NASCA COACH OF THE WEEK POWERED BY SPORT CAREERS AGENCY: KAYLEY RALTON
- Journey started as a seven-year-old girl captaining the Boys team at Musselburgh Windsor
- Starred for Scotland at U17 and U19 level before launching American adventure as a stand-out Varsity player
- Now new Head Coach of University of North Georgia Women’s Programme and becoming a force in the technical area
KAYLEY RALTON'S dad searched frantically for her, she'd run off when he was distracted watching her brother's training session at Musselburgh Windsor.
He found her on a nearby pitch playing - and starring - alongside the boys.
Looking back now he should have known.
These days the windswept fields of East Lothian have been swapped for the sun-soaked turf of her new home in the USA but Kayley's steely-eyed focus remains the same.
At 33 Scot Ralton is leading a highly-regarded Division Two Women's program, confirmed now as the Head Coach of the University of North Georgia Nighthawks.
Ask where the love affair with the Beautiful Game started, though, and her memory drifts back to home.
Kayley smiled: "I was at Musselburgh Windsor with my dad at one of my brother's practices and my he turned around and I had gone.
"He couldn't find me at first and then he finally found me on another field training with a younger team that were around my age!
"My dad ran across to apologise to the coach and the guy said: 'Forget that, can you bring her back?'
"He did and that's how it started as a seven-year-old kid, I started playing for the boys team a year up as captain!
"I loved being the centre-back and I never looked back, I was in The Brownies and I hated that so the choice between that and football was a no-brainer."
As a player Kayley was an uncompromising presence who constantly challenged herself in difficult environments.
At the age of 12 her progress at Musselburgh Windsor led her to a trial at Hibs Girls for what she thought was the Under-15 team.
She recalled: "I moved into the U17s squad right away. It was a big age gap but it was invaluable experience.
"The journey there took me to the Under-17s and the Under-19s with Scotland when we made it to the European Championships under Tony Gervaise.
"Being skipper with the Scotland 17s will always live with me, that was one of my proudest moments.
"Also Tony Gervaise with Scotland was a tough love coach for sure but a lot of the things he said to me stuck with me and they do to this day."
Kayley's playing journey had seen her reach the pinnacle in her homeland, now a new adventure was on the horizon.
A scholarship in the States at Armstrong State University beckoned and Ralton sparkled there in her four years as a player before earning her history degree.
At first Kayley's intention was to be a history teacher but she grinned: "When I got my history degree I taught for a semester and coached a team too.
"Looking back my dad coached us at Hibs Girls, my grandfather was a coach and it is in the blood I think. I should have known.
"Even my mum Alex is the Team Administrator for the Scottish Women's National Team.
"I wanted to go to the last Women's World Cup and never got there then but my mum was on the Scotland bench!
"With a football family like that it's no wonder I was missing the day to day of the game.
"I went back to school to do my masters in Sports Medicine at Armstrong State and began to think of a coaching career."
A switch had been flicked and Pirates Women's Head Coach Eric Faulconer saw something in the former player he then appointed as a graduate assistant-coach.
Kayley knew Faulconer's qualities inside-out through working for him as a player, now she was a coaching colleague.
And she stressed: "I consider Eric to be one of the best coaches in Collegiate soccer. His team management is incredible.
"Eric is at North Florida now, he is a massive mentor to me. He was my coach as a player and gave me my chance to coach. Those four years were priceless for me.
"I moved on to North Georgia and Chris Adams had a different style but was also hugely influential for me."
When Adams left North Georgia last winter Kayley was in pole position.
With America in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic a coach search might have been problematic and Ralton was on campus with a locker full of experience.
Kayley was named Interim Head Coach and given the reins for the season and she hasn't disappointed.
She reasoned: "I had been here four years as an assistant and I have learned so much.
"In European terms some will look and think I am young at 33 to be a Head Coach but in University terms here there are many that are younger than me.
"I wouldn't swap my journey, though, I have had a lot of years here as an assistant in two different programs now so I have educated myself on the job.
"We had a consistent season and the defeats we had were against good teams which is encouraging.
"I like being the one calling the shots, I enjoy the pressure of going with my gut feeling on decisions.
"I feel I have adjusted well to being the Head Coach, I was constantly learning as a no2 and that has made the transition easier.
"But there are things you can't learn until you are sitting in the chair. The losses weigh heavier on you but the flip side of that is that you feel the wins more intensely too.
"Especially if something you have worked on that week comes out in the game, that's just the best feeling."
Kayley is relishing her new role now and has clear goals in front of her as she gets used to life as a Head Coach.
This season her Nighthawks had an overall record of seven wins and three defeats.
And she pointed out: "We are a Division Two program in the Peach Belt Conference which is very competitive.
"The first goal for us now is to win a Conference title."
Season one is in the books and now Coach Ralton will look to indelibly stamp her own mark on the University of North Georgia program in the years to come.
She grinned: "I had that Scottish knack of getting stuck in as a player! I have taken that into coaching with me and I do like to see that same toughness in players. Players with real grit.
"My teams come from a blue collar standpoint of we are going to work hard as a given.
"Toughness is not about me yelling at you, though, it's about me holding you accountable to be your best every day.
”I want to bring out the best in you but not in a demeaning way."
One of the questions every Scottish player or coach who has made the switch to North America gets is what your advice would be to someone back home?
How can I get there and stay there?
Kayley said: "When you first arrive as a player there will be that scary first semester when you miss home and your friends but stick with it.
"The resources and the facilities you will have at school will be plentiful and you have to use them to help you thrive. You can get better every day if you do that.
"In terms of coaches there are a lot of avenues for you to grow but you have to find the place to apply that on the field.
"Coaches need to coach, I know it's hard but at first it might not be the most glamorous opening but get a start. Somewhere. Then build on it.
"Finding a mentor after that is crucial in your growth.
"My highlight as a coach so far has been about that growth, helping people find themselves on and off the field. I love giving back that way."
So 15 years on from the day she landed in the States as a nervous teenager Kayley is a highly respected figure on campus now.
She is a proud Scot even if all those years in Georgia have affected her accent somewhat.
Kayley defends that little change and smiles: "The Scottish banter gets lost sometimes, it's the thing I guess we all miss the most.
"And look I didn't have that strong an accent when I left Scotland, honest! I know I sound a little American now though.
"I say everything is awesome but I don't say y'all yet, I have used it in a text though.
"When I first came here it took me eight times repeating myself to get them to understand my order at Subway!"
Since that day way back when a little Scottish girl found this great game back in her homeland one thing is for sure.
Kayley Ralton is fluent in the language of football.