The ‘Cupfinalseminaret’ in Norway provided PDP Editor, Dave Wright with an opportunity to gather the opinions of some leading Scandinavian figures. In this fascinating round table discussion on the women’s game, we talk leadership, psychology and coach/player development with Even Pellerud, Katrine Pedersen and Solveig Gulbrandsen.
In November Player Development Project was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Norwegian Cup Final Seminar in Oslo. It was a destination for coaches from all around Scandinavia to listen to some of the best in the business. The event featured the likes of Harry Redknapp, alongside academy directors, leaders in coach education and player development and was a fantastic networking opportunity.
As we all know, the women’s game has always been strong in the Scandinavia region for a long time, but why? In order to find out, we sat down to discuss all things football and player development with three world-class veterans, getting insight into why this region is a world leader in the women’s game.
Even Pellerud is a World Cup-winning coach who led Norway to victory in the 1995 tournament. His teams also came second in the 1991 World Cup and took home a bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics. Even went on to coach the Canadian Women’s team and is a former professional player himself.
Katrine Pedersen is a legend of women’s football who only recently retired. She captained the Danish team and led them in the 2007 World Cup, finishing her career with 210 caps for her country. Katrine won the domestic treble with Fulham FC Ladies, featured in multiple Champions League games, has played at Stabæk and even made it down to Australia for a stint with Adelaide United.
Solveig Gulbrandsen is a Norwegian international player with 184 caps for her country. Solveig has played in World Cups, European Championships and played in Europe and America. Whilst still an active player for Stabæk, having come out of retirement briefly, she is also heavily involved in coaching.
Sitting around a table in the Ullevaal Stadion (National Stadium) in Oslo, we begin our discussion by talking about motivational climate in the women’s game. Katrine begins by elaborating on her love of the game and, as PDP expert, Lara Mossman has touched on in previous editions of PDP magazine, the intrinsic rewards are crucial to professional women’s footballers. “The women’s game often features players who come into the game very young and start their international careers whilst they’re still teenagers so they get a lot quite quickly and it’s easy to be complacent about that – it’s not really until you’re approaching 30 that you appreciate it even more. I always loved playing and probably returned a bit quickly after having my child, but I just love to play!”
So what is the secret to Katrine’s phenomenal longevity in football? She explains, “The secret really comes down to my inner motivation and just being happy in the football life. When I first made the national team and top leagues in Denmark, I was very eager to learn and wanted to be the best. After a few years where I’d experienced the World Cup and the European Championship things became a bit routine, because it was my life. Later in my career I really started appreciating the football life, being away with Denmark, enjoying practice and doing what I love. If any of the players would ever moan, I would always demand they wake up and appreciate it.”
We ask whether the disparity between income in men’s and women’s football was a factor of her motivation. It seems that it is passion for the sport which drives Katrine most, saying “You don’t play until you’re 35 unless you really love the game, and yes it’s about winning and results at the top level, but I just enjoy the game, whether it’s putting together a passing sequence or good movement, if you don’t have that burning inside you, you will get tired. I didn’t have my daughter until I was 37 so I sacrificed a lot for football just because I loved the game.”
Katrine is clearly passionate about football, but in her childhood and teenage years she played handball and believes that playing a range of other sports aids development. “Timing, the view or feel of other games are important,” she says. “Other ball sports have to be good for development.”
At the PDP we believe that ‘who we are is how we play’ – that the social environment we grow up in affects our style of play. It is an idea Even agrees with? “It’s reflected in all parts of life,” he explains. “People will reflect where they come from. For example, in the Nordic regions where it’s made up of fiords and villages, the nature of people around this region can be a bit shy, traditionally people might be suspicious of each other from another village. This can be reflected in how we play, it’s a product of who we are, who our siblings are, what our family is like.”
This is met with nodding heads, with Katrine adding, “I agree that our style is a byproduct of where we come from; how we express ourselves has a lot to do with how we are brought up.”
We move the discussion towards coaching styles. At a gathering like this one, coaching philosophies are being discussed and ideas are exchanged. Katrine is keen to share her thoughts on what coaching attributes are needed to get the best from players: “He or she must have good football knowledge, be clear on the style of play and they must be very good at communicating this and convincing the players to believe in their style or methods,” she says.
“Our style is a byproduct of where we come from; how we express ourselves has a lot to do with how we are brought up.”
“You need to know the game in order to convince others and you have to have passion,” adds Even. “You need the extra drive to get results and get the players to buy in to what you’re doing.”
We get on to one of our favourite topics: creativity in football. What is it and can it be coached?
The group seem to take a moment to collect their thoughts, and it is Katrine who speaks first, saying: “I think in order to be creative you need a certain structure in order to enable it. If you have no structure and 11 players all trying to be creative it could be quite chaotic, you won’t get rhythm or have timing with your players. Some parts of play should be predictable with the players you are with, and unpredictable for your opponents. A structure lays the foundation for creativity to flourish.”
Even continues, “You have to implement some patterns and rules to then allow individuals to do what they can do. If you lay this foundation you will create a structure to allow your creativity to come out. Not everyone can be creative, so sometimes you need to limit players who have an unrealistic view on their own ability to be creative to allow others to go and do what they do well.”
Katrine continues, “I wasn’t the most creative player, but I was good at playing passes to those who were better than me and they could go and do special things.”
“Who becomes creative is a harder question in my opinion,” explains Even. “This can come back to your family too. I was one of seven children and the only footballer. I had to run, take the bus or ride a bike to football, and finding my way to training or games helped me find a way on the pitch. Your background and genetics will play a huge part in your development.”
Solveig believes creativity can be coached in young players. Currently working with her nine-year-old son’s team, she believes tricks and skills can be encouraged. “I can encourage those players to do a step-over, to do something clever and take risks,” she says. “If I only coach him to carry out what I believe are the right solutions, I am making him someone he’s not. You have to have the basics but, more importantly, you have to feel safe within the team to be creative, to have some structure where you know you can take risks and play.”
Even has coached around the world throughout his career and has seen many cultural differences along the way. For example, when he coached in Trinidad & Tobago for four years he found that the players “did not want to be coached”. He elaborates on this phenomenon: “The players were very sensitive and would say to me, ‘don’t mess with my play, I can’t take that’. They also didn’t like to hear anything that resembled criticism or reminded them of areas of weakness. They were sensitive to change.” I ask him about his experiences in Canada, and he explains that he found it “halfway between Scandinavian and Canadian culture. Scandinavian culture is direct, you can tell people things honestly, but less so in Canada. When I arrived in Canada there was very little structure but we built it up over time, it’s a big country and we had to start with districts. In Trinidad there was a lot of raw talent and no infrastructure.”
“You have to have the basics but, more importantly, you have to feel safe within the team to be creative, to have some structure where you know you can take risks and play.” – Solveig Gulbrandsen
Katrine and Solveig elaborate on the idea of cultural difference from a playing perspective, Katrine saying, “When I played in the Australian league, I’d heard the level wasn’t that good but I experienced a very good offensive league, almost a southern European attacking style, but defensively there was no structure close to the Scandinavian style I was used to. There was a very individual style there.”
Solveig explains that she believes there is no difference between male or female teams in a cultural sense. “If you look at the Danish men’s or women’s team, you have the same attributes and same issues with both men’s and women’s football due to the nature of the culture.”
The Scandinavian countries have always been a powerhouse in women’s football, and Even has some thoughts as to why this is the case. “Firstly,” he begins, “it’s the fact women were emancipated very early here. Women in sport and politics were promoted in the 1970s and 1980s, and the female influence in society was strong then. In Norway we had an FA president who promoted women’s football. If he wasn’t there we would have been a long way behind. The game had support from the association in the 1980s, and women’s rights and equal rights happened here perhaps well before other countries – this was a huge part in women playing sport and, obviously, football.”
Solveig elaborates, “In Sweden, women had their voice earlier than other European countries. The fact women had a voice meant that equality in Scandinavian countries was a factor.”
Katrine adding, “The structure of clubs and leagues here also certainly helped, it’s always been very well organised.”
So is this infrastructure and resource the main reason for Scandinavian strength? Even believes all of these factors and the schooling system (where girls and boys did gym class together) also helped. It seems that both the women’s and men’s game worked together to a similar philosophy “Whether it was men’s or women’s football, we all evolved as a coaching group together, had open discussions and had the same philosophy.”
Katrine believes this was different in Denmark, and puts this down to the fact that Norwegian culture traditionally looked at the English game whereas the Danish game looked more at the European game as a model, and this has resulted in slightly different styles.
“Whether it was men’s or women’s football, we all evolved as a coaching group together, had open discussions and had the same philosophy.” – Even Pellerud
With such expertise in the room, we were keen to know what advice the panel would pass on to coaches about creating the best possible learning environment. Even was the first to answer, saying: “It’s easy to just focus on ‘coaching’. We must remember leadership and how important that is. Game understanding and style is important but developing your leadership skills is something to be taken seriously. As a young coach I just thought ‘as long as I know the game, that’s enough’ but it’s not. With the modern player, their knowledge, social media, the financial elements in the game, you must be a good leader.”
Solveig explains that she believes the mental part of the game is most important. “You have to appreciate psychology in coaching,” she says. “Your players need to be self-confident enough to take charge of their own learning and not let one bad pass ruin their game. I believe the psychological side is between 70% – 90% of the game. If you can work hard mentally you will succeed as a player, and a coach should help facilitate that.”
Katrine believes the coach needs to lead well enough to convince players to play a certain way through trust. “If a coach can be an effective leader, then each and every player should believe and feel that their coach has their interests at heart.
Solveig agrees, saying “You must believe in what your coach is promoting. You need to sell your ideas to your team! You can sell anything to your players if you are an effective coach.”
“I believe the psychological side is between 70% – 90% of the game. If you can work hard mentally you will succeed as a player, and a coach should help facilitate that.” – Solveig Gulbrandsen
The final topic of our discussion is playing and coaching style. How does Katrine define her playing style?
“In every team I play in it, I want to play offensive football, I will always be thinking about what we can do better with the ball,” she answers. “I like playing in a style that creates chances through being in possession.”
It’s a question that Even finds harder to answer because “it has evolved so much.” He explains that as a young coach he did everything himself and didn’t trust anyone else, but has evolved in style to become more of a leader and manager. “I know where I want to go but will be open enough to be influenced by other coaches and veteran players. I try to be on both sides of that,” he adds.
Solveig is honest when she says she is “still developing her coaching style as she hasn’t been coaching long enough to have her style” but explains she feels it depends on what kinds of players you have. She continues, “As a player in the USA, you know players can keep the ball, deal with it, but in Norway 50% of the game tends to be throw-ins so there are a lot of duels! However, more recently we tried to play possession and keep the ball and it wasn’t so effective. Really, I like to be direct in attack, counter attack and have a defensive structure in place.”
With decades of experience of both playing and coaching between them there were some really effective take away points from our discussion. As coaches we cannot neglect the need to lead, inspire and facilitate the right environments. More so, it’s crucial we reflect on whether we’re catering to the individual and collective psychological needs of our players, creating an environment where they are safe to fail and free to play.