As the only females on the OFC/NZF A-Licence course currently running in Auckland, Natalie Lawrence and Hayley Stirling are blazing a trail for women coaches in this country.
Both are looking to set an example to those keen to follow in their footsteps and are pleased to report that women are now embraced in a realm that has traditionally been dominated by males.
“I don’t think it’s like the old days of coaching courses when you may have felt a little bit intimidated,” Lawrence says of the New Zealand Football coach development pathway.
“The guys have all been very respectful to us, they listen when we speak and the instructors are very welcoming. I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries but, for any Kiwi female trying to get into coaching, I’d definitely recommend this pathway of learning.”
Lawrence, whose own journey has taken her to a fulltime position at professional outfit the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada, would love to see more women reach a high level of coaching and says courses such as the OFC/NZF A-Licence provide an ideal atmosphere.
Vancouver Whitecaps Girls Elite Assistant Coach Natalie Lawrence
“I think the more of these courses there are the better. The challenge will be getting more females on them in what is predominantly a more male environment, especially as you go further on in the courses and get to the higher accreditation,” the former Capital Football Women’s Development Officer says.
“But, for me, if there’s anybody aspiring to be a coach at this level, you have to put yourself out there – whether you’re male or female – and learn from what is a really good environment. Everybody is helping each other and the instructors want to help you get better in all aspects of being a coach. It’s an awesome experience and I’ve been loving it.”
Fellow female coach Stirling, who recently left her post as Women’s Development Officer for Football South and coached Southern United in last season’s National Women’s League, is also relishing the opportunity to widen her skillset on the OFC/NZF A-Licence.
“These moments are crucial,” she says. “As well as the actual content, the networking within the course is a massive part of your learning. The amount of information is quite hard to take in at times but, once you’ve had a chance to absorb it all, you can start piecing it together and see how it fits into the playing model and philosophy we’re trying to create for ourselves.”
Southern United National Women’s League coach Hayley Stirling
The first part of the latest OFC/NZF A-Licence – just the second course of its nature ever staged by New Zealand Football – kicked off at the end of last month and will wrap up tomorrow after 12 days of intensive theoretical and practical sessions. It will be followed by eight more days of top-end learning in August, after which the participants will hold the highest coaching qualification on offer on these shores.
The content has been led by the hugely experienced Rob Sherman, who was previously Technical Director for New Zealand Football and has held similar roles for the Football Association of Wales and Football Federation Australia. The course is also being staffed and supported by New Zealand Football Coach Development Manager Steven Dillon and Northern Football Coach Development Officer Korouch Monsef, both in coach developer roles.
“The calibre of coaches here is incredible and it’s great how the course talks about everything – not just on the field but off it with the vision, philosophy, how to structure training sessions and match management. Having a world-class instructor here like Rob has been fantastic,” Lawrence says.
Stirling has ambitions to join Lawrence in a professional environment overseas and has taken a lot from the course she feels will help her get there.
“It really emphasises how crucial it is to get the best out of the sessions you have with your players, particularly when you’re working with players in a time-poor environment and may not have a lot of contact time with them,” she says.
“It’s about getting across the details of what you want your players to accomplish by the end of the session and, ultimately, inside a game.”