Monday 12 February 2024, 13:00

Iraia Iturregi: “Taking part in the programme made me feel empowered”

  • The Athletic Club legend was a mentor in the latest edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme

  • “I would definitely recommend taking part in the programme. I had a great experience with my mentee,” she said

  • Iturregi recently took another step forward on her footballing journey by joining the coaching staff of men’s team CD Basconia

For Iraia Iturregi, Athletic Club is more than just her employer. There can be no denying that the Basque outfit has played a crucial part in her life since she has spent more than half of it there in one capacity or another.

She made her debut for Athletic at just 17, going on to amass more than 400 appearances and claim several titles with the club during her playing days. She joined the backroom staff of the women’s first team in 2021, and last summer she took another step forward on her coaching journey by joining the technical staff of the men’s team CD Basconia, Athletic Club’s second feeder team, who compete in Spain’s fifth tier, the Tercera Federación. Iturregi is a true club legend.

“Athletic has given me so much. I spent 15 years there as a player. I then trained as a coach, and they gave me the chance to progress through the age categories right up to the top division in the women’s game. And now they’ve given me an opportunity in the men’s game,” Iturregi told

Iturregi is something of a trailblazer in Spain in having made the step across to men’s football, although she maintains an understated outlook.

“It meant leaving my comfort zone. I’d been involved in women’s football for 20 years. I wanted to keep progressing, keep learning and work in a different environment alongside a formidable coaching team. I’m really happy and driven by the move.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, although it seemed only natural, especially as it was an opportunity to show that women can coach men.

“It’s difficult to get my head around. I was surprised that there were no women coaching staff. If a male coach can take the reins of a women’s team, then why not the other way around? Ultimately, the players will see a woman giving out instructions and that will help for it to be seen as normal. I think my decision will be positive for women’s football and for women who aspire to become coaches.”

Iturregi’s next step is to make her mark in the men’s game, where she began working while taking part in the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme.

Different ways of seeing football

For 18 months, Iturregi combined her coaching work at the club with her role as a mentor to Kat Smith, during which time she not only passed on her own knowledge but also adopted new ways of seeing football.

“I’ve benefited from working with male and female coaches with bags of experience all over the world. I feel privileged.”

“Conversations”, she responds without hesitation when asked what she got out of the mentoring programme, which culminated with a face-to-face session in Zurich attended by the vast majority of mentors and mentees in December 2023.

“I remember the conversations and the fantastic group activities. We had to mingle with people we didn’t know or had never even spoken to, and to answer things that ultimately led to deep introspection,” she commented.

“During the season, you don’t get a moment to pause and reflect, and that’s something I’ve learnt is important. Everyone on the programme is very open to sharing their experiences – not necessarily negative experiences, but things that haven’t gone so well. Talking about and being able to discuss those situations, including the way you felt, is really rewarding,” she added.

Kat Smith (L) and Iraia Iturregi (R) during a Portrait session as part of FIFA Women's Development Programme at HoF, Home of FIFA

Valuable advice

Iturregi had useful discussions and received valuable advice that she can now pass onto her players in her role as assistant coach of Basconia, without neglecting her own personal growth.

“It’s important to know your role within your club. You try to harness all the experiences gained with all these people, which you can then share with others and look to put into practice in your day-to-day tasks. In Zurich, we were constantly talking about football, and once you get home, you can take a moment to make sense of the ideas, reflect and then put things into practice.”

“One of the things I told some of my peers – both fellow mentors and mentees – was that I felt empowered by the programme. Everyone has so much experience, character and energy in that environment that you get home feeling invigorated,” she said.

Coming back to men’s football and one of the reasons for this interview, Iturregi was asked about the differences she had identified compared to the women’s game. There is one in particular that has surprised her more than any other.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - DECEMBER 13: Iraia Iturregi during a Portrait session as part of FIFA Women's Development Programme at HoF, Home of FIFA on December 13, 2023 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/FIFA)

I felt empowered by the programme. Everyone has so much experience, character and energy in that environment that you get home feeling invigorated.

Iraia Iturregi
FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme Mentor

A surprising feature of the men’s game

“There aren’t many differences, especially when it comes to matches themselves, but I was surprised to find that the men generally have more self-confidence, despite the high demands and expectations that are put on their shoulders, which is something I’ve even spoken about with top coaches like Pia Sundhage. I don’t know if it’s a gender or an educational issue, but the men tend to be more assured, whereas the women suffer more from self-doubt.”

Reflecting on the 18 months and what they did for her, Iturregi is sure of one thing. She explains that taking part in the programme was a great decision and that she wouldn’t think twice about doing it again.

“I would definitely recommend taking part. The experience with Kat was wonderful. We’ve spoken at least once a month to catch up or share our thoughts on certain game scenarios. I told her about some new processes we’ve introduced amongst the coaching staff at Basconia, and she spent a few days with us in Bilbao.”

One of the strengths of the programme is that the benefits continue once the programme has ended and the participants stay in touch with one another. Indeed, even though she has not been able to reciprocate by paying Smith a visit Down Under, Iturregi was quick to accentuate the positives and signed off on an upbeat note:

“I haven’t yet been able to go to Australia to visit Kat, because club football provides less scope than the international game, but we’ve spoken and agreed that I have to visit. I even took the contact details of other participants and promised that we have to visit them,” she concluded.

Coach Mentorship Programme