Women Coaching Top-Level Soccer: A Discussion with the 6 Female Coaches in WPS

On Wednesday, April 28th, I held a conference call with all 6 female coaches in Women’s Professional Soccer to talk about the development of women’s soccer coaches – in America and around the world. On the call, we had:

Below, I’ve included the text from my intro, and then a very brief summary of each Q&A, with time markers for your listening convenience. Enjoy, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

* Please note that the summaries are not exact words (you’ll need to listed to the podcast for that!), and I recorded the call on Skype so once in a while there’s a break in the audio (sorry).

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Intro: Welcome everybody to today’s call, “Women Coaching Top-Level Football, A Discussion”.

My name’s Amanda Vandervort, and I’m the owner of Soccer Science – a blog about the technology that is revolutionizing the way we see the beautiful game. I also work in New Media at the WPS League Office, and I’m the Chair of the Women’s Committee for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).

I’ve organized this call, here at the beginning of the 2010 WPS season, because I often find myself talking about Women Coaching Soccer – why we’re not seeing many women at the highest levels, what barriers women are facing to becoming top-level coaches, and how we as a coaching community can help develop women to stay in the game and take on coaching as a career. I thought – who best to chat about these things than with the select few who have actually made it?

With that I’d like to welcome 4 of the female coaches in WPS to the call. We’re expecting two more throughout the call, so hopefully they do join us. Let’s go around the room and if you could each introduce yourself, the team you coach, and your position that would be great. And, to give this intro a little flavor, let’s dig right in and can you give us a n idea about how your background (hometown, country, culture) has impacted your career choice to be a soccer coach.


Emma Hayes (right) discusses strategies at the 2010 WPS Draft with Red Stars general manager Marcia McDermott. (image: isiphotos.net)

1:30 – Emma Hayes, Head Coach for the Chicago Red Stars. From London, England. Was injured and took coaching courses as a teenager. Then came to the states to pursue her dreams of coaching professionally.


Lisa Cole walks onto the pitch to congratulate her players after a win in 2009. (image: isiphotos.net)

2:00 - Lisa Cole, Assistant Coach for the Boston Breakers. Soccer has been a huge part of her life and felt coaching was a natural progression. Started coaching in the 9th grade. Tactics have always appealed to her.


Nicci Wright (left) works with Freedom goalkeeper, Erin McLeod. (image: isiphotos.net)

2:30 – Nicci Wright, Goalkeeper Coach for the Washington Freedom. From British Columbia, Canada. Was a teacher, and started coaching during her time with the Canadian National Team. Progressed into club, ODP college, the W-League and then WPS.


Denise Reddy shares a few words with the Red Stars defenders. (image: isiphotos.net)

3:30 – Denise Reddy, Assistant Coach for the Chicago Red Stars. Coached ODP in NJ at age 16 and continued throughout college. Played oversees as a pro for 11 years and learned a lot from many different coaches.


Pauliina Miettinen has a word with Sky Blue FC player, Laura Kalmari. (image: isiphotos.net)

4:00 – Pauliina Miettinen, Head Coach for Sky Blue FC. It’s been natural, she always wanted to be a teacher and loves soccer. Appreciates all the support she’s received, and she wants to give back.


Anne Parnila organizes the Sky Blue FC midfield. (image: isiphotos.net)

5:24 – Anne Parnila, Assistant Coach for Sky Blue FC. Welcomed to the call, but just plans to listen in.

5:45 – Why do you think you “made it” to pro coaching? What was it that influenced you – a person, an event? Were there any particular challenges that you faced?

6:00 – Emma Hayes. Intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of being a leader. Didn’t have the opportunities in her own country, even if she had the qualifications, because there were no opportunities. The 1999 World Cup made her realize there were opportunities in the States. Sue Ryan and Kim Wyant influenced her. Became a W-League coach at 25. Need a slice of luck and opportunity.

7:40 – Lisa Cole. The people she’s been around – Dr. Colleen Hacker and Tony DiCicco, Sue Ryan, Nancy Feldman. Can name a ton of good, quality coaches. Spent time around them by volunteering or creating opportunities to be in those spots. Good mentors are important. Taking coaching courses, speaking up, having confidence.

9:00 – Nicci Wright. Was lucky to play up until 3 years ago. Transition from player to player-coach, and then coaching. In a situation where she’s been given a great opportunity and may have followed different lines, so every day is a learning process with Jim Gabarra and Clyde Watson. Big difference between where Canada was when she played, and where they are now. Didn’t grow up with a lot of women to look up to in the Canadian system.

12:00 – How do we retain pro players in the game? As we’re developing WPS and pro leagues around the world, how do we encourage, retain and mentor top-level athletes and female players to stay in the game and take on coaching as a career?

12:15 - Nicci Wright. In the Canadian system, it’s a lot about the coaches you’re brought up with. Had a chance to be a player-coach, and there’s a couple players that she’s played with that are now coaching in the youth system, but more than anything it’s about having an open door. Has only had one female coach, so once women begin to see coaching as a possible career path, and the door is open to women, we’ll have more players becoming coaches. Currently, it’s still a struggle.

14:00 – Emma Hayes. In England, the support given to female coaches and their development has improved dramatically under Hope Powell. She has put opportunities in place for women to coach at the top levels. There is more support, and mentorship through their “A” license. With the creation of the 2010 Super League, we’ll hopefully see more opportunities for female coaches at the higher levels.

15:15 – Lisa Cole. The Germans have done a good job in this area because they have their players taking coaching licenses during their playing careers – not to make them all coaches, but to introduce them to tactics and help make them better players. Yet as a result we see players advancing into the coaching ranks.

16:15 – Denise Reddy. She went through the same thing in Sweden. They provided, free of charge, the opportunity to take coaching licenses. Take it with the top pro players in the region, men and women. In Sweden, they also have conferences where they invite coaches to watch games, interact, and talk about where the game is going.

17:30 – Pauliina Miettinen. Hasn’t lived in Finland for many years so can’t relate to the system there so much. Did all her schooling here in the states. Meeting Mark Krikorian was “the best thing that ever happened to me, coaching-wise”. In America, people push you to go higher, where this may not be the case elsewhere. Opportunities are greater here to support yourself as a coach. Going from player to coach, she just tries to do her best, be honest, be funny, and work hard every day.

19:40 – Pauliina and Lisa, can you talk more about how Mark Krikorian has influenced you?

20:00 – Pauliina Miettinen. Mark does things thoroughly, properly, and with integrity. He is willing to help you any time, regardless of when and where you are. Follows through and makes you feel special. He says thank you every single day. Gives credit where credit is due, and values your work and your efforts. Honest, straightforward, and doesn’t play games.

21:40 – Lisa Cole. Mark is one of of a number of male coaches who have really invested in the women’s game – also Tony Dicicco and Jerry Smith – and works to help females become successful in the game, both as players and coaches. Mark in particular, recognizes his staff’s strengths and weaknesses. He puts his staff in situations where they can excel at what they’re good at. He empowers people around him.

24:00 – Emma, can you talk more about how Sue Ryan influenced your coaching career

24:20 – Emma Hayes. Sue Ryan mentored Emma to not miss steps in the coaching development process. Coach the youth players, become a clinician. Be patient and be attentive to the details that come along with coaching at different levels. While Emma always knew she wanted to be a Head Coach, Sue advised her to take an assistant job, and it’s allowed her to have a different perspective and relationship with the players. It’s critical that we give back to communities.

26:43 – Where do you see the women’s game in 20 years?

27:00 – Lisa Cole. Gaps will close between countries, in terms of competitiveness. WPS will be celebrating it’s 22nd year of play. Sponsorship and the value that sponsors are seeing in females participating in sports is increased. There’s a lot of work to be done – In 20 years, we could be restarting again if we don’t stay on top of the work we’re doing now.

28:00 – Pauliina Miettinen. In Europe, a lot of counties have emerged, and as a result we’ll see a more balanced level of play. We have so much more to learn as players. Tactically and technically we will become more proficient, but we are still young as a sport. Even in 5 years the game will look different.

29:10 – Nicci Wright. When we started WPS last year, we were using footage of the 2003 Founder’s Cup, and the ability of players has completely changed. So looking forward, it will continue to change. 20 year is far off, but the game will continue to grow.

30:30 - Denise Reddy. With WPS, the leagues around Europe may not be as strong here at the beginning. But because of this, they will be able to develop their younger players – 16/17 year-old players are currently in the top divisions abroad. In America, we’ll need to develop younger players, especialy in technical and tactical advancement, so when they come out of college at 21, they’re at a higher level and can take the steps to becoming a pro.

32:00 - Emma Hayes. We will see the introduction of better long-term player development strategies and a more academy-like structure in the women’s game, similar to the men’s game in this country. Continued lobbying at FIFA will allow for the development of grassroots soccer in emerging nations (Africa and Latin America) will bring more teams participating in larger, worldwide tournaments. One thing that WPS has benchmarked has been the development of social media in reaching out to its followers – sharing game highlights, interacting with fans and followers, these are creating an impact that will truly be realized in the years to come. “While it may seem as a threat to the rest of the world in terms of taking players, we’re actually setting standards for the women’s game.”

35:35 – Thank you for taking the time to be on today’s call. This is just the tip of the iceberg on all the things we could talk about. Looking forward to seeing you all on the pitch soon!

Interested in seeing a WPS game? View the full 2010 schedule, the TV listings, and webcast/iPhone streaming schedule.

About the Author: Amanda

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