Though just 27, relatively young in coaching terms, English-born strategist Beverly Priestman is clearly endowed with levels of maturity, wisdom and strength of character beyond her years.
Once a player herself, as a teenager she became aware a lack of quality in her favoured left foot would prevent her from hitting the heights, a realisation that fed her interest in life in the dugout. And having been coached at the time by one John Herdman, his renowned enthusiasm and passion certainly rubbed off.
A little over a decade on, Herdman is thriving at the helm of Canada’s senior side, following a successful spell in charge of New Zealand, and guided the Canucks to bronze at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. Priestman, who like Herdman hails from the town of Consett – some 23 km from Newcastle upon Tyne, is the head coach of the Canadian squad set to compete at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014.
What's more, Priestman is overseeing Canada’s nationwide women’s football development program for the 14-17 age group, as well as laying the foundations for the creation of regional centres of excellence to make sure promising youngsters receive the best possible training available.
“The main objective is to prepare players for the senior national squad, but to do so they need to gain experience at certain levels first. Taking part in international tournaments is really important for their development,” she told FIFA.com. “It’s only my first year but I’ve been impressed by the players’ quality, character and skill.”
Canada are the only CONCACAF nation to have taken part in every U-17 Women’s World Cup to date, though they have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals. The North Americans head to Costa Rica 2014 as the region’s runners-up behind Mexico, despite being undefeated in a qualifying tournament from which global powerhouse USA failed to emerge.
“We’ve certainly got some players who are technically outstanding, such as 16-year-old defender Sura Yukka, who’s already played for the senior side. We’re aiming to draw on this talented group to develop players of the calibre of [senior star striker] Christine Sinclair,” Priestman went on.
“I believe that this team will show the DNA that the system has started to instil in them, one that needs the players to be comfortable on the ball and patient in possession while retaining the strengths of the Canadian game.”
Traditionally a leading nation in women’s football development, the hosting of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™ and this August’s U-20 Women’s World Cup have only increased support for and the growth of the discipline in the country. “This is a great opportunity to leave a legacy at national and world level,” said Priestman, on excitement levels ahead of the two high-profile tournaments.
“The girls are all even more committed than usual, because they know that anybody who’s part of this project could be involved in 2015. That only adds to their motivation,” she continued, as the conversation drew to a close. “John [Herdman] is supervising the whole project at every level and he firmly believes that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”