“I want to be the first pro-footballer with Cystic Fibrosis.”
Morgan Coxhead was just 14 years old when he first spoke those words on the sofa at the BBC’s Southwest studios – interviewed live for the evening’s news.
Some four years and many media interviews later, he continues to edge towards his dream to become a professional goalkeeper and is now training weekly with Truro’s first team.
As a result of his Cystic Fibrosis, which forced him to spend long periods of his childhood in hospital, Morgan’s education has been different to most. Struggling academically, from long absences and his ADHD, Morgan left school at 15 and went to college instead, so he could pursue his love of football and fitness.
“A bit like my decision to participate in Susan’s Make Your Mark summer school, leaving school to go to college early pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
“My college tutors just ‘got’ me in a way my schoolteachers never did. Now, as well as getting to do what I love every day, college has enabled me to pass maths and English – something I never thought I’d achieve,” says Morgan.
The young goalie admits he perhaps seems an unlikely candidate for Susan’s Make Your Mark summer school.
“I’ll be honest with you when I found myself in that first workshop, seemingly surrounded by academically-focused uni students, I felt I was in the wrong place. I thought everyone would be really clever, better than me, and that I should leave before anyone noticed. I’m so glad I didn’t because this programme isn’t like anything I’ve ever done. I can see how it’s going to be useful to me both on and off the pitch.”
And that’s why Morgan says he found Make Your Mark so powerful.
“Susan started by introducing us to the inner critic. As a goalie that’s something I can feel quite acutely in a game. If I make a mistake by missing a save, all eyes are on me. That’s when my inner critic can really give me grief. Susan taught us a great way to get it back in check, to stay present and keep focused on what’s happening now, not dwell on what you can’t change.”
When Morgan isn’t on the pitch, you’ll likely find him surfing. Living in coastal Cornwall, where the population doubles over the summer with tourists, Morgan works with a water sports business on his local beach.
“I love the sports aspect, but the work involves talking to a lot of strangers, which I find hard,” explains Morgan.
Image left: Morgan's lockdown Ironman to raise money to support families with Cystic Fibrosis.
“My ADHD makes it uncomfortable for me to make eye contact and people often misinterpret that as disinterest or under confidence. I mentioned this in one of our breakouts and it sparked some great discussion. Tracy Sinclair, another professional coach supporting the programme, offered this brilliant ‘bounce’ technique. It’s where you flick your gaze back and forwards, basically you’re bouncing your eye contact away and then back again to reconnect. I tried it last week at work and it made a massive difference.”
What’s surprised Morgan most is how something so simple can be so powerful.
“There are all these tiny things you can do to positively impact the way you come across. I’ve given a lot of media interviews over the years, having been invited to talk about my Cystic Fibrosis and my journey to secure my footballing dream. I’ve never found talking on camera easy, but the reason I do those interviews, and will continue to do so, is because I want to inspire others – to show that you can do anything if you believe in yourself. I can absolutely see how some of the techniques shared during the programme will help me look and sound more confident when giving future media interviews.”
But it’s not just the tips and tools Morgan is taking away from these sessions that have pleasantly surprised him, it’s the experience of being in the virtual group workshops too.
“2½ hours in front of a screen each week - that’s how long each of the four Make Your Mark sessions are. I’ve got to be honest again, with my ADHD that’s a huge challenge for me. I don’t sit still. It’s probably why I’m good at football, I’m always on my feet, moving around, kicking a ball.”
That was a real concern for Morgan at the outset. What would everyone think? Would he even be able to sit still and concentrate long enough to complete the programme?
“I needn’t have worried. Susan was great at engaging with everyone. She said it was fine for me to get up and move around. That put me at ease straight away. I immediately felt it was okay to just be myself, which gave me the confidence to contribute.”
And what Morgan quickly discovered was that when you find the courage to speak up, it can be helpful to others too.
“When I spoke about my difficulty making eye contact, quite a few others said they also experienced the same thing and thought the bounce approach was amazing.
“I love the way Susan invited other professionals, like Tracy, to support this programme. She would invite them to share their perspectives, which I thought was just great. We really got to benefit from such a wealth of expertise and experience.”
So, does Morgan think there are more young people like him out there who would benefit from professional coaching and a programme like Make Your Mark?
“Absolutely. It doesn’t matter what you want to do. Whether your dream is to become an engineer or a footballer you need confidence, to make a good impression, and stand out from the crowd. Initially I didn’t think this programme would be for someone like me, but I was wrong – it’s for anyone who wants to be successful.”
Morgan Coxhead is studying a Diploma in personal training, strength, and conditioning at Plymouth Argyle Community College. Prior to that he spent two years at Truro College achieving a BTEC in sports with distinction. He completed Susan Room’s free to attend summer school in September 2021.
Professional coaching is usually the preserve of senior business executives, but Susan Room is on a mission to make it accessible to young people who benefit enormously before they enter the workplace. An International Coaching Federation (ICF) Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Susan is one of the rare few qualified to provide voice and executive coaching. This unique blend helps others feel, look and sound confident – improving performance and happiness. Her corporate clients include Financial Times and Baillie Gifford. She launched her Make Your Mark student school initiative at the start of the pandemic and, in partnership with former ICF Global Chair and Master Certified Coach (MCC) Tracy Sinclair, runs pro-bono schools twice annually for students… just like Morgan.