Inka Grings not only made history as a player
She's the first woman to coach a men’s team in Germany's top four divisions
"It’s crazy that people don’t think outside the box"
There is nothing you can tell Inka Grings about football that she does not already know. The former striker scored 64 goals in 96 caps for Germany and won the UEFA Women’s EURO with her compatriots in 2005 and 2009. As well as helping her national team to lift the trophy, her finishing prowess also ensured that she was top scorer at both tournaments.
Having made history as a player, Grings has already done the same thing as a coach. After spending three years in charge of the women’s team at MSV Duisburg, she moved to Viktoria Koln, where she coached the men’s U-17 side. Since April 2019 the six-time Bundesliga top scorer has been at the helm of SV Straelen, making her the first woman to coach a men’s team in Germany’s top four divisions. Not only that: before the COVID-19 enforced break, her side were 19 points clear at the top of the table. Nevertheless, Grings is not interested in focusing on her gender, or seeing herself as a pioneer.
"When it became clear that I was taking over at what was then a Regionalliga (German fourth-tier) club, I knew how much attention it would attract; I’d already accepted that," she said in an interview with FIFA.com. "However, I come from a background where we had plenty of training, such as in the national team, so it wasn’t as if I went into it completely unprepared," she added.
"Although it doesn’t bother me, I’m not especially proud of it either; I’m just glad that I’ve been given this role. I still find it fundamentally shocking that there are so few women [in these kinds of jobs]. On the other hand, I’ve never actively advocated women in power. It’s just something that has to make sense for both sides."
I still find it fundamentally shocking that there are so few women [in these kinds of jobs].
Grings raises an important point here. Women are still a rare sight on the coaching staff of most men’s teams, with just a few exceptions proving the rule. The current head coach of France’s women’s national team, Corinne Diacre, managed second-tier Clermont Foot between 2014 and 2017, while Chan Yuen Ting was the first woman to lead a men’s side to a professional championship title while in charge of Hong Kong’s Eastern AA.
"It’s crazy that people don’t think outside the box and ask themselves what a woman can bring – regardless of the role," said Grings. "After all, women and men work together harmoniously and extremely effectively in wider society. Everyone thinks and acts differently and that ultimately brings success. Why can’t the same apply to football?" Although her question certainly strikes a chord, the Dusseldorf native also noted that women have to be available to take on these roles.
"Perhaps we don’t have many women who feel called to take this step and can imagine doing it. We shouldn’t forget that there’s basically no ‘type’ of person for this either. I don’t know if there was a female coach before me that explicitly said: ‘I want to coach a men’s team’. I haven’t looked into it. I’ve constantly searched for – and found – my path. It’s where I always wanted to go. I feel that I’m strong enough and ready enough. I’ve experienced everything in football, more than almost anyone else in a top job. You just have to start by demonstrating that and proving yourself."
The fact that women often have to prove themselves twice as much in what is often referred to as a man’s world is nothing new. Although Grings is well aware of this, any bad experiences she may have had or insensitive comments she might have received have passed her by.
"I very rarely notice it myself," she explained, "but if it were to happen to me, I’d forget about it as soon as I noticed it. I’m sure there have been one or two comments, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t react to it, but I think you can put these kinds of things in proportion in our society if you act sensibly and deal with it sensibly," Grings added.
"It’s completely incomprehensible to me that someone can stand up and think that they can judge someone else and think that they’re better than them," Grings said. "Maybe I’m too intelligent for that. But society is becoming more open to change, which I think is great. Having said that, it’s sad that we still have this kind of problem in the 21st century."
It’s crazy that people don’t think outside the box and ask themselves what a woman can bring – regardless of the role. After all, women and men work together harmoniously and extremely effectively in wider society.