Sunday 06 August 2023, 23:00

FIFA Coach Education Scholarship embraces football in all its forms

  • ParaMatildas’ coach Kelly Stirton participated in recent FIFA Coach Education programme

  • Her team features players with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or symptoms of stroke

  • “Football is the leader in the world on how it accepts all athletes”

A key principle underpinning the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ has been welcoming and embracing inclusivity in every possible form. Several strategies are in place at Australia & New Zealand 2023 to ensure that the tournament is an accessible event for all. It was against that backdrop that a noteworthy name featured at the recent FIFA Coach Education Scholarship (CES) programme in Zurich; Kelly Stirton, head coach of Australia’s ParaMatildas. Established only in 2022, the team features players with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or symptoms of stroke. Forty-one participants have benefitted recently from the online mentoring and coaching CES programme, which has an overarching goal of training and increasing the number of qualified female coaches across the globe.

“I would absolutely recommend the program; I have only just started my journey [but] I have already learnt so much,” Stirton said. “It is great to be able to talk to someone and be comfortable discussing all things football but as well as personal things, because you need to start with self first before you can help your team or who you are coaching.” Stirton was paired with hugely experienced Spanish coach Marta Tejedor, a well-known international coaching figure and FIFA Technical Study Group member. “Marta has been sensational; we have really clicked and have become great friends as well. It is like we have been around each other for many years. “I personally am working on how to develop myself in different coaching situations and how I can best lead my team. Marta has guided me through self-growth and development on the field and how I talk to my players with more tactical aspects of the game.”

Australia’s ParaMatildas will compete in the IFCPF ParaAsian Cup later in the year, with qualification for the Summer Paralympics up for grabs. It follows a silver medal for the team at last year’s first-ever IFCPF Women’s World Cup. With cerebral palsy the most common disability in childhood, and football the world’s most popular sport, the team’s growing status provide an important opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness. “The Women’s World Cup is going to change not only able-bodied football, but for all types of football in general,” said Stirton. “I believe we will see a massive growth in the game, but it will show the world that it is truly a game for everybody. “We need to be able to show that there are pathways for all athletes, and they can also play at the highest stage in front of the world. Football is the leader in the world on how it accepts all athletes, it provides a safe space and allows the athletes to be proud of their disability.

Australia ParaMatildas coach Kelly Stirton

“Football allows these athletes to not only showcase their talent, but also not be afraid to show their disability. I hear many stories of people being afraid or ashamed of their disability, football allows them to be who they are and be proud of their disability. “It demonstrates that nothing is impossible, and dreams do come true, and that hard work, determination and dedication can place you on the world stage.”