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Longo expanding her horizons

New Zealand's Annalie Longo is looking to take her knowledge as a player into coaching. Image: www.photosport.nz

Football Ferns midfielder Annalie Longo is already one of the most accomplished female players ever produced by New Zealand but is now looking to expand her horizons outside of her own career, a quest that continued with her participation in the inaugural female-only NZF Senior Level 2 Coaching Award this month in Wellington.

At just 25, Longo is still very much in the full swing of her time as an international footballer and is likely to add many more caps for New Zealand to her current tally of nearly 100. But she acquired a new string to her bow in becoming Women’s Development Officer for the Mainland Football Federation last June and the opportunity to extend her education at the NZF Senior Level 2 Coaching Award was too good to pass up.

Aiming to break down some of the barriers that have traditionally hindered women from taking part in coaching, New Zealand Football took the unprecedented step of offering a female-only environment and also provided full funding – including taking care of equipment, travel and accommodation costs – to allow all participants to take part free of charge.

Longo was joined among the 32 candidates by fellow Women’s Development Officer Aleesha Heywood – who performs the role for Central Football – and many other notable names from the female game, such as Football Ferns legend Wendy Sharpe and several National Women’s League players.

In another first, the team of coach developers delivering the course content was nearly exclusively female with NZF Coach Development Manager Steven Dillon the only male in a five-strong group that also included NZF Women’s Development Manager Holly Nixon and a trio of federation-based development officers in Hayley Stirling (Northern Football), Gemma Lewis (Auckland Football) and Emma Evans (Capital Football).

“We used this as an opportunity to upskill our female coach developer network and I largely led a group of four female staff, who helped to lead the course content,” Dillon said.

“The content is delivered as a mix of practical and theory in an experiential learning environment and the coach developers were instrumental in mentoring and expertly guiding all the coaches throughout the week.”

A highlight of the ground-breaking course was the appearance of a number of high-profile guest speakers, including Football Ferns legend and current Upper Hutt City coach Wendi Henderson, former U-17 women’s national team coach Paul Temple, Sport Wellington Community Coach Advisor Kelly Curr and recently-retired Fern Sarah Gregorius, who all gave an inspirational insight into their roles in women’s sport over the years and helped make the gathering such a success.

“We want to create diversity in our national coaching community, irrespective of gender, but this week highlighted the desire of many women from around the country who are ambitious to take their coaching to the next level. Hopefully, we will see a number of the coaches from this week progress on to the OFC/NZF B-Licence with us next year or at some point in the future,” Dillon said.

Longo has a wealth of memorable moments already tucked away in her footballing background – the playmaker has appeared at two FIFA Women’s World Cups and two Olympic Games – but says her week in Wellington will rank alongside them.

“It was an amazing experience – it’s a pretty unique and special thing we had with over 30 girls together in one room and all aspiring towards the same thing,” she said.

“It was great to be a part of and hopefully we can create and grow our coaching base around New Zealand. The goal is to inspire more women to get involved and look at coaching.”

As part of her role at Mainland, Longo works to grow girls and women’s football on a daily basis and coaches a 15th grade Federation Talent Centre (FTC) group. She has found the transition from playing to coaching a tricky proposition but one she is relishing.

“I’m trying to bring my knowledge as a player into coaching and it’s quite different switching your brain off from being a player. It’s a challenge but it’s exciting and makes you look at the game in a different way,” she said.

Opportunities such as those provided on the NZF Senior Level 2 Coaching Award are proving invaluable in that process.

“Because I’ve always been a player, it’s nice to see the other side and the strategy around how New Zealand Football feels we should be trying to grow our players. It’s great to have something we can use as a guide to help us create better players,” she said.

“I found that really interesting and being able to do so as females in a comfortable environment allowed everyone to contribute and really get involved.”

With women now breaking into coaching roles at many levels of the game around the world, Longo is excited at the direction female coaching is heading in New Zealand.

“New Zealand Football have done a really good job in terms of showing the pathways and there are some amazing opportunities with coaching. You see females now coaching at World Cups and getting involved with our National Women’s League teams,” she said.

“There’s definitely a clear pathway now and being together in this group has really highlighted that. We’re now able to work together and almost mentor each other – hopefully that’s what happens after the course. We need to try to help each other and really grow the women’s game.”

Story courtesy of New Zealand Football

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