Tahiti have the chance to do something great
Stephanie Spielmann took part in the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme
As Tahiti coach she has put her mentor’s most important advice into practice
"We are still at the beginning"
When you hear the word ‘Tahiti’, you probably picture an idyllic island paradise – remote, tropical, lush and green. Yet these isles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are much more than just a fantastic holiday destination.
Stephanie Spielmann arrived in Tahiti in 2014 with the aim of driving women’s football forward as national team coach. One essential tool that has helped her to put these plans into action was her participation in the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme.
"It was so amazing. I was with the perfect mentor, and he [editor’s note: Belgium coach Ives Serneels] taught me so many things," Spielmann said in an interview with FIFA.com before highlighting one piece of advice in particular. "He told me, ‘Stephanie, you can’t do everything by yourself. You really have to have more people around you to help you. You have to just be the coach and not the doctor, bus driver etc. as well. It will help you tremendously because you can stay focused on the game.’ His advice was to build my own team with people I trust."
The Frenchwoman has put this advice into practice. Before the programme began, only two people were responsible for the Tahiti women’s national team – two years later that figure has grown to ten. For example, the assistant coach of the U-17 and U-19 teams has become their head coach.
"Now I am only head coach of the senior national team, and it works perfectly," Spielmann explained. "It was too much work for me to oversee three squads. We now have this new structure and we all work together. Sometimes I am on the pitch with the U-17s too. I can have a look and give the coach some advice, and we’re all happy with that. It’s also clear for the girls.
"When I want a U-19 player to train with the senior team, she knows what I want. We are all working with the same ideas, and we all have the same rules. We have two physiotherapists and they know all the girls. That’s new for us too. Two years ago there was no physio and every time a girl got injured, we had to wait because no-one was here."
Remarkably, the U-17 team was only set up three years ago, while the U-19 side has existed for just a year. These new additions mark the first milestone in Tahiti’s women’s football strategy.
"In 2018 Tahiti were playing at the OFC Women's Nations Cup, said Spielmann of the continental tournament which doubled as FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ qualifiers. "Here in Oceania there is only one team that can go to the World Cup. I knew in advance that it would be New Zealand because they are so much better than the other teams here in Oceania.
"So we thought: ‘We can’t go to the World Cup, that much is clear – but what can we do at this Nations Cup?’ We decided to bring all the best young players to give them some experience. We did the same thing a year later for the Pacific Games. Some of the U-19 players already have international experience. We won the bronze medal at this competition and, in my opinion, it was because of those decisions," she concluded.
"We had to start over to build women’s football here in Tahiti," Spielmann continued. "We really wanted to work with the young girls as we have talented players – and we have time. It’s really too soon to think about the World Cup. We will take our time. We have also decided that every time we have a really good girl coming through, we will send her to France to play in the league there. We started doing that in 2017 and now we have eight girls playing in France. I’m really proud of that. It means that we have done good work in Tahiti."
Yet this is only the beginning. As a second step, Tahiti plan to set up additional junior teams, as a good foundation of youth football is vital for a strong national team. This will be no easy undertaking when you consider that this South Pacific paradise consists of 118 different islands across French Polynesia.
"It was difficult to go to all the islands and explain how to build a championship and a team," the former FC Vendenheim player recalled. "With the new FIFA funding I now have the possibility to go to all of the different islands this season.
"I gave a presentation explaining what the FIFA Ranking is and why it is so important for us to play internationally," Spielmann continued. "When you look at the last ten years, we have only played two international friendlies with the senior team – and they were both here in Tahiti against the Cook Islands. I explained how important it is for our evolution to play internationally.
"If we want to have a second World Cup place for the OFC one day, we need to raise the level of every team here in Oceania. If we are not playing internationally, nothing will change. Australia and New Zealand are hosting the next World Cup. What does that mean for the other teams in Oceania? Everything is moving really fast in women’s football and if we don’t keep up, we might miss out on something. We have the chance to do something great. We’re doing really good work here, but we have to seize the opportunity."
It appears that Spielmann got her message across. If everything goes to plan, Tahiti will play international friendlies in February 2021, and the likeable national team coach is already working on a unique idea for these games – an international tournament in Auckland, including a workshop.
"I always have a lot of ideas," she explained with a laugh. With this kind of determination, it will be exciting to see where Tahiti’s journey takes them next.