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International Women’s Day – UEFA WePlayStrong – Skills for Life Line-Up

On International Women’s Day, UEFA WePlayStrong has launched the Skills for Life Line-Up, a March-long campaign shining a light on incredible women using the skills developed in football to succeed both on and off the pitch.

Skills for Life Line-Up - UEFA WePlayStrong's new campaign
Skills for Life Line-Up - UEFA WePlayStrong's new campaign UEFA

This year on International Women’s Day, UEFA’s WePlayStrong campaign aims to continue the conversation about why more girls should play football, through its Skills for Life Line-Up campaign.

The Skills for Life Line-Up showcases the invaluable skills and opportunities young girls can gain through football, by shining a light on incredible women using skills developed in football to succeed both on and off the pitch. The campaign aims to encourage parents and wider society to value the benefits that playing football brings to the lives of the girls that take part, and create more opportunities for participation.

The campaign coincides with UEFA’s WePlayStrong Skills for Life ad spot, depicting a future for young players where women are confident leaders in predominantly male-dominated careers, which will be broadcast during Bayern Munich v PSG and Tottenham v A.C. Milan in the UEFA Champions League this evening.

The starting line-up includes five women from Scotland, Hungary, Lichtenstein, Estonia and Montenegro who, irrespective of their different backgrounds and careers, are united by football which has set them up for success off the pitch.

Jovana Mrkic – Montenegro, Datawarehouse Developer

Jovana Mrkic’s journey has taken her from the football pitch to the forefront of data and technology. Having played football since she could walk, Jovana says that when growing up “every place was a football pitch, if we had a ball” and that she played for the sheer joy and excitement that football gave her.

It’s not just in the engineering world that Jovana’s skills learned on the pitch are put into practice, the 29-year-old also holds the position of Chairwoman on the Montenegro Female Football Committee working to increase participation and awareness of Women’s football in her home country.

Jovana explains

“I realised that playing in a team, sharing common goals, dividing responsibilities, developing both competitive and fair play spirit, and learning to respect differences were very important for my personal and professional growth,”

“Even though football and engineering are highly different and hardly comparable fields, I can say that playing football had an impact on every single skill I use. The list of skills that I developed while playing is endless.

Despite the differences between football and her current career in data and tech, Jovana has been able to use the skills she learned through football to pave the way to success. From communication skills, to problem solving, quick thinking and adapting to new circumstances, the skills for life that football brings are invaluable.

Katrin Loo – Estonia, Women’s Football Coordinator Estonian FA

Taking her first kick of the ball at age 14, Katrin Loo fell in love with football and played with Tallinna FC Flora until 2020. Now retired, the 31-year-old new mother works as Women’s Football Coordinator with the Estonian FA and is leading the countries legacy project for its upcoming UEFA Women’s U17 Tournament.

Katrin said: “I started playing late and I literally had no football skills, but I just fell in love with the game. The teamwork and dynamics enchanted me. I spent hours on the field and when I was playing, I was mostly in a state of flow. In fact, I think football chose me. I loved the challenge it gave me.”

Katrin on the useful skills she learnt while playing football

“Adaptability, emotional intelligence, well managed communication, teamwork, time management, problem solving, decision making, the list could go on," she says smiling.

"I believe that everyone must have a soft skills toolbox in positions where they have to guide, direct people, and bring different characters and opinions together. Without the toolbox the work would probably be extremely time consuming and might not even get done. I know that football helped me fill my toolbox.

“On game day and during hard practices it's all about getting yourself into best possible "shape" physically and mentally. With time we all get better, but I believe in order to be successful we need to learn how to deal with unexpected variables. In football, the field, the weather, or last-minute changes in the line-up that affects group dynamics can win or lose games. It’s the same in the business and operations and knowing how to get the best out of people no matter what the situation throws at you is key.

“I learned so much from playing football that I now use in my day-to-day life.”

Rocky Hehakaija – Netherlands, Director of Favela Street Foundation

Rocky Hehakaija (left)
Rocky Hehakaija (left)UEFA via Getty Images

Former Dutch Juniors player Rocky Hehakaija grew up playing football in boys’ teams due to the lack of access to women’s teams in her native Netherlands. After a knee injury put a halt to her footballing career, Rocky went on to found the Favela Street Foundation which provides programmes for young footballers to become coaches and role models within their underserved neighbourhoods.

“Playing football growing up had a massive impact on me. I spent a lot of my childhood playing as part of boys teams which comes with its own set of challenges but also taught me so much. I learned to be able to communicate, work together as part of a diverse group and adapt.”

Now as Director of Favela Street Foundation, Rocky’s ability to communicate clearly and work with diverse groups allows her and her organisation to collaborate with teams thousands of miles away on the ground in Africa and South America.

Rocky is grateful for the skills football taught her

“In my role, being able to nurture relationships and bring people together is a massive part of my day-to-day activities. We work with teams across the globe and I need to be able to have everyone working together and pulling the same direction and I credit playing football with laying the foundations of that.

“Football gave me so much growing up and now I’m privileged to work to give similar experiences and skills to the next generation.”

Judit Berkesi – Sports Reporter and Commentator, Hungarian National Sports Channel, M4 Sport

Coming from a football loving family, Judit Berkesi’s football career began at László Kórház SC Budapest in 2002, and saw her achieve the Hungarian Championship bronze medal and Hungarian Cup silver medal. Judit, a highly respected football commentator and pundit, now continues to use her footballing expertise gained through playing in her career every day.

“Collaboration was one of the most important skills that football taught me. It was amazing to experience on the pitch - everyone has their own place and role. As for me, I could not dribble particularly well, I didn't score big goals, but I ran tirelessly, I won tackles, and I passed the ball to the wingers, or to the playmaker. Communication was also important. We had to learn how to communicate with each other in training, during and after the matches,” she said.

“I need to collaborate with my colleagues in my role now. It's important to work together when producing live TV - ensuring that everyone knows their job and helps each other to make sure the product we put out is the best it can be.”

Key soft skills in Judit's job

“The most important soft skills are verbal and non-verbal communication, because my whole job is to talk about sport, to transmit the mood, the emotions, the professional interest to the TV-viewers. I often have emotional moments with football players and playing football taught me how to talk and how to act when placed in these difficult situations. Emotional intelligence is something that everyone should have and football helped me develop it.”

Sam Milne – Scotland, Club Development Officer for Girls and Women’s Football Scottish FA

Sam Milne
Sam MilneSNS Group / SFA

Despite facing barriers to playing football when growing up, Sam Milne has loved the game for as long as she can remember, with a playing career covering Dundee United, Dundee United Social Club, and Forfar Farmington. As one football career ended, another began as Sam started up local women's footballing sessions that she now runs weekly, alongside her professional career as Club Development Officer for Girls’ and Womens’ Football at the Scottish FA.

“I could never define what made me like football, it was always just something I loved to do. I was sporty growing up and despite the hurdles of being “allowed” to play, I just loved playing. It helped that my older brother played so we would often just be out in the streets playing," said Sam.

Sam now champions the skills her playing career has given her

"When playing football or working with people, who all come from varying cross-sections of society. Different personalities, different mindsets, and different struggles in life, it can be challenging to all work towards the same goal."

"It is important to understand that people whether it’s your teammates or the people you work with, we will all be striving towards the same goal but may approach this differently. It doesn’t always come naturally and football helped me develop that.”

In any environment, it is important that women support women to succeed. Sam outlines that to make a success of the women’s footballing sessions she runs, the skills she gained throughout her professional career have been invaluable in bringing different personalities together to achieve their goal.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am without football, and the life skills I have learned through the game have shaped me as a person,” she said.

“When trying to bring this group together, I used so many of the developed soft skills to bring the group together in an environment that would suit everyone with the one goal of 'women supporting women to play football'. We have all become the best of friends and have become such a strong group of women playing football.

"In my role I have been able to champion this with the community clubs, trusts, staff and volunteers, and we now have over 600 women playing across 27 centres in the area, all with the same goal of women supporting women. I believe this is because we all have worked together to build a culture and network of people with the same goal. We may all have different ways of reaching that goal but we continue to provide the opportunities for more women to play the game.”

Julia Oehri, Lichtenstein, Education Coordinator, Lichtenstein FA

Julia Oehri began playing football aged four, overcoming resistance to her participation on account of being a girl. Julie’s journey has taken her through grassroots to the top level of football in Lichtenstein. Today Julia continues to play for FC Widnau and for the Lichtenstein Women’s National Team, while also working as an Education Coordinator for football Coaches and Players.

At Julia’s level, confidence combined with understanding and human empathy is fundamental – as well as a sense of humour.

“In daily contact with the trainers, empathy is very important and it’s something I’ve developed through playing.

“You need good and clear communication, self-confidence, structured process, flexibility, assertiveness, patience, resilience and a pinch of humour to work in high-performance sport and playing football gave the foundations of a lot of these. As a woman in a male domain, humour and repartee never hurt.

Football certainly developed my self-confidence. On the field, I have to have confidence in myself as a player, otherwise I would never try something new or take a player on 1-on-1. In my job, I coach the coaches, so to speak, and I can't do that if I'm not confident - people wouldn't take me seriously and I wouldn't be credible.”

The backgrounds of these women may vary, but they are united in championing the attributes football has given to them and they all demonstrate the very real benefits that playing football has for young girls.

We are often in awe of the inspiring displays of footballing finesse on the pitch. UEFA WePlayStrong’s Skills for Life Line-Up recognises how the skills learned through football are priceless to personal development, how we work with others, and how we become the best version of ourselves.

Football is not only an active, healthy outlet (and a lot of fun), but also provides young girls with the tools to grow into confident, empathetic, team players in all walks of life.

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