“We need you to lead us to where you think we need to go, rather than where we think we want to take you.”
As opening lines to a four-day FIFA workshop go, Belinda Wilson, Senior Technical Development Manager in FIFA Women’s Football Development team could not have issued a clearer invitation.
39 men and women from around the world this week gathered at the Portugal Football Federation’s Cidade do Futebol, the second physical workshop of FIFA’s 18-month long Coach Mentorship Programme.
The second edition includes two former FIFA Women’s World Cup winning coaches, and two Olympic Gold medal winning coaches among the mentors, passing on their knowledge and experience to a new generation of female coaches.
On the opening day, Wilson decided to re-write part of the programme’s ethos, in keeping with the overarching theme for the workshop: ‘The role of the national team coach in driving positive change.’
“The key objective this week is to create a stronger community. We formerly used the word ‘network’, and for me the word network was… ‘I can give you a business card, or I can give you my LinkedIn, and you’re a part of my network’ explained the experienced Australian technician.
“But community is more about a supportive family. I can pick up the phone at any time and I know I’ve got someone there to reach out to. What we’re trying to do is to create good team conditions; conditions that will make a great team and a highly performing, functioning team. Which can be incorporated not only in the corporate world but also, obviously, on the pitch.”
Over the duration of the 18-month long programme, mentors and mentees visit each other in their respective countries, and are also encouraged to develop regular online contact. Western Sydney Wanderers’ coach Kat Smith arrived in Lisbon after recently spending a week with her mentor Iraia Iturregi in Bilbao.
Karl Lines is a FIFA Women’s Football Consultant, who in particular leads sessions on FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme and Coach Education Scholarships. Explaining the value of building a strong sense of community, he cited Robert Waldinger, director of a famous study aimed at revealing clues to leading healthy and happy lives.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” he noted. Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”
As the mentors (prior to their mentees arriving at the end of the opening day) continued to explore different themes to support the development of their relationships, organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant found his words providing food for the thought on the giant screen too.
“Great mentors are learners, as well as teachers. Research shows that when mentors value insights from below, they’re more engaged and effective, and their mentees are more successful. Mentoring is therefore not a transfer of wisdom from one to another. It’s a relationship where two people grow together.”
One participant who can certainly attest to the aforementioned philosophy, is Monica Vergara. A former international for Mexico, she has since coached at every age group level with ‘El Tri’ including finishing as runner-up at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2018.
On the first edition of the programme, Vergara was partnered with former US Women’s National Team Coach, Jill Ellis. Speaking in Lisbon between sessions, she said: “Jill Ellis is a true role model for me. Having the opportunity of getting to know her work, and as a mentor, was like a Christmas gift.
“I had the chance to have her in Mexico watching my training and giving me her feedback. It all helped immensely at that moment in my life. It was something truly enriching.”
This time around, Vergara has switched sides, and is mentoring Laura del Rio Garcia. The former Spanish international striker is now carving out her own career as a coach, and their shared experience of transitioning from player to coach, is one that instantly bonded them.
“I met with Laura in Mexico and saw her before the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2022. Later, I had the chance to see her compete, and how she carried out her work. I saw her become world champion with the U-20s, and in India with the U-17s.
“I feel lucky because we have shared the same path and process. It’s easy to build this relationship and make it grow when you meet a person who works with the same passion and love you put into your own work.”
Over the four days, the mentors and mentees listened to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, Portugal Football Federation (FPF) President Fernando Gomes, FPF General Secretary Teresa Romao and FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman, who all delivered speeches to the group. On Wednesday afternoon, there was a session with a difference, as the mentor-mentee cohort attended the latest leg of the FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour.
Even Pellerud was at the helm in 1995 when Norway triumphed in the final against Germany. Eight years later, Tina Theune led the Germans to final victory after a ‘golden goal’. As two of the more senior mentors, the respect held towards them by their coaching counterparts is palpable. As they were reunited with the trophy and able to hold it once again, the broad smiles on their faces, and the cheers of their coaching counterparts lit up the room.
Without question though, the most ‘colourful’ session was hosted by former German international Josephine Henning. Since retiring in 2018, Henning swapped her boots for brushes and paints, and is an acclaimed artist, as well as television commentator and pundit.
As mentors and mentees were gathered in a changing room at the FPF ‘City of Football’ complex, they were each handed a blank piece of paper and a crayon. Why?
“The session is all about feelings. About being brave. Saying what you feel through art” explained Henning. “Through a programme like this, you have an opportunity to ‘recalibrate.’ My session is aimed at challenging people who are very used to dealing with structure, to try thinking in a different way.
“For me, as an artist, it was always about ‘visuals.’ If I see something that inspires me, it doesn’t have to be spoken. When you are dealing with relationships, you can stand next to someone, give someone a smile, and you can give someone freedom.
“How can I connect?’ This is one of the hardest but one of the most amazing things we can do as humans.”
Mentees on the current edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme will graduate in November/December 2023.