By Dan Plouffe
Fawn Mulholland played soccer in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, it brought her to the U.S. for the chance to study and play in the NCAA, and now to Ottawa for her careers in coaching and tech, but she almost quit the sport as a teenager.
“I was 14 or 15 when I had this crisis, like why am I doing this?” recounts Mulholland, who was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure, though she followed her father’s encouragement to stick with it and give it time. “And I’m really glad I did, because I do love the sport.”
Raised outside Belfast, Mulholland wanted to join Northern Ireland’s women’s national team program, but players weren’t scouted from league play, it all came down to assessments at trials.
“I wouldn’t sleep the night before. It was the worst. I absolutely hated them,” recalls the 28-year-old. “It was totally out of my comfort zone. Obviously, in growing up, I’ve learned to live out of my comfort zone a lot more, but back in the day, it was enough to basically make me want to drop it all.”
Compounding the situation was the fact that Mulholland hailed from a smaller centre and didn’t know any of the other players – the social connections that she loved in the sport were missing in that high-stress atmosphere.
“A lot of my memories are actually where I got to go by playing, and who I was playing with, as opposed to any kind of success stories that we had,” signals Mulholland, who won a national premiere league title with Crusaders Strikers FC and got to play in the Champions League, but says the most memorable part for her was travelling to Croatia, and seeing the reality that the country had overcome a civil war not long before, with bullet holes in walls of buildings still visible.
All those experiences have helped shape Mulholland’s philosophies now as a coach – that gaining positive life experiences through soccer is ultimately more significant than the action on the field.
She says it’s “kind of funny to be a coach now” since she had many exceptionally high-calibre technical coaches during her playing career, but never really connected with them.
“Honestly, for me, the social side of it is more important probably than the soccer side of it,” underlines the midfielder who still enjoys playing recreationally. “It’s absolutely about developing the people and forming relationships. Sport has been really good to me and I want to make sure I give as many opportunities to players as I’ve had.”
Mulholland first dabbled in coaching while at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania and continued to coach here and there alongside her playing career, which was ultimately derailed due to concussions, and a lack of women’s professional opportunities when she emerged from college.
“The women’s professional game has come on leaps and bounds in the past three or four years,” highlights Mulholland, noting that players in the league she joined at age 14 are now professionals.
“I kind of missed my opportunity to even pursue (playing pro). I’m probably, I hope, a part of the last generation that experiences that,” she adds. “But I really wanted to stay involved in the game, and it wasn’t happening playing-wise, so coaching was the next-best thing.”
Mulholland takes over as Nepean Hotspurs coaching leader
Mulholland was drawn to Canada, where she had family, and she now enjoys living in a rural area outside Kemptville, with her dogs. The national B-licenced coach first worked with the Ottawa Internationals for five years while also coaching a few Nepean Hotspurs teams over the years. She began her new role as Nepean’s technical director in November following the retirement of long-time leader Boris Bajagic.
“I think there’s a real sense of pride, and it’s very much a communal coming together at the Hotspurs,” indicates Mulholland, who also works for a Kanata-based tech company outside of soccer, while pursuing a masters degree in technology management online through Memorial University, and serving as a volunteer firefighter.
“I don’t know where my time comes from,” she cracks.
Mulholland says her new role has been fun so far and that the community is very excited to get back into soccer as the COVID cloud clears.
One of her main priorities this year will be continuing the growth of the Hotspurs’ girls’ programs, which had shrunk a fair bit in past years, but has now rebounded to include competitive entries at every age group in the grassroots categories.
Ensuring that players experience a positive and friendly environment will be a key focus, details Mulholland, who’s also very keen to work with a group of 15 female competitive players who will help coach Hotspurs recreational programs.
“We’ve primed them to get out there and start their coaching careers while they’re still playing, which is massive, to give them any kind of way to stay in the game as long as possible,” explains Mulholland, speaking from experience, and perhaps prophetically.
Read more in the Ottawa Sports Pages’ soccer kickoff series this week from May 2-6.
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