Hope Powell and Sonia Denoncourt, two of women's football's great success stories, have spent the past week representing FIFA in a series of Coach/Referee Workshops in New Zealand.
Powell, England's national coach, and Denoncourt, FIFA's Head of Women's Referees, led seminars and practical sessions as part of the preparations for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, touring the tournament's four host cities: Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
The pair certainly engaged in plenty of good-natured banter during their joint sessions, but while they differed on which career path is the most rewarding, Powell insisted that they shared a common purpose: to encourage young women to become involved in the game.
She said: "I say coaching is the next best thing to playing
and I know Sonia says the same thing about refereeing - but you
shouldn't listen to her! The truth is that people should find
out what they're good at and if that's refereeing or
coaching - it doesn't really matter. Our main message is about
encouraging more women into the game and then supporting them once
Powell, who became England's national coach in 1998 after gaining 66 caps as a player, explained that over the years she has become increasingly proactive about recruiting female coaches.
"Fifteen years ago, I would have said it doesn't matter if a women's team is coached by a male or a female," she said. "I would have said it's all about who is best for the job. Today, I still say you've got to have the right person with the necessary skills, but now I strongly endorse females being appointed. That's because they provide good role models and can inspire young girls to become coaches themselves."
Powell sees hope for the hosts
The roadshow included two-workshop sessions in each city, one aimed at experienced coaches and referees and the other targeted towards beginners. Denoncourt, who kept people entertained with her charisma and animated storytelling, said the feedback from these seminars was fantastic.
"At each venue we could have gone on for ten hours because there were so many questions," said the Canadian. "There were at least 50 people at each of the sessions so we were happy with the turnout, but it would have been good to see even more women referees and coaches."
The Canadian has refereed at three World Cups and two Olympic Games and was the first woman to take charge of a men's professional top flight game, in El Salvador in 1996. She said it can be difficult recruiting female referees but hopes that by travelling the world and sharing her stories she will inspire more to take the plunge.
"I became a top referee and I'm from Canada, which is
not a huge footballing nation," she said. "So if I can do
it, anyone can. And I wouldn't change anything about my life
because my career has given me incredible opportunities."
During her visit, Denoncourt also inspected the venues for the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup and was impressed by the progress that has been made in preparing for the tournament. Powell, meanwhile, spoke of eagerly looking forward to the competition, but was nevertheless reluctant to predict a likely winner.
"The U-17 teams have limited exposure to international
football so it is hard to say who will do well," she said.
"Plus, the gap between all of the federations is closing, so I
really couldn't pick a winner."
Powell did, however, have a chance to see first hand the New Zealand hopefuls, the Young Football Ferns, and believes that the hosts have genuine potential. She said: "It will be a tough tournament but the New Zealand girls have plenty of time to work on different elements of their game so they can be competitive against the world's best. I hope they can put on a good show - so long as they are not playing England!"