As FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme concludes: This is just the beginning!

A two-day workshop at the Home of FIFA in Zurich marked the official conclusion of the latest edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme. One of eight programmes offered as part of the FIFA Women’s Development Programme, it aims to develop and nurture a new generation of female coaches.

“It is beautiful to have you all here in Zurich. This really is a community; this is our home; this is where women’s football lives and where we live. To have you here with us is really special,” said FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman, welcoming the attendees.

“Last time we were together in Portugal, some of you were already at the final stages of preparing for the (FIFA) Women’s World Cup. I want to take this moment to acknowledge this because it not only shows the strength of this programme, but also your commitment.

“Even during this time, you were willing to teach, to share and to learn from one another. You did this for the greater good of the women’s game, while you were preparing for the biggest global female event in the world,” Bareman continued in her opening remarks.

Over a period of 18 months, 19 of the most successful coaches in women’s football mentored 20 female coaches from around the world. The mentors not only advise their protégés on and off the pitch by sharing their experience. Collectively, the group has become a global coaching network, already reaping rewards, for example through added inputs into in the tactical preparations for international matches.

One mentor-mentee partnership saw Poland U-19 women’s national team coach Katarzyna Maria Barlewicz paired with Canada’s Olympic gold medal winner, Bev Priestman.

After getting to know each other at the start of the programme online, the knowledge exchange took on a whole new level when Katarzyna was invited to Canada’s pre-Women’s World Cup training camp in Australia. “When Bev asked me, and mentioned Australia, I had to check the dictionary first, to check she really meant it!” she said.

Although only 37 years old, the English-born Canada coach already has more than a decade of elite level coaching experience. Reflecting on her own personal journey, allowed Priestman to pinpoint some key areas of support for her mentee.

“I can relate to what Katarzyna is going through, as I think every female coach has had a similar experience” she explained.

“Katarzyna has incredible knowledge. I feel extremely lucky to have worked with someone who is so passionate. All the attributes are there. Probably her biggest challenge is self-confidence. It was my job to try and push someone to realise how good they are as a coach. It’s been an incredible journey for both of us, and it’s not over.”

Time can ‘weld’ people together and create special bonds. Another such example is the partnership that evolved between Nils Nielsen and his mentee, Serbia’s U-19 women’s national coach Lidija Stojkanovic.

“When you meet people who have the same passion as you, you will always remember them. The 18 months are coming to an end, but our relationship will continue. We know each other now and will always help and support each other. That’s what these kinds of programmes are really about; providing a framework, and I’m very grateful for that” said the Greenland native, who has previously coached the women’s teams of Denmark and Switzerland and is currently Director of women’s football at Manchester City.

“Lidija is an amazing person. I’m grateful to be part of this programme and to be able to share my experiences with someone who really wants to listen.”

Stojkanovic can only echo the words of her mentor and confirmed how much she has learned during the programme, seeing her participation as a special opportunity.

“It’s not only about the exchange, but also about listening to all these top coaches and wonderful people who were around me – especially my mentor. I am very lucky to have him as a mentor. Nils has visited me twice and his advice and the feedback I have received from him is of great importance to me. It will help me to improve even more in the future.

“As Nils said, this is not the end, but just the beginning, because he is now not only my mentor, but also my friend.”

As the workshop came to its conclusion, the participants visited the FIFA Museum, where the new FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ showcase – an exhibit of nearly 400 unique artefacts which provide a fascinating insight into the ground-breaking tournament – opened this week. A special surprise awaited two of the mentors, Even Pellerud and Tina Theune.

Pellerud was reunited with the Women’s World Cup trophy that he won with Norway in 1995, whilst Theune was able to hold the 2003 trophy in her hands again, as well as receive an award as the German Football Ambassador of the Year 2023. Equally special moments and a worthy conclusion to a unique programme.

Addressing the gathered mentors and mentees, Theune said: “I feel honoured to share this moment with you, and I am very touched that you share this joy with me.”

“At the same time, I feel very honoured to be able to represent my country. Pictures from my childhood show me either with the ball under my arm or at my feet. But I couldn’t imagine where my life would take me. I dreamed of bicycle kicks, headers and so on. Now I’m here with you as a FIFA mentor. That makes me feel good and respected. For me, you are all the greatest ambassadors in the world.”

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