The UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship starts in Nyon on Tuesday and one of Switzerland's stalwart internationals, Lara Dickenmann, says she is a big supporter of the tournament.
Involved in youth coaching sessions in Nyon herself, the Olympique Lyonnais midfielder represented Switzerland at the 2002 and 2004 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship final tournaments, making her senior debut aged 16 after the first of those events. Dickenmann spoke to UEFA.com about the importance of these youth competitions.
UEFA.com: Are youth tournaments important in player development?
Lara Dickenmann: Definitely. First of all, they allow you to play top-level games and it is a great experience to compete with players in the same age category. It is great it's starting earlier now: there are now U16, U17 and U19 women's national teams. I think it is very important that you are able to compete with girls of the same age at international level, it is a different experience; you see how developed the other girls at the same age are.
I always found it very exciting when I was younger to compete with other girls from other countries to see where I stood. My objective was always to play abroad and through that you can assess how far you are. When you take part in final tournaments at youth level, you gain confidence. In Switzerland we are not the best with self-confidence, it is not something we have in ourselves, and that is why it is very important for Swiss players to take part [in such tournaments] at an early age.
UEFA.com: Do you see any difference between the youth level when you played and nowadays?
Dickenmann: It's improved a lot technically … also the image itself is better. In many teams, except maybe North Korea, you have girls with long hair playing, it is not necessarily very important to me but the image has changed in the last ten-15 years.
The level has improved a lot, and it is nice to have different teams winning. France won [the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup] last year, in the past it was always the same nations like USA, Norway; China were good at the time as well, Germany were also always in front. But the top of the pyramid is now broader and many countries have joined the top. It is nice to see that women's football is improving across the whole world.
UEFA.com: How important is it to meet young players, and what can you advise them in order for them have a career like yours?
Dickenmann: I can remember when I was 13-14, I admired the players in the national team. They were my role models. That is why [helping young player is] great for the girls. You cannot change much in only one day, but you can show them a few things, and I just hope we have given them a lot of fun. Maybe we have motivated them some more to keep on playing football, to make them see that you can have an objective within women's football.
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