Book Review: You Have the Power: Find Your Strength and Believe You Can by Leah Williamson & Suzanne Wrack
If ever there was an inspirational role model for the current generation of children, Euros winning captain and Arsenal stalwart Leah Williamson fits the bill and then some. So the publication of her first book, You Have The Power, written with the recent Sports Book Award-winning Suzanne Wrack – an inspiration in her own field – is both fitting and vital.
On the pitch, Williamson has made a name for herself for being an exceptional footballer, a positive teammate and a calm leader, while off it, she is an articulate, thoughtful and empowering role model, and the defender brings all of this to a book which serves as a positive guide for children. Drawing on her own experiences, skills and learnings, Williamson offers valuable guidance, advice and inspiration to a generation – especially a generation of girls – that arguably has both greater opportunities but also greater, albeit different, challenges than generations before.
Williamson opens up on some of her own difficulties and issues, including her struggles being able to walk properly when younger, and her debilitating nerves that left her hating every second of the FA Cup Final she played against Chelsea in 2018. Indeed, the extent of her anxiety around the game is really (excuse the pun!) eye-opening, as she admits that it got so bad that it affected her vision. While Williamson has worked to overcome the issue, it is a powerful acknowledgement of the effect and challenge of anxiety in professional sport and the pressures at the top of the game, but also in life and sport in general, that will resonate with everyone who’s ever taken part in any kind of competition, be it a school sports day, a grassroots match, a swimming gala or a cup final. Crucially, Williamson helps to normalise the experience and demonstrate a way forward that many will find reassuring.
Her experience as a girl playing in a boys’ football team is also a powerful narrative, both a sad reminder of the state of play for many girls in the recent past and even the present for whom girls’ teams aren’t readily available and an inspiration for those girls. It’s just a shame that previous generations didn’t have this book to validate their own experiences in the same way. Similarly emotive are Williamson’s pertinent reflections on girls’ often uneasy relationship to physical education at school, as well as body confidence and puberty – topics that are often ignored but are hugely relevant and important in helping make sport an appealing and safe space for young women. And I love Williamson’s passion for the importance of exercise, encouraging readers to engage with sport of any kind. It’s a sad truth that a lot of girls still miss out, or give up, on sport because of physical, mental, social barriers and the like, so to have someone like Williamson encourage, advocate and demonstrate the benefits of an active life is really inspiring.
There is a similarity in style and tone to the advice books by Marcus Rashford (You Are A Champion/You Can Do It) but having Leah Williamson on the front of this book will certainly help reach a different audience, although both authors have ensured their books are utterly inclusive. As with Rashford’s books, there are key maxims and life lessons emphasised throughout, and I loved the fact that rather than just empty sayings Williamson expands on these messages so that when she talks, for instance, about not comparing yourself to others, she helpfully explains about individuals’ different developmental timelines, which gives the messaging greater clout. It is brilliant that this generation can learn from this wisdom – how I only wish I’d had access to such a book when I was younger, and many others will do too. Again, it serves to show just how important the Lionesses and their success last summer has been, and can continue to be, not just on a sporting platform, but a social and cultural platform, which is an even greater success.
One of the unfortunate happenstances of this book is that Williamson reflects on the ACL injuries of fellow players, only to have gone on since publication to suffer that season-changing injury herself, which will sadly rule her out of this summer’s World Cup. Having suffered a number of previous ankle injuries, as she explains in the book, here’s to Williamson, a genuine role model for this generation’s youngsters, once more coming back even stronger.
(Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books; Main Market edition. March 2023. Paperback: 144 pages)
Buy the book here: You Have the Power