PHILADELPHIA – CONCACAF concluded Sunday its “Let’s Develop Women’s Football” conference, a two-day gathering of prominent global leaders in women’s football.
The event was highlighted by the region’s vast success stories, providing Member Associations with new strategies and ideas to continue competing at the elite level.
CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb officially opened the seminar and, in his remarks, emphasized the Confederation’s unparalleled achievements in women’s football. With the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup set to be played in Canada, CONCACAF is again in an exceptional position to excel on the pitch.
Yet, there is still much work to be done, so that the potential of women’s football can be maximized throughout the region.
“The priority for all our Member Associations should be development,” said President Webb. “This is an opportune time to be a part of women’s football – regionally and globally. I encourage each of you to utilize your strengths to start your own programs, with the confidence that CONCACAF and FIFA are with you. I want us all to believe in a new movement for women’s football.”
CONCACAF is the leading Confederation for participation in women’s football with more than 26 million registered female players. This year has been a productive and exciting one in the women’s game as the region hosted both of FIFA women’s tournaments for youth players – the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups in Costa Rica and Canada, respectively. In August, CONCACAF conducted its first-ever Under-15 tournament for girls in the Cayman Islands. Those international competitions are expected to leave a legacy for national teams and clubs, while creating a solid future for CONCACAF’s next generations.
There are currently 30 women’s football leagues at the national association level, including three futsal and three beach soccer leagues, throughout the region. In total, there are 25 youth leagues (U13, U15 and U17), which demonstrate the current focus on women’s youth development, as well as the potential for further growth.
At the conference, Sonia Bien-Aime, a FIFA and CONCACAF Executive Committee member and President of the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association, joined the Football Changed My Life session. An inspiring panel discussion that also featured current Costa Rica international Daniela Cruz, Cedella Marley (Global Ambassador for the Jamaica Football Federation women’s football program) and Kari Seitz (retired FIFA referee). Bien-Aime talked with passion about the game and the opportunities for women in football.
“As an administrator you have to play a key role and take a firm stand to create future opportunities for other women,” said Bien-Aime. “One of the things that I really enjoyed is that football has not only impacted me, but my country. I can introduce my country to the world through football.”
Cruz spoke about Costa Rica’s qualification for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, while offering insights on many topics from a player’s perspective, including how women’s football has grown in her country, the opportunities of playing at major tournaments and the need of more support to develop talent.
This successful event, held at the Dell Theater in Philadelphia, was organized in conjunction with the finals of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship at PPL Park in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.
Additional seminar sessions:
Elite Player Development
To build a truly elite football team at all age levels, it is crucial to have coaches who are experts in the game, as well as a support system in place that allows for the identification and development of the most promising players. Various tactical and developmental systems can lead to success, so each country must decide how to create a unique model for their national and club teams.
Speakers: April Heinrichs (Technical Director for U.S. Women’s National Teams), Junko Imai (AFC Women’s Committee Member, Japan Football Association (JFA) Vice Chair Person of Women’s Committee), Kelly Simmons (The FA Director of the National Game and Women’s Football) and Vanessa Martinez-Lagunas (FIFA Women’s Football Instructor and Head Coach of the University of Manitoba Women’s Soccer Team)
“The game is growing all over and that’s a result of planning and persistence,” said Heinrichs.
Hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup
The 1999 Women's World Cup in the USA was a turning point for women's football, and the tournament has continued to grow over the past fifteen years in terms of support by fans, investment by stakeholders, and quality of play on the pitch. Tremendous planning is required to host a FIFA Women's World Cup, and with the proper strategies in place, hosting this tournament has the potential to completely transform women's football in the country.
Speakers: Dr. Robert Contiguglia (former USSF President), Sandra Gage (Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the National Organizing Committee of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015), Tatjana Haenni (FIFA Deputy Director of Competitions, Head of Women’s Competitions), Eugenia Monge (LOC for FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica), and Heike Ullrich (DFB Head of Technical Department/Women’s Football).
“We need more high-level women’s football and a proper business plan, strategy and resources. We have to be more focus if we really want to develop women’s game,” said Haenni. “I’m dreaming of a FIFA Women’s World Club competition.”
While most kids dream of becoming the next Mia Hamm or Marta, there are a multitude of pathways to pursue in women's football. Coaching, refereeing, and administration provide excellent platforms for women to have an impact on the sport. Expanding the opportunities available for women in these professions is crucial for the further development of the women's game.
Speakers: Amanda Vandervort (MLS Director of Social Media), Carol Anne Chenard (FIFA referee), Monica Gonzalez (former Mexico international, ESPN and FOX Commentator), and Andrea Rodebaugh (former Mexico international and former Mexico women’s under-20 national team coach)
“It’s important to believe in yourself, don’t let the possibility of defeat, defeat you. The moment somebody says you can’t, I had to prove it to myself,” stated Rodebaugh. “We have to lead by example to impact and influence others.”
Women’s Professional Football Leagues
Creating sustainable women's football leagues is the one of the most effective ways to grow and develop football in a country. Establishing a business model that fits the particular situation of the country will help maximize the potential for growth of women's club and league football.
Speakers: Cheryl Bailey (National Women’s Soccer League Executive Director), Mike Golub (Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns President of Business Operations), Heike Ullrich (DFB Head of Technical Department/Women’s Football), and Linda Wijkstrom (Swedish Elitfotboll Dam General Secretary).
“We can sell women’s football showing that is valuable,” expressed Linda Wijkstrom, Swedish Elitfotboll Dam (EFD) General Secretary. “It is important to have our own identity in women’s football and make the most out of these events that help leagues to take the game to the next level.”
The second day of Let’s Develop Women’s Football included a Workshop with a representative from 39 of CONCACAF’s 41 Member Associations, discussing the issues and opportunities surrounding women’s football development.