Tuesday 16 August 2022, 13:00

The nine female coaches rewriting the history books

“Wow, there are more female than male coaches at this press conference!” This was the reaction from Colombia’s Carlos Paniagua when all 16 of the coaches involved at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022™ came together to address the media at San Jose’s Estadio Nacional on the eve of the tournament. While Paniagua was certainly right, it is worth adding that the nine female coaches leading teams out on Central American soil makes this the first-ever FIFA competition in which there are more females than males in the dugouts. “I wasn’t aware of that, it’s really incredible. It’s just amazing,” beamed USA coach Tracey Kevins after FIFA+ informed her of the statistic. Meanwhile, her Mexican counterpart, Ana Galindo, commented “It’s a massive step. We didn’t use to have a presence in these spaces and it’s all down to the efforts of those who came before us.” There are plenty of smiles on the faces of the female coaching contingent when FIFA+ reveals their status as history-makers.

Germany, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Korea Republic, Canada, France, USA and the Netherlands all have female coaches at the helm. Indeed, none of the previous nine editions of the U-20 Women’s World Cup have witnessed as many female tacticians. Up until this year’s competition, the record stood at five and the average across all previous instalments of the tournament is 3.1, with three times that number lining up in Costa Rica. “It’s important for the continued growth of the women’s game,” says Jessica Torny, the Netherlands coach, whose thoughts are echoed by Australia’s Leah Blayney: “There’s no doubt that this is the future.” Based on what we have seen so far in San Jose, that future certainly looks very bright, with some impressive up-and-coming talents on the pitch and more female than male coaches issuing the instructions from the sidelines.

Tracey Kevins, coach of USA, speaks with Lauren Flynn

“It’s taken us a long time to get to this point,” admits Kevins. It has certainly not been an easy road for any of the nine coaches. England-born Kevins plied her trade with the USA’s youth teams for ten years, while Canada’s Cindy Lye took her first steps in management with the youth sides at a number of modest clubs.

Elsewhere, Mexico’s Galindo thought that she was destined for a lifetime spent coaching at academy level. As for Blayney, she turned out for the Matildas’ senior side, while Torny strutted her stuff for the Netherlands for over ten years.

New Zealand’s Gemma Lewis served as an assistant coach at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 and France’s Sonia Haziraj enjoyed a playing career in her homeland, before earning her coaching badges and working at the French Football Association’s elite youth academy in Rennes.

Germany’s Kathrin Peter has been coaching women’s teams for years now and Insun Hwang is the first-ever woman to occupy the Korea Republic hotseat. “It means so much. I’m keen to do my bit to encourage more female players to go into management,” says Hwang. The current edition of the U-20 Women’s World Cup represents a watershed moment in the history of the ladies’ game. “There’s an increasing number of women in leadership roles and that’s vital in terms of the development of the game,” states Lye.

“That’s true, but even more needs to be done,” insists Haziraj, who believes that the football associations (FAs) have a major responsibility to instil more confidence in female coaches “because that will allow us to take on greater responsibility”.

Lewis, meanwhile, takes things a step further, noting that, “Those involved in sport and the decision-makers must support women and offer us visibility and opportunities.”

Leah Blayney (R), coach of Australia looks on

A number of the coaches highlight the key role that the FAs have to play. Kevins mentions that “FIFA did a great job in asking them to place their faith in us”, while Lye praises the mentoring programme in place during the tournament in Costa Rica.

Sharing working spaces across genders also serves to promote development. In the Netherlands, for example, the male and female coaches who oversee the national youth teams are in regular contact, while their French counterparts often meet up to discuss football matters and management-related issues. Elsewhere, the German FA constantly promotes such exchanges under a philosophy that Peter describes as, “it’s one and the same for everyone.” Galindo’s career path may be a sign of things to come after the Mexican was unveiled as the head coach of the country’s U-17 men’s team in June. “It’s something we have to continue to push. There are plenty of excellent female coaches and they’re extremely well equipped in many areas of the game. I hope that the decision-makers offer us the opportunities because they’ll be in for a real surprise.”

Jessica Torny, coach of Netherlands, looks on

If the world showpiece in Costa Rica is anything to go by, a promising future lies ahead for women’s football. “This has been a long time coming. Are we now satisfied? No! We’re keen to see more and know that it’s possible. We’ve now laid the foundations and if we appoint the best female coaches in these roles, the women’s game can only continue to flourish,” explains Blayney, who speaks with the same level of passionate enthusiasm she puts into her pre-match pep talks.

Galindo predicts a future in which there are “more female coaches, coaching assistants and fitness coaches”, while Kevins believes that “we must promote women’s football as much as possible to put it on a par with the men’s game”. In conclusion, Lewis admits that “although it’s a tough road, it’s well worth all the effort when you stop and think that you’re laying the path for those to come”.

Insun Hwang, coach of Korea Republic

Did you know? In May 2022, FIFA launched the second edition of its Coach Mentorship Programme where 20 women from across the globe will be mentored by 20 of the game’s most accomplished coaches. Six of the mentees are currently participating with their respective countries at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022™. Sonia Haziraj (France), Kathrin Peter (Germany), Tracey Kevins (USA) and Ana Laura Galindo Dominguez (Mexico) are Head Coaches, and Natalie Lawrence (New Zealand) and Laura del Rio Garcia (Spain) are working as Assistant Coaches at the tournament. As one of the eight programmes available under the FIFA Women’s Development Programme banner, Coach Mentorship aims to develop and empower a new generation of female coaches who will be individually mentored by a top coach from the women’s game over the next 18 months. In addition to providing talented coaches with world-class mentors, the programme also aims to help female coaches to achieve greater results in their current positions, offer coaching guidance and support on career development, and create a global network of female coaches.