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UEFA coach mentor programme: promising coaches making headway

Ten up-and-coming female coaches are taking big steps in their careers thanks to the UEFA coach mentor programme.

UEFA Coach Mentor Programme 2023/24

The programme pairs aspiring elite female coaches with experienced partners who can share their advice and insights from the top levels of the game.

Featuring leading figures such as current UEFA women's coach of the year and Women's EURO 2022 winner Sarina Wiegman, Norway's Women's World Cup winning coach Even Pellerud and a host of other expert coaches, the scheme provides the next generation of leaders with the confidence and encouragement to advance their careers by learning from some of the best in the business.

The ten pairs of mentors and mentees will meet regularly either online or face to face over the next 18 months. Interactions are driven and shaped by the mentee rather than the mentor, who provides information and guidance to help their colleague develop their skill set, be it on matchday, the training ground or in one-on-one relationships – all adapted to the individual needs of the mentee.

Sarina Wiegman, England head coach and UEFA coaching mentor:

"This mentor programme is really good. I think we have the responsibility to share things, and also to empower women who want to move up in in football, so this is a good stage for everyone to get involved to get connected and where I can help just a little bit. We'd love to do that. And also, I also always learn from other people who are coming in. So we learn from each other.

"It's really important that UEFA runs these events, because we want more women in the game, more female coaches, and I think you need an extra push and an extra support, and that's exactly what this programme brings."

Anticipation and excitement

As one of the elements of the UEFA Coach Development Programme for Women, the coach mentor programme is now entering its third cycle, having originally kicked off in 2019 following a successful 2018 pilot scheme. Its aim is to help high-potential coaches to develop their coaching skills and philosophy to prepare them for future challenges at the highest level of the game.

It also allows them to connect with their peers and form a European network of talented, ambitious women who can share ideas and improve together with the help of those who have already reached the top of the game.

Mentee Margret Magnusdottir takes on an exercise with Even Pellerud, a World Cup winner with Norway
Mentee Margret Magnusdottir takes on an exercise with Even Pellerud, a World Cup winner with NorwayGetty Images

Anja Milenković is head of Slovenia's women's academy and coach of their Under-15s, and is looking forward to learning from Austria's head coach, Irene Fuhrmann.

"We connected straight away. I'm really happy that she is my mentor, it feels like a perfect match," Milenković says. "I've never been part of such a programme so it's a huge privilege for me and I'm really excited.

"To be here with so many top coaches is something not many people will be able to experience. I'm looking forward to creating a network, not just with my own mentor but other young coaches, to help me improve, challenge me and get me out of my comfort zone so that I can improve myself as much as possible, but I don’t just see benefit for myself, I can also take what I learn back to Slovenia and help other coaches."

Fuhrmann believes the mentor programme offers a mutual learning opportunity and is the perfect solution in providing more high-profile examples for young coaches to follow.

"Role models are important for young women, so that they can see what is possible," she explains. "In my time, there were fewer female coaches, and it was never in my mind to become a full-time coach, so I think this is an important initiative to empower women in football.

"It's a great pleasure for me to be asked to be here because I think to be a coach is a lifelong learning process. I have some experience to give to Anja but I am convinced that I also could learn something from her."

 Manuela Tesse (L) will learn from Corinne Diacre (R)
Manuela Tesse (L) will learn from Corinne Diacre (R)Getty Images

This is a view shared by fellow mentor Anna Signeul, a veteran of more than 40 years of coaching through senior roles in Sweden, Scotland and Finland.

"This is a fantastic way of educating and sharing knowledge," she says. "It's a two-way process, I learn a lot as well from these young coaches and they are so appreciative of this project and being a part of it. It's a huge investment from UEFA, but I think it's worth it because we need to support these female coaches. It can be very lonely to be a coach and I think it's easy to doubt your ability, so one of the best outcomes is the mentees get to gain better self-confidence."

Who are the mentors and mentees for 2023–24?

Corinne Diacre (former France head coach) and Manuela Tesse (Malta head coach)

Irene Fuhrmann (Austria head coach) and Anja Milenković (head of Slovenia's women’s academy and Under-15 head coach)

Joe Montemurro (Juventus Women head coach) and Janneke Bijl (Netherlands assistant coach)

Nils Nielsen (Manchester City Women director of football) and Alexandra Szarvas (Hungary Under-19 head coach)

Even Pellerud (former Norway and Canada head coach) and Margret Magnusdottir (Iceland Under-19 head coach)

Hope Powell (former England Brighton & Hove Women head coach) and Blanka Pěničková (Slavia Prague Women assistant coach)

Anna Signeul (former Finland and Scotland head coach) and Silviya Radoyska (Bulgaria head coach)

Martin Sjögren (former Norway head coach) and Signe Pries Andersen (Faroe Islands head coach)

Kris van der Haegen (Belgium coach education director and assistant coach) and Sabine Loderer (Germany Under-16 head coach)

Sarina Wiegman (England head coach) and Nicola Anderson (Wales Under-19 head coach)

Mentee Blanka Pěničková with mentor Hope Powell
Mentee Blanka Pěničková with mentor Hope PowellGetty Images

Graduate satisfaction

The previous cohort can certainly speak for the value of the programme. "It was an incredibly beautiful experience," says Roos Kwakkenbos, the Netherlands Women's Under-19 head coach. "It has brought me a lot that I will continue to benefit from in the future.

"You pick up something everywhere, but in the end, you are the one who must make choices and choose your own path. By talking with Nils, I was able to experiment a lot and in the end, you build something together, trust each other more and more, and I was able to share everything I wanted with him, both about football, but also about the combination of work and my personal life."

Kwakkenbos benefited from the wisdom of Nils Nielsen, now director of football with Manchester City Women after holding international coaching positions with Denmark and Switzerland. He will mentor Alexandra Szarvas, Hungary's Women's Under-19 coach, between now and the end of 2024.

"The mentor programme is in all ways a great initiative," he says. "Not only do you get to meet lots of wonderful people; it's a chance to share everything you know about your passion, to someone that actually share the same passion.

"The potential in female coaches in women's football are huge. There is so much knowledge and drive that the success basically only depends on how many opportunities we can provide."