This week FIFA has announced the selection of 47 talented female coaches from 27 member associations, as part of its Coach Education Scholarship programme, designed to increase the number of female coaches working in football.
Three of those selected as part of the international scheme, include Australia's Sharna Naidu, Eilidh Mackay, and Victoria Guzman.
Aligned with FIFA’s 'The Vision 2020-2023', which aims to Accelerate the Growth of women’s football, the overall project seeks to offer talented female coaches and/or players financial support to further their coaching education, along with career development mentoring, and networking opportunities.
This week, the FIFA Women’s Football Division launched the online mentoring element of the programme, which saw scholarship recipients paired up with experienced coaches from the women’s game.
The first of those being Melbourne based Sharna Naidu, who was earmarked by FIFA due to her extensive coaching resume in Victorian football. Naidu holds a Master of Sports Science (Football Performance), now acting as Assistant Coach & Video Analyst for the U20 Victorian State Squad, having previously worked within the senior game at Melbourne Victory.
Naidu reflects on the shock that came from receiving such an illustrious opportunity.
"I remember waking up to check my phone, and I saw an email come through from FIFA. And I actually didn't think too much of it. Like, why would FIFA be sending me an email? You don't really get emails from FIFA, so then you have that little moment where you think: Are you sure they sent it to the right person?"
"Once I opened up the letter that was attached to it and properly read it, I was shocked. I just couldn't wait to tell my parents and those that were closest to me."
Building toward her FIFA B Class Coaching License, Sharna believes that the greatest impact on her studies through the Coach Education Scholarship programme will come from the international connections associated with FIFA-led programs.
"One part of the scholarship that I've benefitted a lot from is that worldwide reach. I actually had the chance to speak to two others who received a scholarship, one lady from Kuwait, and the other from the Netherlands."
For me to be in Melbourne, having the ability to speak to and even bounce ideas off coaches from around the around the world is massive.
"There's just so many different opportunities to gain through the program, I want to get to know people at different stages of their careers from across the globe. I also want to take in as much knowledge as I can about the game from the best, whether it's from a technical standpoint, tactical, emotional, the culture of squads, high performance, or even just youth development."
An upbringing that involved a sports-obsessed household saw Sharna Naidu climb to a high level during her junior years playing the sport. As she got older and the pressures of playing grew, it was coaching that sparked that enjoyment and passion for the sport once again.
"The more and more that I played the sport, the more and more I found that I wanted to work in the sport, not just play."
I want this to be my career, I want to pursue it to the highest level. I'm going to go for it, that level of determination may not have been there on the field but it has always been there off it."
The second recipient who was given the chance to work alongside the global governing body is Eilidh Mackay. Sydney based, Mackay, oversees the entire female footballing operations within the Northern Suburbs Football Association, within one of the city's largest footballing catchments.
Mackay's current coaching role is with the Under 18s National Premier League Women's 1 side Northern Tigers (NSW NPL), having previously served within the club's youth ranks for almost a decade. Having developed her coaching credentials within the Australian and NSW system, Mackay is excited to learn from the world's best, while also getting the chance to express her philosophies to a larger audience.
"To be part of a formal mentorship program where I am challenged and exposed to new perspectives and ideas is exciting. Learning from an incredible cohort of female coaches around the world is an opportunity that can transform your life."
"The scholarship and being involved in the program will empower and prepare myself for my next step. I have ambitious goals in my coaching and this scholarship will be pivotal in my journey."
Originally from Scotland, Eilidh's footballing story in Australia started as a player, coming across as a promising talent, before a serious injury changed her perspective, as coaching had slowly grown to become her preferred way to operate within the game.
The toughness and resilience exhibited, not just from herself but from her mother who acted as her greatest inspiration during those times of recovery and homesickness, are what Mackay believes to be her edge in an industry that requires limitless amounts of passion, commitment and thick skin.
"I still vividly remember the phone call, two days post-knee surgery, my mum phoned to see how I was, along with sharing the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. In my mind, I wanted to just jump out of bed and head to the airport."
"I realised my mum waited to give me the news until I had the surgery because she didn’t want me to give up the opportunity of building a life here in Australia. At that moment we made a pact to focus on our recoveries and doing everything we could to get better."
The lesson of hard work, sacrifice and the impact of your community has never left me. The resilience developed in that time has served me well as I lead change in the game.
The third recipient anointed by FIFA, also based in Sydney is Victoria Guzman. Head Coach at one of the country's most prolific footballing institutions, Westfield Sports High School, Guzman acts as both a football coach within the school, but also as a qualified teacher. Vast experience in the professional game, Guzman was once a player in the A-League Women's competition with Western Sydney Wanderers before turning her hand to coaching.
Still, in her mid-twenties, Guzman sits in a unique position compared to the other FIFA selected coaches, being one of the younger participants. Her qualities and knowledge of the game have never been questioned despite her age, with Guzman aware of the opportunity gained from entering such an elite international program during her early phases of coaching.
"There are many challenges to coaching, I think that the biggest so far is that I'm quite young and often people perceive that as inexperienced. But I believe that I've got many years to become a better coach and with drive and passion, it becomes something that actually gives you an advantage."
When it comes to coaching, I'm just be a sponge, trying to learn as much as possible, because I absolutely love it.
"I love being challenged and I love feeling pressure and being young and knowing that I've got the whole world at my feet. So I can't wait to work with like-minded people to help me get there."
The transition from playing to coaching at such a young age was a complicated one for Guzman, who was involved in such a high-level competition, both with the A-league Women's Western Sydney Wanderers and National premier League's Sydney University.
However, as she matured it was the satisfaction of coaching young girls and developing her own footballing ideas that sparked a change. Her experience at the highest level has also created a sense of understanding, with her players experiencing the same process that Guzman previously ventured through as a player.
"I just wasn't myself anymore when I played. But as I started getting involved with coaching, I just found myself thinking about the game in a different way. I could tell that when I got involved with the junior program at Sydney Uni, I really enjoyed it and wanted to go further."
"Being an ex-player has definitely aided and supported in coaching, in terms of the technical aspect but also understanding my players. The position as young elite footballers with all the pressures that come with it, but at the same time, it is a totally different set of circumstances and expectations for young girls now."
"There's a lot on them, helping them handle that pressure, means you're not just managing the football side of things."