“Donde nace la pasión” (Where passion is born). There could barely be a better slogan for the women’s amateur youth football league that has recently got underway in Mexico, because it is in childhood where the strongest attachment to the sport is fostered and when the benefits of encouraging involvement can prove limitless – on and off the pitch.
Since October this competition has been running for girls’ teams at U-13 and U-16 levels - something which women’s football pioneers in the country had been trying to realise for decades. One of those pioneers is Andrea Rodebaugh, who is delighted at this major stepping stone for the women’s game in Mexico. For her, the road to footballing success was tortuous but, despite all the obstacles, she was able to pull off the kind of achievements that every young player aspires to.
A midfielder during her playing days, Rodebaugh turned out for clubs in the USA, France and Japan, as well as captaining the Mexican senior national team and taking part with El Tri at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ USA 1999. Now her impressive work ethic is focused on ensuring others can follow in her footsteps, on finally putting an end to an improvised and short-term women’s football infrastructure in favour of a solid and long-lasting project.
“Women’s football has existed here since the 60s, but it’s unofficial and its most common form is fútbol rápido [Editor’s note: a footballing variant similar to futsal]. Given the lack of structure, it’s tough for girls to find a high-performance pathway,” she explained to FIFA.com.
Given that lack of structure, it is impossible to understate the importance of the recently established league in paving the way for women in the sport, and that of numerous Live Your Goals Festivals (five held in 2015 and four more scheduled for 2016), at which girls often take their first steps on the footballing ladder and enable their families to see the sport as a realistic choice.
At the end of her player career, Rodebaugh took her coaching qualifications and, after taking charge of Mexico’s U-20 squad, guided them to a place at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Chile 2008. Currently head coach of Xolas de Tijuana, since 2008 she has also held the role of FIFA Instructor, working diligently year in year out on projects across the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL regions.
The importance of setting an example
Now at 49, she has achieved something that, when her own ‘passion was born’ as a teenager, seemed impossible: earning a living in the women’s game. “My generation had to fight for the right to play, and that’s been achieved,” she said. “Now the challenge is to see [women’s football] as a realistic life choice. In Mexico there are 35 women with the head coach’s license and we don’t know where most of them are, because they aren’t many options [for them to work].”
Her option was with Xolas de Tijuana, who compete in the US’s Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL). Though obliged to hold training sessions at 5am, in order to fit in with her players’ studies and jobs, while even home matches involve a trip across the border to San Diego, Rodebaugh and her charges tackle these challenges with gusto – in their bid to keep opening doors for women’s football and “give girls role models that they can use for inspiration”.
Her experiences also serve her well when on FIFA Instructor duty, Rodebaugh recently putting her skills to good use at the FIFA Course for Coaches in Women’s Football held at the Mexican Football Association. “We focused on how to work with the girls in that league,” she revealed. “We went over the girls’ various developmental phases. We have to be aware of the characteristics of our teams and be able to adapt training sessions depending on the girls at our disposal. We must respect the girls’ stages of development. We also worked on tactical issues and injury prevention.”
And though Rodebaugh has tasted first-hand the problems girls face in their quest for a playing career, now she is having to tackle the stumbling blocks for women in the field of coaching and football administration. “We need to keep opening doors, creating spaces. The challenge is to integrate former players into a structure that is only now just starting to be created. Girls have to see women in those positions – as coaches, as referees, as administrators – to gain inspiration and realise that they can get there too.
“When I was a player I never thought of becoming a coach because I never had a woman coach. Nobody even suggested it to me, it wasn’t a realistic option. But suddenly I said to myself, ‘if this is what I’m passionate about, I’m going to dedicate myself to it’. You have to give visibility to these role models, to make it ‘normal’,” added Rodebaugh, a fine inspirational model in her own right. “I know that I’m very privileged, because I managed to live my dream.”
A privilege perhaps, but one brought about by hard work, effort and sacrifice from someone who continues to break down stereotypes, open doors and win battles for the good of women’s football. There is one contest though, in which victory still eludes her. Her children, 13-year-old Diego and 11-year-old Anai, currently both favour tennis over the beautiful game.