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Interview from Mind for the Asian Sports Foundation

Get active – it’s good for the mind

Mind, the mental health charity, talk to FA BAME Elite Coach Mentee Annie Zaidi about mental wellbeing and breaking down barriers in sport.

What does football mean to you?

Coaching football means a lot to me. It’s my safe haven and at times my escape from reality. I love being able to develop players, not just to make them better on the pitch but so they become more confident people and positive role models within their communities.

When I was made redundant in 2011 I felt lost and down. I went from waking up early with a spring in my step, to sleeping in late and feeling unmotivated and low. Football was the one thing that made me feel alive.

Football is my heart beat, it’s what makes me me

The two hours I would spend playing each day made me feel confident and worthwhile. Football is my heart beat, it’s what makes me me.

I have learnt team work, resilience and time management through football, and that’s what I try to pass on to the young people I coach. Football is much more than just a game.

Why did you decide to become a coach?

I realised the positive impact that playing football could have on young people both on and off the pitch. I had done admin and other office work before, but I decided I wanted to get out and work in the fresh air, so I set my sights on coaching.

How did you deal with any knock backs or barriers?

In a society where everyone is labelled, I have more labels than me a jam jar! But I see myself as Coach Annie, so I can only be me. I try to remain focused on my path and not to get distracted by other people’s barriers.

People thought that my desire to become a coach was just a phase

People thought that my desire to become a coach was just a phase. But I left a well-paid job and threw everything into it… It was life changing, but it was a struggle too. Working towards achieving your dream can be a lonely place.

When I was starting out people didn’t want to take a gamble on me because I was too different – there is a lot of negativity out there. I started working with a mentor in 2011. Where other organisations refused to lend me their hand, he saw my potential. With his support I pulled myself through. We still work together now and he helps me with straight talking and constructive feedback.

How does coaching football and getting active benefit your own mental wellbeing?

It gives me a sense of belonging. I keep a football in the car and if I’m feeling stressed or low I park up somewhere and have a kick around. There is something magical about football, it’s helped me to realise I can do anything.

I go running every morning too which also helped me gain focus. When I speak to my mentor he can tell straight away if I’m not feeling great, and the first thing he will ask me is: “Annie, have you gone for a run today?”

I could barely run 5k at first, and now I can do 10k. Improving my skills has really built up my confidence. After my first 10k run I felt really proud of my personal achievement. Now I’m running 30km a week

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about becoming active but don’t know where to start?

Don’t let other people’s barriers become your barriers. It can be easy as putting on your trainers and going for a walk in the park.

It can be easy as putting on your trainers and going for a walk in the park.

Everyone needs their own time away from life. From work, partners, children, technology… Put your phone down and go out for a walk – just twenty minutes can do you the world of good!
I’ve even got my mum walking to the shop instead of going in the car, it really does work. Start small – just give it a go.
Annie Zaidi is a BAME Elite Coach Mentee for the FA & National Ambassador for Women in Football

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Mind is a mental health charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. They also support the sport sector to put mental health on the agenda. Find out more at

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