of the players, even in the Academy, there was excellent.

"I worked with the Dutch, Danish, Spanish and Swedish coaching staff and I knew I had to level up and acclimatise to the Allsvenskan, the highest level of men's professional football in Sweden.

"I'm sure at first Jon was looking and wondering who this woman was on his training field but I adapted to the challenges and I grew.

“I am appreciative and grateful for the support and faith that Jon, and his assistants Remy Reijnierse and Daniel Moller showed me”.

Malmo would tumble in the qualifiers at the hands of Spaniards Granada in that Europa League campaign but built from there to enhance their reputation in continental competition this season.

Dahl Tomasson's side conquered Scottish champions Rangers with a magnificent 10-man triumph at Ibrox to make the Group Stages.

And then reality bit with a vengeance.

They were placed in a daunting section with Chelsea, Juventus and St Petersburg and have won just one point and scored one goal in five matches with 13 goals conceded.

Lizzie has watched with interest in her adopted homeland and she reasoned: "If you don't know anything about Swedish football the Champions League will show you the level you are at.

"The Champions League this year will have told Malmo that but they will take it on board because it's a club that is always developing and moving forward.

"When we were in the Europa League at Malmo we had a period of working 22 days straight without a break because of the fixture congestion.

"When we went back to one game a week life seemed so slow!

"The difference in European football is the intensity metric, it's the physicality and speed of play that changes.

"Everyone has tactical brains and technical skill but the intensity of leagues shows. For example, the English Premier League has the highest intensity levels and demands.

"For Swedish teams they will do well in the domestic league but once you get to the group stages of the Champions League that's when the performance gap shows.

"To progress further, with men's or women's teams, then you have to change and not get nostalgic about how you won the title last time, repeating the same patterns. Other teams are evolving all the time."

TOP DRAWER OPERATOR...Lizzie relished seeing Jon Dahl Tomasson at work at Malmotellerreport.com

Lizzie, who worked in women's football in Sweden in the Damallsvenskan last season, has spent her career facing up to the too often unspoken obstacles of gender and racism within high performance sport.

She has so often overcome them but there has been a price to pay.

Lizzie reflected: "I have not confronted racism throughout my whole career in women's football.

"I have not experienced racism in the men's game. For black women and men real workplace fears are retribution.

"You may be labelled as overly sensitive, always complaining and negative. It's your communication, you may not be believed.

"You can only let people demean and abuse you if you let them. It is betraying yourself, your boundaries and values.

"Unfortunately, along with poor choices and decisions, I did for a long time. I have always been a voice for others but not for myself.

"However, racism grows in silence, perpetrators count on it. Moments of clarity mean breaking free.

"No experiences are wasted, they are all valuable. Wounds can be turned into wisdom."

Now as she ponders her next career move Fluke has had time to examine her journey to date.

Lizzie reflected: "Swedish football is very accessible for all in the main and I have looked at Head of Sport Science roles here.

"With one organisation here I was told they were confident that I could do the job which involved being embedded with the men's team.

"I didn't get that one, though, as they said the other candidates were more experienced but I was asked to consider a role with the women's team.

"In Sweden Gender Equity in sport is a THOUSAND times better than it is in Britain.

"I have felt so much more comfortable here as a woman.

"At Malmo I was told I didn't need to prove myself, we know you are good. I felt I was able to relax without the feeling of having to prove myself, which in other environments I have had to do.

"I was shown huge amounts of respect and that was mind-blowing.

"On my first day at Malmo I saw female groundstaff teams operating, which I have never seen before."

Yet even when the gender issue is conquered, the spectre of racism can rear its ugly head.

Now, in a period between jobs, Lizzie has had time to mull over how this has affected her in her career.

And she stressed: "In my next job after Malmo the problem of racism raised its head.

"They couldn't cope with a black woman being successful and skilful and that it was not coming from a white Icelandic or white Swedish woman.

"Throughout my career I feel it is about boundaries in the organisation.

"In the past I have allowed myself to be abused which is brutal. I should have drawn a line in the sand with some behaviours and I didn't.

"Boundaries keep you safe, it's about self-respect for yourself and for others. It's about what you expect, allow, accommodate and tolerate in work, and in life.

"I did not apply my boundaries. if you don't have boundaries you can be a chronic victim, easily manipulated, used and violated by those who do not.

"Setting boundaries means you have a sense of self. It's knowing where you end and someone else begins.

"If I went to another organisation I would know how to define, announce and manage boundaries if they are broken.

"I would also ensure to be flexible if it's new to them, they don't know or they forget."

A career that had its foundation blocks as a Strength and Conditioning assistant coach at Scottish club Hibernian has like so many others been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For now home for Lizzie is a Swedish hotel where she is dedicating herself to learning and self-growth as she plots the next steps.

She sighed: "The Corona Virus meant after my year at Malmo life was unstable and I had to look for a new post.

"Right now I am considering the next move, whether that be back home in the UK, in USA or perhaps elsewhere in Europe.

"I have been in some recruitment processes and they always take time, so you have to get used to the uncertainty of these spells in your life and get comfortable with it.

"There has been interest in Major League Soccer and environments like that and whilst it is difficult when you miss out it is good to get experience outside of the UK.

"At home foreign coaches are viewed as better, just look at the English Premiership.

"Moving out of your home country teaches you about new cultures and I want to be able to continue to have the opportunity to do that.

"If I had the money for the perfect education I would now move to Germany, they have aptitude tests now before you can go on a coaching course there. I like that.

"The Germans have revamped their systems to evolve."

As a seasoned professional in a variety of sports from professional football to rugby and sprinting Lizzie has seen so many changes in her sphere of skills over the last two decades.

Yet as with so many coaches given the opportunity for self-reflection during these trying times.

Lizzie admitted: "The massive growth in data analysis has been the biggest change, how that drives teams now.

"For me team culture always trumps the toys and the shiny things we have now.

"You can have all the money in the world and still have a team that struggles to believe and see the vision.

"The Premier League in England is awash with money but culture is critical.

"In my previous organisation nothing much had changed in 13 years and I found the wheels move very slowly in Sweden.

"Working the other way, having experience in other sports gives you a far broader skill set to draw upon.

"I had to step in and coach goalkeepers, for instance.

"I used some techniques there from rugby and fighting sports and it was a benefit."

Men's professional football to the Academies of Scottish Rugby and Men's Elite Scottish Hockey to Saudi Arabian Olympic athletes to elite sprinters and Malmo and the Damallsvenskan in her Swedish sojourn

High performance athletes across the globe have felt Lizzie's influence but what advice would she give aspiring young coaches just setting out on their pathway?

Lizzie reasoned: "I would tell younger coaches to get their qualifications as soon as they can, to get experience abroad and to learn a language.

"People in the UK are not great at broadening their horizons especially with languages.

”For me when I look ahead, if I was ever to be working in Europe again, then I would go to Germany to work in the Bundesliga.

"If not there, then maybe home beckons. The MLS is an option in America but we will see. It's a challenging landscape.

"Right now, I am continuing my process of learning and growth, improving my awareness and consciousness. I have used this spell to examine what type of coach I truly am."

LIZZIE FLUKE ON THE SERVICE SHE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY

”I am very appreciative of all the help and support I get from Sport Careers Agency.

”I am constantly updating my product and staying in touch with them and my CV is very slick.

”It opens doors for me and it is excellent, they have been both with me and behind me from the beginning.”

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