In March, the FIFA headquarters in Zurich became the focal point of women’s football. Both current and former national team head coaches travelled to the Swiss city in order to participate in a women’s football coaching seminar. Three male and 29 female coaches took part in the event aimed specifically at training coaches in the women’s game.
Jacqueline Shipanga was one of them. The Namibian women’s national team head coach arrived in Zurich in order to speak of the difficulties she faces in her homeland. “The challenges back home are overwhelming, sometimes to the extent that you cannot deal with it,” Shipanga told FIFA.com.
“[You ask yourself] ‘who takes care of the coaches? Who takes care of the instructors?’ The instructors’ seminars are so timely because you get to work with your role models and with people who have high qualifications when it comes to women’s football.
“It basically encourages you to see the top coaches like Tina [Theune] and April [Heinrichs]. They have this level of humility to actually raise you up and to help you. This is the time when I feel someone is also taking care of me.”
Via tennis to football
Shipanga’s route into football was far from conventional, especially considering that her idols played an entirely different kind of ball game. “I didn't dream about becoming the national coach of Namibia,” said Shipanga.
“The sport I was exposed to the most was tennis. My role models were Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Gabriela Sabatini, because those were the sports people, the images we could see on television. And when I saw these I decided that I want to be part of this, not exactly tennis, but part of sports.”
She opted for football, which was not a decision without its drawbacks given her cultural background. “The difficulties with women’s football in the southern part are that the people that are participating most tend to be the people that are unemployed or are street kids – the ones that are not seen as being progressive in life. That's why I needed to be motivated enough and to do my masters degree, so that I could prove footballers can be smart.”
She found encouragement in the examples set by others. “I was following what Fran [Hilton-Smith] was doing in South Africa,” said Shipanga. “I realised I am not a disgrace at all and what I am doing is not wrong. I am not the only one. She was a huge inspiration to me.”
Shipanga’s resolve has enabled her to continue making headway in Namibian women’s football despite the many obstacles she has encountered. She began the process of shaping the future of her chosen sport as captain and central defender of the national side. Her influence has steadily increased ever since, later becoming coach of the women’s national team as well as of the U-20 and U-17 sides.
Furthermore, she was a member of the Technical Study Group at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ that analysed participating teams and their training programmes. It is an impressive track record for a coach who is still only 36. Shipanga received her training from the ‘German Football Project Namibia’, which was organised by the German Olympic Sports Confederation in tandem with the German Football Association.
One for all and all for one!
However, Shipanga’s path to the top has been anything but easy and she has frequently had to overcome major hurdles. Yet she finds strength in her colleagues, who remind her that she is not alone and encourage her not to give up. Veteran coaches such as Hope Powell and Vera Pauw have also had to deal with their share of adversity.
“All these top coaches and former players tell me: ‘You have to continue Jacqui, no matter what and we will be always there for you.’ That is fantastic,” said Shipanga. “I will go back home and I will call April [Heinrichs] and ask: ‘April, can you help me?’ And I am telling you, she will. And that is basically what helped me to continue and not to quit. As long as there are so many women like Tina Theune, women’s football will keep going from strength to strength.”
The Brave Gladiators may not have managed to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup or the CAF African Women Championship yet, but with coaches such as Shipanga leading the way, women’s football in Namibia is on the right track.
“Who else should develop the game than the former players, the current coaches and the current instructors? They are the ones that work directly on the field with the players, with the community,” Shipanga concluded.