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Michelle Rayner
Soccer Talented Ambassador

Women's Head Coach & Sporting Director
Lexington Sporting Club, Lexington, KY

From New Zealand's Fields to Kentucky's Bluegrass

A Snapshot of Michelle's Journey

Michelle Rayner is a seasoned soccer expert with a passion for talent development and player growth. Her dedication, experience, and passion for the sport make her an exceptional leader in women’s soccer.

Soccer Talented is proud to have her join our list of Ambassadors in promoting soccer from youth programs and beyond playing.

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From Player to Coach

Insightful Articles by Michelle Rayner

Welcome to the insightful articles of soccer wisdom authored by Michelle Rayner, Head Coach and Women’s Sporting Director at Lexington SC, Lexington, KY.


In these articles, you’ll embark on a captivating journey that spans from playing football in the picturesque landscapes of New Zealand to coaching at the collegiate and professional levels in the US.



Michelle’s expertise, honed through her rich experiences, will offer invaluable insights and guidance to aspiring and seasoned female soccer players. So, get ready to uncover a wealth of knowledge that delves into the heart of the beautiful game, empowering you to elevate your skills, seize opportunities, and embrace the passion that fuels your love for soccer.

Click on Titles Below to Read Articles by Michelle

During the time when I played high school football, soccer here in the States, the difference was that we played the majority of our “serious sports” outside of the school system when I was growing up. I believe now it’s changed a little bit more and sports is more serious inside the school system, however,playing outside of the school system takes you further as an athlete in New Zealand than inside the school system.
My two sports I played was soccer and tennis and had to decide early on which one I wanted to continue with. The other difference is
that people don’t typically play more than one sport past early teen years, unlike here in this country – where they tend to play multiple sports for longer periods of time.
My experience playing outside the school system began after one game of field hockey and I either got hit in the head with the ball and/or the stick and I’m like “nope, not for me”!
From there I picked up a soccer ball and I guess had natural talent and went to work playing with my mates and training on my own in my backyard against a brick wall … day-in-day-out. Wow, how the times have changed with everything that’s available now! Our women’s soccer team (and I was one of the youngest players on this team, it was mainly made up of women) – we won the league championship 10 years in a row (something like that) and the cup championship 8 years in a row.
I believe we’re in the Guinness Book of Records for a game that we won 26-1 or something like that!!!
My challenges as a coach have been a little different because I haven’t been in the “professional soccer industry” until now as a coach, mainly through playing in that arena. My coaching successes have come through coaching within the youth system, both girls and boys (and mainly boys to offset coaching women in college), and through the collegiate system.
I started coaching at the collegiate level as the assistant to both the men’s and women’s teams at Lincoln Memorial University. After that, from that point on, coaching women in college at the University of Kentucky as an assistant coach, High Point University as the Head Coach, and then back at the University of Kentucky as the Associate Head Coach.
Challenges varied, but I think the biggest, glaring challenge if you could call it that, is managing young females in the “modern era.” The difference in schools from mid-major type schools to Power 5 schools is a massive difference in terms of the actual player.
At High Point University, you tended to recruit and bring in players who had worked extremely hard for what they got in life and appreciated the opportunity. They worked hard at their craft with very little and were more grounded individuals. More like a “blue-collar type of player.” And this isn’t any slight on any player that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to coach throughout the years – but just the difference is amazing, and more so over my last few years within the collegiate environment.

At the Power 5 type schools, you’ll find a variety of backgrounds, from affluent to playing for a better chance in life, which creates a challenge when they reach this level of competition. Setting the right tone from the beginning was crucial to tackling this challenge. I focused on instilling accountability and gratitude in my players, making them understand the value of their opportunities.


By fostering a strong team culture, I aimed to eliminate entitlement and mold humble and dedicated athletes. But it’s how you handle your program and culture from the very beginning and how you can facilitate and work hard not to have this come through your program. Grounding the players and having them understand that they need to be accountable and appreciative of what they have instead of thinking they should automatically be given this and that. 

The other environment which is different from the “normal,” I would say, would be coaching within the male game and coaching young men for many, many years in different states in the USA, but having success with these teams in terms of developing respectable young men (where I teach them more about life than soccer in most aspects).
But also having a great deal of success on the field in terms of developing the players and trying to play the game the right way and thus developing players that have a deeper understanding of the game
and an IQ that they wouldn’t have had before.
Through this have come multiple championships at tournaments/showcases, State Cup, Regionals, etc. But the bigger aspect again, I go back to educating these young men to be role models and players with great character and have respect for their parents, teammates, coaches, referees, opposition, etc.
I was typically the only female coach in this environment, but I never thought of it that way, and to be fair, I don’t believe I was treated this way by opposing male coaches, players, or teams that we competed against, especially if you won against them (which was more times than not!). Well, not to my face, anyway!
As someone who has had the privilege of coaching both college men’s and college women’s soccer teams and currently serves as the Women’s Head Coach and Women’s Sporting Director at Lexington Sporting Club in Lexington, KY, I’ve gained valuable insights into the distinct qualities and skills that female players bring to the field compared to their male counterparts. Coaching in both settings may appear similar on the surface, but some differences warrant a closer examination.
Coaching at the collegiate level for both men and women has allowed me to witness the unique attributes that each gender contributes to the game. In college soccer, there are specific skills and qualities that female players often exhibit, setting them apart from their male counterparts.
One interesting aspect I’ve noticed is that female players often lean towards humility within their teams. Unlike some male athletes who may relish showcasing their individual prowess, female athletes frequently find fulfillment in blending in with the collective effort. They value being part of a unified team. However, it’s important to clarify that this is not a universal trait but rather a trend I’ve encountered frequently.
Female athletes at the collegiate level often have more responsibilities off the soccer pitch compared to their male counterparts. Even in today’s evolving landscape, many female athletes still find themselves balancing their sports careers with “real-life” responsibilities, such as holding down a regular job to make ends meet. While improvements have been made in terms of pay for female athletes, many still need supplemental income to sustain their soccer goals. This skill set extends beyond the soccer field and carries immense value.
In contrast, male athletes at the collegiate level often face fewer off-field obligations, affording them the luxury of focusing more exclusively on their soccer careers. This isn’t to suggest that male athletes lack dedication or a desire for success, but it underscores the differences in how they approach competition and commitment.
Drawing from my experiences coaching male and female college soccer athletes, I’ve found that the desire to excel is universal. Still, the expression of that desire can manifest differently. Male athletes may be more vocal about their individual aspirations, whereas female athletes often channel their ambition into bolstering the team as a whole.
Coaching at the college level requires recognizing and appreciating these distinctions when working with male and female players. For female athletes, fostering their sense of teamwork while simultaneously supporting their individual growth becomes paramount. 
However, it’s crucial to address a common misconception: the belief that female players are more ready to accept college-level coaching than their male counterparts due to differences in ego and confidence. This oversimplification doesn’t capture the complexity of coaching dynamics and athlete attitudes.
Firstly, individual variation plays a significant role. Athletes, regardless of gender, come from diverse backgrounds and possess different personalities, attitudes, and levels of coachability. Some individuals are naturally receptive to coaching and value the guidance, while others may initially resist or question it.
Ego and confidence levels can also be a factor in how athletes respond to coaching, but these attributes are not exclusive to any gender. Some male athletes may have high levels of confidence and a willingness to learn, just as some female athletes may display similar characteristics.
Coaching effectiveness often depends on the coach’s communication style, leadership skills, and ability to build rapport with players. Coaches who establish trust and credibility are more likely to have athletes, regardless of gender, accept their guidance.
Team culture and dynamics play a significant role in how athletes respond to coaching. A positive and collaborative team environment can encourage all players to be more receptive to coaching.
Coaching philosophy matters as well. Coaches with a player-centered coaching philosophy tend to have better success in getting athletes to buy into their coaching methods. This approach focuses on the individual development and well-being of each player, fostering a more cooperative atmosphere.
Furthermore, athletes’ goals can vary, and this can influence their willingness to accept coaching. Some players are highly motivated to improve their skills and reach their potential, while others may have different priorities or motivations.
Experience and maturity also play a role. Whether male or female, college freshmen might need more time to adjust to the demands of college-level sports and coaching.
In summary, it’s essential to avoid making sweeping generalizations about how male and female athletes respond to coaching. Coaching effectiveness depends on various factors, including the coach’s approach, team culture, and the individual athlete’s personality and goals. Successful coaches work to build relationships with their athletes, understand their unique needs, and tailor their coaching methods accordingly, regardless of gender.
As we delve deeper into the world of coaching college soccer, it’s vital to explore how these differences can translate to the professional level, especially for female athletes. The collegiate experience serves as a crucial foundation for aspiring professional women’s soccer. The transitirom from college to the pional soccer arena can be particularly challenging. The humility and emphasis on teamwork cultivated in college soccer are assets that can serve female players well in the professional leagues. In a sport where teamwork is fundamental, players who value collective success can become pivotal assets to their professional teams.
The commitment to team success and the ability to excel in multifaceted roles make female players not only exceptional athletes but also well-rounded individuals who can thrive in the professional soccer world.
In conclusion, coaching college men and college women in soccer offers its own unique set of challenges and rewards. The disparities in attributes, motivations, and off-field responsibilities between male and female athletes highlight the necessity for coaches to adapt their coaching methods. Recognizing and valuing the distinctive qualities of female players, including their emphasis on teamwork and exceptional time-management abilities, can lead to more effective coaching. Moreover, it can contribute to the success of both individual athletes and the team as a cohesive unit.

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