Friday 19 May 2023, 08:00

FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme working wonders for Smith and Iturregi

  • Iraia Iturregi and Kat Smith are mentor and mentee in the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme

  • Iturregui recently hosted Smith in Bilbao

  • “We were talking football 24 hours a day,” said the Spaniard

“I was excited about the programme and it’s exceeded my expectations,” Spanish coach Iraia Iturregi told

“I’m delighted and I hope Kat has been able to make the most of the experience,” she added.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year already,” added Kat. “It’s gone by so fast and there are so many aspects in which I’ve had so much support as a coach.”

Respectively the coaches of Athletic Club Femenino (ESP) and Western Sydney Wanderers FC (AUS), the two are also mentor and mentee in the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme, which has just brought them together for a few days in Bilbao.

“It’s great that Kat’s been able to come for these four days to Lezama [Athletic Club Bilbao’s training ground] because it’s much easier to get what you’re doing across when the person is there with you,” commented Iturregi.

Mentee Kat Smith (Western Sydney Wanderers FC head coach) visits her mentor Iraia Iturregi (Athletic Club Women’s Head Coach) in Bilbao as part of the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme

The two are among 20 pairs of mentors and mentees from around the world who are taking part in the programme’s second edition, which began in May 2022. It is an elite group that contains two FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winners: Even Pellerud of Norway and Germany’s Tina Theune, not to mention English coach Bev Priestman, who took Canada to gold at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020.

The programme reflects FIFA’s commitment to increase the opportunities available to female coaches and is one of eight initiatives that make up the FIFA Women’s Development Programme.

Iturregui and Smith are one of only two pairings on the programme where both mentor and mentee are coaches with clubs, the other being Joe Montemurro (Juventus Women) and Debbi McCulloch (Spartans FC).

“One of the main objectives of this programme, is to build a strong network of female coaches from around the world, so to have an Australian coach learning from a Spanish coach in Bilbao is just great to see,”said Belinda Wilson, FIFA Senior Technical Development Manager Womens Football.

“What’s special about the pairing of Kat and Iraia is that they are both club coaches, which shows the importance that FIFA places on club football when it comes to growing the women’s game globally,” she added. “Ultimately we want to see more women coaching at the highest level and this programme is one of FIFA’s key initiatives that will help us achieve that.

“This programme is a platform where female coaches can exchange knowledge, learn from one another, and a great example of how the top coaches within the women’s game are willing to give back to the next generation.”

Belinda Wilson, FIFA Senior Technical Development Manager Womens Football

Iturregi also reflected on the benefits of the programme: “As Kat’s mentor, I’m getting a lot out of it, but ultimately it’s a learning curve for both of us and an opportunity to engage with other coaches around the world and our mentees and tell each other about our experiences. It’s important because knowledge comes from both sides.”

“Building a network with other coaches means I can travel around the world and find out about football in terms of culture and organisation and how it works in different places,” commented Smith. “It’s so important, because in Australia we only have limited opportunities in terms of the day-to-day and football’s status in the country.”

Smith’s trip to Bilbao has given the pair the chance to work together and talk about the game on the pitch. “We were talking football 24 hours a day,” joked Iturregi. As well as watching Athletic’s men’s and women’s teams being put through their paces, Smith has also been introduced to all the specialists who work in club’s various departments.

That aspect of the trip has proven to be a valuable one for Smith, not least because the A-League Women is at a different stage of development to Spain’s Primera Division Femenina, having been formed 30 years later.

“Everyone asks what’s going on in Spanish women’s football at the moment,” she said. “‘What are the secrets to achieving such a high standard in terms of players, clubs and coaching staff, and what’s needed to make it happen?’ That’s what I’ve taken away with me from this year so far. I think about my staff, the directors and the players and I try to absorb as much as I can so I can share it with them.

“It’s really important to have a context around the structure of a club and the process through which sections operate to ensure they can achieve results. I think that’s where I’m getting some really valuable information, while also having the opportunity to see it all in action.”

Sharing that view, Iturregi said: “It’s wonderful to be able to speak all day long about how to coach or focus on the various aspects that can come up. For example, if we’re talking about a certain type of training session, it’s important for Kat to see it on the pitch. Being in contact throughout the year is great, but it’s the opportunity to see each other and see it live that makes all the difference.”

Both are grateful to be part of the programme and have the chance to broaden their coaching education.

“It puts you in touch with top coaches and you can share knowledge and keep right up to date,” commented Iturregi. “You find out how certain people do certain things and you realise that you’d never thought about it like that. You take this information on board, you mull it over and you reflect on it. It’s a very rewarding process for both of you.”

The programme reaches a key stage on 22 to 25 May, when the majority of the participants (bar those currently in competition with their respective teams) will come together at the Portuguese Football Federation’s Cidade do Futebolin Lisbon. Among those taking part will be seven of the coaches who will be on duty at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™.

“I hope the programme keeps running,” said Iturregi. “It’s important for future coaches and will help more and more women move into coaching.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a mentor, who’s probably more of an expert than anything else, and to have the chance to talk about experiences, situations and the problems we have to deal with,” explained Smith. “I’m new to this, to being a head coach, and it helps to have the views of someone with a different perspective to mine.”

As an Australian, she is more than aware of the positive impact that the upcoming Women’s World Cup will have on the development of the professional women’s game in her country.

“It’s going to be huge, and then there’ll be the legacy and investment in stadiums, personnel, volunteers and coaches, etc,” said Smith, wrapping things up. “Obviously, that will all stay in place after the World Cup. I think that’s going to provide us with a better platform for making sure that we keep on moving towards a professional league and a grassroots system that’s even more resourced and supported.”

All images courtesy of Athletic Club