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NorCal Women’s Coaching Education Trip Visits the Netherlands

From hosting various educational and networking events since its inception over the past year, the NorCal Premier Soccer’s Women’s Committee has been on the cutting edge of development in the women’s game.

And now the committee has added an even more impressive feather to its cap by organizing the first-ever NorCal Women’s coaching education course abroad — a 9 day trip to the Netherlands this summer in collaboration with Holland Football University (HFU) during the Women’s European Championship.

The course was led by Mary Kok-Willemsen, the former first team manager of FC Twente’s women’s team and her husband Jurgen Kok, Technical Manager of HFU. Both hold a UEFA A License and among various other football ventures, run the Football Equals Academy, a worldwide organization that is the first professional academy concept where boys and girls are mixed based on talent instead of gender.

The five NorCal coaches who traveled abroad were Erin Sharpe, San Juan Soccer Club; Rozie DeWeese, Union FC; MaryClaire Robinson, Sacramento Soccer Alliance; Kim Gonzalez, Blues FC; and Laura Diaz, Pajaro Valley Youth Soccer Club.

The course served a truly unique purpose in giving each participant assignments and lessons custom tailored to both the stage of their own respective careers and the matches they watched at the Euros.

“I would say the experience was invaluable,” said Women’s Committee member and San Juan ECNL Director Erin Sharpe. “Being able to couple it with the international tournament was pretty special. The growth of the game and the level of European soccer– club and beyond– has really elevated, so it’s great to see how much stronger these national teams are than they were even a decade ago.”

According to Sharpe, that unique perspective — along with viewing as many matches as possible — allowed the group to garner a diverse array of thoughts on what other countries in the world are doing, especially as the women’s game continues to grow outside of our own borders.

“We saw Norway not even advance out of the group stage,” she added. “Norway used to be, in the 90s, one of our biggest, if not our biggest competitor. Seeing first-hand what all of these other countries have done and how far they’ve come was fun to be a part of. I’ve seen a lot of this progression on TV, but to be there in person was very cool.”

“We also had the opportunity to shadow the Women’s Professional Club team at FC Twente,” Sharpe said. “There’s a lot to be learned from getting outside of our local communities to see first-hand how clubs are developing their players throughout the world. This, and having international instructors for our tailor-made course gave us unique perspectives that offered a tremendous amount to our growth as coaches and educators.”

Under Kok-Willemsen’s guidance, FC Twente won a KNVB cup and a Dutch league title in her nine years as a manager and first team coach. She now serves as a television commentator for match analysis in Holland, and was covering much of the European Championship games while the NorCal group was there.

Kok-Willemsen has also coached several of the players on the Dutch national women’s football team and was able to give the group unique insight on that particular squad as a result.

For the group that attended, the Netherland’s eventual victory came as something of a surprise.

“We actually saw Holland play Denmark in the group stages and it was a really good game, but we all thought that England was going to take the whole thing, without question, they were just fantastic,” Sharpe said. “Even some of the other teams we saw play, including France and Germany, we really thought that Holland and Denmark wouldn’t have an answer for them. The fact that Holland and Denmark upset some of these giants to get to the final not only shows you how deep the talent pool is getting across Europe, but also proves the beauty of the game and why we play it.”

Overall, the experience was one that the Women’s Committee plans to help replicate on a larger scale in the future.

“The camaraderie we built amongst our NorCal group as well as the networking with other coaches and educators overseas, provided a tremendous amount of value. We grew as coaches through our collaboration and idea sharing, but also made lifelong friendships and memories,” Sharpe said. “It was a jam-packed itinerary that allowed us to visit 3 countries and experience culture beyond the pitch as well. It is now the goal of the Women’s Committee to assist the NorCal Coaching Education Department with organizing an annual women’s international coaching education trip for our NorCal members and we very much look forward to growing this event year after year.”

Attendee, Women’s Committee Member and Union FC U14-U19 Girls’ Director Rozie DeWeese added, “This was the most impactful coaching education experience I’ve ever been a part of.  With the bond that our group forged, the cultural experiences, discussions, analysis and new methodologies shared, I have come back feeling very energized! I think the experience has us all feeling extra motivated and passionate in starting our new seasons, and in sharing this excitement with our players and coaches throughout NorCal.”