On October 11 many Canadians will be marking International Day of the Girl. It was created by Canadians and endorsed at United Nations to recognize and support the rights of girls globally.
Among the planet’s biggest economies, studies show Canada is the best country in which to be a woman. It is a leader in another global category. It boasts one of the strongest female squads in the world’s game, and if the head coach of Canada’s women’s national soccer team John Herdman has his way, it will only grow stronger.
Herdman coached Canada to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games after serving notice by taking gold at the 2011 Pan American Games. The London performance struck a chord with Canadians, strengthening national resolve with claims of foul play in the semifinal loss to powerful nemesis, the United States.
Herdman believes the way to lift Canadian women’s football to a loftier plain is by building infrastructure and a strong network. He understands this aim must be coupled with immediate results.
When he inherited a talented yet underperforming side in 2011, “the first goal was to establish consistent women’s national team performance,” Herdman told Olympic.ca on the phone whilst being taken to a mining community in tiny Sparwood, British Columbia. There, along with national team member Karina LeBlanc, Herdman ran a weekend soccer clinic that provided 65 local youth and coaches with world-class expertise at the Teck Coaching Series.
“Regular appearance (at the World Cup and Olympics) will ensure a volume of children coming into the talent pool,” Herdman said. Canada will host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and set its sights back on the Olympics for Rio 2016.
Continued success for Herdman’s squad could kick soccer to new heights, especially among young girls.
Canada’s top women’s footballer, Christine Sinclair, set herself apart at the 2012 Games by scoring a heroic hat-trick against the U.S., leading the tournament in goals and earning the right to be the country’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies.
To find another Sinclair, Herdman stresses the country needs a strong pipeline.
“Players like Sinclair come through chance and not by design,” Herdman lamented.
While there is only one Sinclair, to increase the possibility of netting future stars, the coach insists Canada needs a “podium pathway underpinned by clear standards, philosophy and system.” The Englishman envisions “a child at the age of four should have a clear pathway to the women’s program.”
There are 850,000 soccer participants in Canada, 40% of them are female, and 44% of children under 12 play the beautiful game. There’s a large pool. The country now needs to strengthen the system that elevates young players from one level to next.
A big job, indeed, but even bigger if this past summer Canada would have lost Herdman to his native England when that country posted a vacancy at the helm of its women’s team. While Herdman, his wife and children were “getting on with life in Canada,” relatives were already booking his family’s future home in England, making conclusions about decisions that hadn’t been made.
Soon Herdman assured Canadians that he was to stay for the long term and received a rarity for coaches in international football: longevity and clarity from his bosses. His contract with the Canadian Soccer Association runs through 2020 and he will be able to watch the infrastructure grow.
There was another important factor that made Herdman’s decision to remain easier, which is seeing Canada’s support for girls in sport. “There’s such an unique group of people here,” he remarked while recalling that Canada often makes international headlines for large crowds in women’s football envied by many nations.
Looking back at the Olympic Games, Herdman feels the women’s squad has “brought an honesty and Canadian-ness to the public, giving people hope. What they’ve brought to Canada is an altruism of what sport is.”
“You can go anywhere and talk to people about our story and our journey.”
Should Herdman see through his vision of a clear path for girls in soccer, the Canadian journey could include regular podium finishes for women with a strong pipeline always ready to replicate that success.