In September 2015, Akeilah Hillhouse (pictured) became the first women to lead a men's team in Antigua & Barbuda, when she accepted the head coaching position at first-division-side Freeman's Ville. (Photo: Thaddeus Price)
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua & Barbuda -- Akeilah Hillhouse doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer, although her appointment as head coach of Freeman’s Ville in the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association’s First Division tells a different story.
The former national team player is the first woman to coach a men’s team in Antigua
“I think of myself as just a coach who is looking to do a good job,” Hillhouse told CONCACAF.com. “I’m just following a passion. If it has anything to do with football, I’m game.”
That’s the mentality Hillhouse had when she decided to get the proper certification to coach in the ABFA, a new mandate by the league.
“I didn’t actually want to go into coaching at first, but when I returned home, they had the (CONCACAF “D” License coaching) course (in May 2014),” she said. “It was a free course, so I thought here we go. During the course, I said this is something I can do for real.”
Last month, when the 30-year-old was selected for the position -- which came just before the start of the 2015-16 season -- Hillhouse was initially concerned about how she would be accepted. At Freeman’s Ville, any reluctance was quickly put to rest.
“They’ve been more respectful to me than they would be toward a male coach,” she stressed. “If it was a guy coach they have certain slangs they would use, but when I’m there it’s a whole different level of respect.”
Hillhouse admits that she has more to learn and is hard at work expanding her tactical acumen. There were also plenty of nerves before her debut – a 2-2 draw with Tryum FC – but they dissipated soon after the match started thanks to a comical moment with her players on the bench.
“They were laughing at me because I wanted to give my right back instructions and I went all the way down to the touchline to tell him instead of screaming,” commented Hillhouse. “They thought that was funny. It eased some of the pressure and the nervousness.”
While Hillhouse is new to coaching, she isn’t new to breaking gender walls in Antigua. Hillhouse was first woman to play in the Premier Division with SAP when still in high school.
She went on play collegiately in the United States – first at the University of South Carolina Upstate and then Webber International in Florida. Those experiences helped shape her future in football.
“Going to the U.S. was a bit of a culture shock on and off the field,” Hillhouse remarked. “But I was able to receive a different style of coaching. I think having an open mind is my biggest asset.”
While her immediate goal is to get Freeman’s Ville (0W-2D-1L) promoted into the Premier Division, Hillhouse also has hopes of one day coaching the Antigua women’s national team.
“That’s definitely an aspiration of mine,” she finished. “It is something I would look forward to doing.”
One significant step at a time.