Experienced coaches are helping female coaches with UEFA A or Pro diplomas to achieve their dreams and ambitions within the UEFA Coach Mentor Programme.
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Women’s football continues its great strides forward – and the quest to link the women’s game’s progress with an increase in the number of qualified female coaches in Europe is also gaining rapid momentum – along with the drive to foster the further progress of high-level coaches who are showing development potential.
UEFA has embarked on an ambitious project in the latter direction – the UEFA Coach Mentor Programme – and has brought experienced coaches on board to help female coaches with UEFA A or Pro diplomas to achieve their dreams and ambitions.
The key aim of the coach mentor programme, which is part of the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women, is to give active coaches who hold these diplomas the possibility to move forward in their careers.
A pilot project has set the initiative in motion. A team of four coaches with a wealth of domestic and international experience have taken four promising young coaches identified by UEFA under their wing, with a view to nurturing them for the future.
The seasoned mentors in the pilot programme are Sweden’s Hans Backe (over 30 years of domestic and international coaching experience), Norway’s Even Pellerud (who has coached the national women’s teams of Norway, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago), England’s Hope Powell (15 years as England national women’s team coach, currently coach of Brighton & Hove Albion’s women’s team) and Sweden’s Anna Signeul (head coach of Finland’s national women’s team, formerly Scotland national team coach).
This distinguished quartet have been sharing the massive coaching knowledge they have gained from years in the profession to four mentees – Hege Riise (Norway, LSk Kvinner head coach); Aleksandra Ševoldajeva (Estonia, FC Flora Tallinn women’s team head coach); Katerina Falida (Greece, coach of Greece’s women’s national U17 and U19 teams); and Ieva Melanija Kibirkštis (Lithuania, head coach at Hittarps IK in Sweden).
The ‘teachers and pupils’ are in regular contact each month, and the mentees enjoy privileged access to information, guidance and advice that will stand them in good stead along their career paths.
The mentors and their mentees gathered in Budapest recently to review the pilot project, and with the overall verdict a totally positive one, UEFA is extending the programme for the four pilot phase mentees to 18 months.
In addition, ten new mentees will be introduced into the programme in October. Their programme will run for 18 months and will start with an opening session at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
The hugely positive reaction to UEFA’s ambitious project has been a key factor in its development.
“I think the project is crucial to help the development of the next generation of coaches,” said Hope Powell. “The fact that aspiring, ambitious coaches have the opportunity to work with coaches who have vast experience in the game can only help them to become better.”
“Sharing knowledge and the love of the game,” she added, “will give the mentees the belief and encouragement, through guidance and support, that they can also achieve the capacity and ability to work at the highest levels of the game, and perform with confidence and creativity.”
Even Pellerud hopes the initiative will become a long-lasting project. “It appears to be harder for female coaches to find a path to further development and challenging coaching jobs,” he explained.
“This project might provide an opportunity for tailor-made programmes that will inspire these coaching talents to stay in the game, and also compete for the bigger jobs, domestically and internationally.”
The experienced mentors are finding the project an invigorating challenge. “It’s an honour to have been picked as a mentor, I enjoy it a lot,” said Hans Backe. “It would be fantastic to see my mentee having success.”
For all their experience, the mentors are also learning new things from their interaction with the mentees. “You always learn all the time,” said Anna Signeul. “To help and support another person is also helping me to reflect on my own work.”
“I feel my role,” Hope Powell explained, “is to challenge their thinking in order that they are equipped to make the best decisions in the situations they are in.”
Turning to the coach mentors, Ieva Kibirkštis has learned a great deal and gleaned crucial knowledge. “The main benefit with having a mentor,” she stresses, “is having someone around who has a different perspective on your work, who sees it from the outside.”
“It is all too easy as a coach to get caught with blinkers on, or get caught in a bubble, and being able to discuss with someone that has so much experience is eye-opening and fruitful.”
In addition to face-to-face discussions, the mentees have benefited from close contact with their mentors.
Hege Riise travelled with Hans Backe to Barcelona to watch a men’s and women’s league match for technical analysis purposes; Aleksandra Ševoldajeva visited Even Pellerud during his activities as a scout at the FIFA Women’s World Cup; Katerina Falida followed Hope Powell’s work as Brighton & Hove Albion’s women’s team coach at a league match; and Ieva Melanija Kibirkštis accompanied Anna Signeul on UEFA technical instructor duties.
Katerina Falida has relished the chance to observe Hope Powell’s work: “That trip was a great opportunity for me to see how a high-level female coach works in a professional, high-level women's club,” she said.
She is taking every ounce of knowledge from her involvement, professionally and personally. “My wish is to develop myself every day, and become not only a better coach, but also a better person,” she said. “In addition, I want to be a role model for younger female coaches in my country and inspire them.”
Working with experienced mentors also means networking opportunities for the mentees. “Hans Backe has a lot of experience in leading club and national teams,” said Hege Riise. “And he has a great network that he has allowed me to be part of!”
The mentees have heard a wealth of wise words of wisdom as they strive to become better coaches. Anna Signeul puts it succinctly and clearly. “Believe in yourself and your ability,” she tells them. “Try to develop a philosophy that you believe in. This will help you to take the right decisions, and be consistant in your work.”