Football South Women’s Development Officer Hayley Stirling, who is also coach of Southern United in the National Women’s League, recently had the rare honour of attending the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan as a member of the tournament’s Technical Study Group (TSG). A TSG is appointed to each FIFA event and its role is to analyse all matches and highlight the latest trends. We caught up with Hayley to hear all about her experience and what she learned.
Being part of the Technical Study Group at a FIFA World Cup is a rare occurrence for someone from New Zealand. Can you explain how the opportunity came about?
I was really lucky to have been contacted by Nicola Demaine from the Oceania Football Confederation in regards to this opportunity. I’m not 100 per cent sure of the process involved but I was told I was nominated to FIFA as a candidate for the Technical Study Group and I’m incredibly grateful to have been thought of in this instance.
What does being part of the Technical Study Group involve and what were your duties/responsibilities?
The role of the Technical Study Group is to analyse each of the participating teams to complete a final analysis for each team that identifies their playing system, tactical analysis during the attacking, defending and transition moments, the key trends of the team and their key players. We were asked to take notice of incidents where technology could have been used to assist with decisions and scenarios during the games and provide some feedback to the referees’ delegation. We were also responsible for selecting the FIFA Live Your Goals player of the match for each game and the tournament awards for the Golden Glove and Gold, Silver and Bronze players.
As a coach, this was a huge opportunity for you in terms of personal development. What were the main learnings and benefits you were able to take away?
The chance to see world-class coaching set-ups in action preparing for World Cup games was priceless. I was lucky enough to see Japan, USA and Korea DPR during their trainings. Each team had their own style and feel during their sessions and the concentration and focus of the group leading up to their games was obvious. The biggest take-away for me was the intensity of the training sessions, even before game day the intention and purpose from the players was outstanding. I was especially impressed with Japan and the manner their coach had with the players. They were able to find the perfect balance of intensity and focus while never losing the ability to enjoy their time together. The players clearly enjoyed the environment the coach and his staff nurtured for the girls.
You would also have had the chance to network with other coaches and technical experts from all over the world, how valuable was that?
I have been able to make some incredible connections with the other members of the Technical Study Group and their experience is outstanding. We all came from different countries, so being able to share how each country develops youth footballers and discussing best practice with these ladies was a real breath of fresh air. I’ve kept in contact with them all and we regularly check in with one another via a WhatsApp group. The other TSG members were Elisabeth Liosel (France), Margret Kratz (Germany), Miriam Hickey (Netherlands), Clementine Toure (Ivory Coast) and Betty Wong (Hong Kong). All have played and coached internationally and have been real trailblazers for the women’s game over the last 10 to 15 years.
Away from the football side of things, did you get much of a chance to enjoy the country and experience a different culture? What was that like?
Jordan really blew me away. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of the war zones that surround it but I would absolutely recommend visiting. The people are so friendly and most speak to a level of English that a simple conversation can be had. It’s obviously really hot and the landscape certainly doesn’t have the greenery that New Zealand is renowned for. We were lucky enough to visit and swim in the Dead Sea and we spent a day at Petra which was an unbelievable adventure. The stone structures that were carved centuries ago were breath-taking. The capital city of Amman also had its own hidden gems in a historic Roman citadel and theatre, as well as the rich history of years gone by.
How did you get into coaching and what are your long-term goals?
I guess I kind of fell into coaching by mistake really. I was 23 at the time and, without thinking, said I would be keen to give it a crack one day while in earshot of one of the coordinators of my club at the time, Hibiscus Coast. A couple of days later, I got a phone call saying the U-13 girls team was excited to have a female coach and that the first training would be the following day. I couldn’t really say no and the rest is history. In the long-term, I’m working towards fulltime coaching – that is my ambition. I truly enjoy coaching and believe I have the temperament and curiosity to continuously improve my knowledge and delivery whilst getting the best out of the players I work with. For me, it’s the ultimate leadership role and a service I’m proud to be able to provide.