- Four coaches at the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup were women
- FIFA’s Coach Mentorship Programme trying to increase those numbers
- Young coach Gemma Lewis on the challenges: “I had no role model.”
The French region of Brittany saw the latest chapter of development in women’s football this past August, as the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018 stepped into the spotlight. While the competition provided another positive display of the progress that the women’s game has seen in recent years, there remains plenty of room for improvement. One area is more female coaches working at the elite level.
While there were 13 assistant coaches who were women at France 2018, only four of the 16 teams had a head coach that was female: Mo Marley (England), Maren Meinert (Germany), Epifania Benitez (Paraguay) and Jitka Klimkova (USA).
They are statistics that need addressing, according to former USA captain and head coach April Heinrichs. “I’ve seen it at university level: in the 1970s, 70 per cent of coaches were women at college, now it’s down to 35 per cent, so it’s going down,” said Heinrichs, who recently announced her retirement as USA’s Youth Women’s National Team Director.
Taking the coaching plunge
One of the challenges to seeing more female coaches working at the top level is empowering women to consider taking up a career in coaching. As an assistant to New Zealand U-20 head coach Gareth Turnbull at France 2018, former Wales international Gemma Lewis revealed to FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) what motivated her to become a professional coach.
“I started when I was 18,” Lewis said. “I was volunteering in my university [in Wales] and I worked with some U-12s and I found it super rewarding. I recognised what positive impact I can have on players, and even I can have more impact on a game as a coach, than as a player. This inspires me a lot. Becoming a coach was unexpected. I had no role model, it was just down to the great experiences through volunteering.”
Lewis’s aspirations led her career far away from home in New Zealand. “I was graduating in the sports university in Wales and couldn’t find a job in football,” she said. “Then I saw a job advertisement in New Zealand, working as a football development officer in Auckland. I got the job and worked four years in that position. Parallel to that, I was educating myself and doing my coaching licenses.
“Since January 2018, I signed a contract as coach for the New Zealand Football Federation. I’m assistant coach for the U-17 and the U-20 national teams and working on a domestic project ‘Future Football Ferns’. At the moment, I’m enjoying every minute working in football professionally, but my aim for the future is to become, one day, a head coach of a national team.”
‘Getting better and better’
While other aspiring female coaches can take heart from how Lewis’s career path has progressed, a drive to succeed remains an important factor, if the ratio of more females becoming elite-level coaches is to change.
“You will constantly try and fail; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always keep learning,” Lewis said. “This is part of our development. You will never win all the time, but try to reflect about it and try to take out the best for the future. I think it is getting better and better and we get more opportunities, but we need to push it in all areas and share examples that it is possible.”
To help more women climb the coaching ladder, the Women’s Football Division at FIFA is currently organising a Coach Mentorship Programme, which Lewis is attending.