By partnering with national associations to build regional training centres, UEFA is helping teenage girls fulfil their goal of playing professional football.
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Former German international Josephine Henning knows more than most about the sacrifices needed in order to play at the highest level.
“When I was around 14 years old, I had to travel every day to Saarbrücken, which was about an hour and a half away from my home town. I used to do my homework on the train back from training,” said Henning.
Henning’s road to success
The central defender went on to claim winners’ medals at four UEFA Women’s Champions Leagues and a UEFA Women’s EURO as well as gold at the 2016 Olympics.
“Honestly, having the opportunity to use these facilities changed everything for me at a very important time in my life,” said Henning, who retired in 2018.
“Girls at this age have a lot of ambition. Their question is not ‘should I stay in football?’, but ‘how can I get better and what do I need to do to make it and how can I achieve my dream?’.”
“It was vital to have access to the right people at the right time with the right knowledge. This is how I feel when I look back to when I was 14,” she said.
Regional centres: “Everything on a plate”
Learning from the experience of leading womens’s players, UEFA has started a Regional Development Programme.
By funding regional footballing centre through Europe’s 55 national associations, the Programme is designed to ensure girls in their early teens do not have to travel as far as Henning to fulfil their dreams.
“Regional centres can help in many ways – not just from having the chance to play and having good coaching. It gives you everything on a plate,” said Henning, “You are able to see your level and progress from there. Many girls just need the opportunity to be seen.”
“It is often just the small things that can help a player get on the right track,” added Henning. “It can be a look from a coach, playing in a different position or against a better team. You need coaches to be able to see and recognise this.”
Hungary: nurturing next generation
Henning was guest of honour at a recent UEFA Regional Development Tournament in Hungary, where four training centres are helping to nurture the next generation of women footballers. Each was set up in partnership with UEFA.
The tournament, which also featured the Czech Republic and Slovakia, showed that Hungary’s and UEFA’s investment in the regional development programmes is already paying off.
“The project we worked on with UEFA climaxed with this international tournament,” said Edina Markó, head coach of Hungary’s women’s team. “It has provided us with a great pathway for girls to go on to play at U17 and U19 levels and perhaps for the national team as well,”
“We can see that we have good players, and we also have two teams from other regions in Hungary which are of a similar quality,” added Markó.
Blueprint for success
The UEFA Regional Development Programme believes Hungary provides a blueprint for similar partnerships with other European national associations.
If successful, they will give many more youngsters the opportunities to follow in the footsteps of Henning – with one difference. The road to quality training sessions will be much shorter.