‘Captains of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow.’ That was the fitting title of a two-day workshop held in Moscow this week for captains of the national teams qualified for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup taking place in France this August.
FIFA brought together the players, plus six young referees representing the confederations, to help develop their leadership skills both on the field and off it.
“One of the challenges in women’s football is a lack of role models for young girls,” said FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman.
“We want to build these captains and referees into future role models by equipping them with the skills they need in order to lead. This is also a chance to bring them close to FIFA and show them that we are real people doing real things to develop women’s football.”
One of the guest speakers providing inspiration was FIFA Legend Karina LeBlanc, who has made a name for herself not only as a star goalkeeper for Canada’s national team but also for her exploits off the field as a UNICEF Ambassador and, more recently, at CONCACAF.
“Each and every one of you brings something unique to the sport,” said LeBlanc in her pep talk to the attendees, which included the story of how Canada went from finishing last at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 to winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics.
“You lead a team, you lead a nation. You are the biggest names in your country, and if your country hasn’t started paying attention yet, trust me they will. Women’s football is going somewhere.”
Malia Steinmetz, U-20 captain for New Zealand and a member of the senior squad, agrees the women’s game is on the rise and says it has been particularly encouraging to see the women’s team gain pay parity with the men’s team this year after a historic agreement.
“Women’s football has grown so much over the last few years,” said Steinmetz. “We’ve seen it New Zealand, especially with the pay parity deal. Hopefully it can get way bigger, and we can get more women into top seats.”
Alexia Delgado has also seen significant improvement in her native Mexico with the launch of the Women’s Premier League in 2017. But the U-20 captain, who is bound for Arizona State University this year, believes there’s still a way to go and she is eager to contribute by learning to become a better leader.
“I want to make history in my country,” said Delgado. “I want to be remembered as a good captain, a good player and also a good person. During this workshop, we’ve been sharing what we do within our teams and learning from each other how to create the best environment.”
FIFA’s Senior Manager of Refereeing Kari Seitz, who is the only male or female to officiate at four World Cups, believes bringing referees and players together is valuable for everyone.
“I want to add some humanity to referees. Players at this workshop have been able to see that the referees are just like them,” said Seitz. “Teaching leadership skills at a young age is only going to make them be more successful. Women players, coaches, referees – we’re all getting more opportunities. That’s the beauty of how things are evolving.”
Nigerian referee Alaba Abigael said she could never have dreamed of such an opportunity, particularly against the backdrop of the FIFA World Cup™.
“I’m so happy coming to this workshop in Russia and representing Africa,” said Abigael. “Back home, there are some young referees whose parents brought them into refereeing just because of me – because they liked my style of officiating, they liked my boldness and my courage. They’ve said they want their daughters to be like me. It’s good!”
The workshop was led by Head of Women’s Football Development & Governance Emily Shaw and other members of FIFA’s women’s football division as well as guest presenter Karl Lines, National Youth Engagement & Leadership Manager for The FA.
Key themes of the workshop included:
Connecting and building a safe, positive learning environment with group cohesion A modern approach to leadership, understanding “non-positional leadership” Understanding yourself as a leader, including your own talents, strengths, values and interests Being an authentic leader, taking actions that are consistent with your own values Collaboration and a common purpose in your team, making the most of multiple talents and working with shared visions and values
Captains of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow is part of a new-look female leadership programme that includes three pillars and is set to be rolled out in stages. The first targets youth, the second looks at developing member association staff who are in charge of women’s football and the third focuses on increasing the number of women in executive roles.(fifa.com)