Beverly Priestman was just 14 when she was first coached by John Herdman in the north-east of England. The future Canada coach made quite an impression – “it was his passion and enthusiasm that struck me”, she recalls - and he has been a mentor ever since.
Yet the inspirational impact Herdman had on this aspiring young player was not what you might expect. Rather than spur Priestman to follow her dreams of glory on the field, they caused her to step back, reflect and make an astonishingly mature and self-aware decision.
Realising that, while talented, she lacked key attributes needed to become an England international, Priestman gave up on playing and began to pursue excellence in a different role.
“As a kid, I was the only girl I knew who played football,” she told FIFA.com. “But I always wanted to be a teacher too and I was lucky to come across great teachers and coaches – John being one - who motivated me.
“Having that passion for teaching, and coming to the realisation that I would never be good enough to play for England, I thought ‘Well, then one day I want to be an international coach’. So I was single-minded, took a football degree and have been trying ever since to be the best I can be.”
The result of that single-mindedness is that her old mentor is now a colleague, with Herdman – savvy enough to see Priestman’s potential – having appointed her to key positions in his staff with both New Zealand and Canada. Yet even before these foreign adventures, this youthful coach - who has just turned 30 - had forged a reputation with Everton and England.
People talk about the 10,000-hour rule of practice for players. I feel you can’t underestimate the importance of putting in the long hours in coaching too.
Now, as she approaches her second FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in the role of Canada’s coach, Priestman can reflect on the wisdom of that teenage decision – and the value of her hard work since.
She said: “People talk about the 10,000-hour rule of practice for players. I feel you can’t underestimate the importance of putting in the long hours in coaching too. For coaches who start out like me, not having been top-level players, I think there’s often that hunger there – it's like an obsession.
“You see that obsessiveness in the likes of [Jose] Mourinho, and maybe that’s more powerful because of not having been successful players. I know I have a real curiosity about the game. John ignited that in me as a youngster, and now it’s my job to ignite it in the players I work with.”
That challenge was made easier, as Priestman acknowledges, by the inspirational experience of last year’s hugely successful FIFA Women’s World Cup™ on Canadian soil. “In the group I’m taking to Jordan, they got to see a number of games live, so they got a real taste for it,” she said. “These girls want so desperately to make that senior team and we want to give them every opportunity to get there.”
Developing talent for Herdman’s team will, Priestman insists, always take precedence over results for her young side. Nonetheless, she is confident of Canada making an impact at Jordan 2016 and was pleased with a draw that pitted them against Germany, Venezuela and Cameroon.
“It’s given the girls three very different styles of opponent and, for young players we hope to move up to the senior team, that experience will definitely add to their armoury. From a personal perspective, I’m also looking forward to going up against Germany and Venezuela again, having faced them in Costa Rica (at the last U-17 World Cup in 2014).
“We drew 2-2 with Germany, but the Venezuela one will have a special edge because they ended our campaign by beating us 3-2 in the quarter-finals. That was a tough pill to swallow because it had been end-to-end - a really exciting, energetic game. I think we all learned a lot from losing that one.”
With such lessons to draw from and a born teacher imparting them, Canada’s U-17 hopefuls will be nothing if not well prepared for their Jordanian adventure.