As we celebrate the continuing progress made by women in football, we turn the focus to three coaches honing their skills this week at the home of UEFA.
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This week, a team of 11 female coaches from across Europe joined the UEFA Pro Licence Student Exchange course at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland.
The coaches, all of whom received UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women scholarships to study for their UEFA Pro or UEFA A diploma, joined fellow Pro Licence students from Azerbaijan, Czechia, Denmark and Iceland. Across the three-day course, they shared ideas and heard from UEFA experts, such as mentor and long-time international coach Anna Signeul, and experienced frontline coaches Rafael Benítez and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
The UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women offers promising female coaches scholarships and funding to study on UEFA's world-renowned courses, raising the standard and visibility of coaching in Europe.
Changing perceptions for the next generation
Among the group in Nyon was Armenia's Mariam Stepanyan, head coach of the national women's Under-17 team and assistant coach to the senior national team. A former player, she is determined to use her position to show girls and women that there is a possibility for them to make a living from sport.
"In Armenia, girls don't often think about education and I want to change this in my country," she said. "We don't have a lot of girls or women working as a coach. I want to show others that they can have a future in this profession – football can provide an education and a career, and I want people to know that to be a coach is an important job, and even harder than being a player.
"This UEFA programme is really very good, it gives me new motivation and I can tell my other colleagues about how I was able to listen to Rafael Benítez, and hopefully, one day they can be in the same position."
Forging powerful relationships
England's Emma Coates was recently appointed as the national team's Under-23 head coach, having begun her coaching career with Leeds United, becoming head coach of the famous Doncaster Rovers Belles in 2016 before joining the England youth setup a year later. She believes such programmes are vital in raising the game across Europe.
"Providing opportunities like this will only make female coaches and the female game way more visible," she said. "It's been brilliant to be here. Taking the content aside, just to connect with people, and coaches that work in completely different environments, and discuss some of the cultural differences of the game have been very helpful.
"My advice to potential coaches is that relationships and networking are really important. There are a lot of other coaches and people that can help and support your journey."
Coates also considers the human connection with her players a critical part of the job.
"You have to have your own style and back yourself. I'm a little bit more on the introverted side, so there's a real power to connect with people on a on a deep level," she explained. "Through connection and relationships, you then form a bond where you can influence people. That's what coaching is all about - influencing behaviour and change. Also, with that comes confidence and knowledge to communicate your message."
Being a mentor through tough times
Ukraine's Olena Kudziieva has been coaching since 2008. She is head coach of SK Dnipro in the Ukrainian Women's Premier League, which is set to return this week following its winter break, amid the on-going struggles faced by the country.
"Ukraine is a developing country in the terms of women's football," she explained. "We are developing our approach, but I know that in many countries, it's much more developed so we have lots of things to learn. Being here with other coaches, you hear a lot of different opinions, which give you food for thought."
The situation in Ukraine has brought a new reality to the entire nation. Kudziieva has been coaching some of her current team since they were children, and her role as a mentor has become even more pronounced.
"It's very stressful, but I'm proud that a lot of my players, Ukrainian players in general, have remained in Ukraine," she said. "Even though it is dangerous, they're playing and they're training, they're still coming out on the pitch and playing in the championship - it's wonderful.
"Football really helps us to live in these conditions. You are able to think about other things, to be passionate and get different kinds of emotions. I can tell you honestly that it helps a lot."
More on the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women
European women’s football has enjoyed tremendous development in many areas. Nevertheless, we want to increase the number of UEFA-licensed female coaches working in the game at all levels, from coaching elite club and national teams to inspiring the next generation of girls at grassroots level.
Since 2016, the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women has offered promising female coaches the perfect opportunity to enhance their skills and experience with a view to pursuing a career in football. The programme does this by providing scholarships and funding to study on UEFA's world-renowned coaching courses (Pro, A, B, C, youth, goalkeeper and futsal), which are delivered via our member national associations across Europe.
Since its launch in 2016, the programme has funded more than 1,250 scholarships, as well as providing courses for coach educators and technical support for coaching courses and workshops.
As part of the coach development programme for women, UEFA also runs a mentoring scheme to help professional female coaches reach their potential.
Launched in 2019, the scheme gives active coaches who hold a UEFA A or Pro licence the possibility and encouragement to move forward in their careers by pairing them with an experienced, high-profile figure from the coaching world.
How can you get involved in the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women?
For further information and applications to take part in the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women or the coach mentoring scheme, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For information relating to specific coaching courses, please contact your national football association.