The last decade has certainly been interesting in the life of Hesterine de Reus, the former Dutch national-team defender managing to accrue coaching experience across four age levels and three continents – in addition to stints giving expert insight as part of UEFA’s Technical Study Group.

Capped over 40 times by the Netherlands, since hanging up her boots De Reus has worked with the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), including taking charge of her country’s U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams; Jordan – who she led to victory in the inaugural Arabia Women’s Cup in 2010; PSV Eindhoven and most recently Australia.

Her 15-month spell with the Matildas having come to an end back in April 2014, UEFA Pro License holder De Reus is currently preparing to put her extensive qualifications and experience to good use in women’s football development, as part of a joint program between the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and UEFA. On all this and more, including how women’s football has evolved and the benefits of playing the beautiful game, she spoke to Women’s Soccer United.

Women’s Soccer United: You’ve worked as a coach in three different continents since 2010. How difficult is it to adapt to such different countries and footballing cultures? What positives can you take from these experiences?

Hesterine de Reus: Adapting to cultural differences is a significant issue, with both players and staff, though in my case it was harder to adapt to the cultural background and values of staff members. Men coaches are usually given the option of bringing in their own staff members – sometimes across all areas – when they accept an overseas coaching position. Coaches in women’s football have fewer resources to work with, so women coaches aren’t usually given the option to do this. This makes a difference both to how you adapt and also in terms of making sure everyone’s priorities are right and suited to a high-performance environment.

Football is a journey of learning. I now have a broader perspective on values and team cultures, more knowledge about the state of women’s football in different parts of the world, I’ve created a network of women players and others who share a passion for the game, and I’ve also gained a better understanding of the challenges women have to face to be able to participate in football.

WSU: Given the importance of teamwork and discipline in modern football, how hard is it to convince players to put the team first – especially now that society in general is now more individualistic?

De Reus: Putting the team first is one of the main characteristics of elite football. All high-performance programs are based on the following sequence of priority: 1) The program has to be the first priority and everybody has to be part of the program. Programs outlive individuals and teams and provide the backbone of success over time; 2) Next come the interests of the team; 3) Lastly comes personal interest.

It’s a challenge for the head coach to create the commitment to stick to this sequence of priorities, as players and sometimes staff will try to subvert this sequence. The more professional the individual, the more selfless they will be in their attitude and behaviour. The less professional the individual, the more they will struggle to put the program first and their personal interests last.

WSU: As a former international player, how much does that status help you when coaching national teams now? Does it help earn players’ respect?

De Reus: I have always found it beneficial to be able to build my coaching career on top of an international playing career. I played for the Dutch national team a long time ago, and of course women’s football has come on leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, but some of the challenges involved have not changed much. I’ve been through some of the challenges that elite players still have to face, so the fact that I’ve experienced them myself and know what it takes to overcome them can certainly help when coaching national teams.

I guess when you’re coaching ambitious and talented young players who dream of an international playing career, when you’re a former national-team player it does makes a difference to them. Even so, coaches earn the respect of players through being knowledgeable and by being respectful to the players. What is more, in my experience women coaches have to be even more knowledgeable than their male colleagues to earn that respect. Many players still haven’t had a woman coach before, so they too need to be open-minded about it. The job market is slowly providing more opportunities for women coaches, but there are still many more obstacles to overcome.

WSU: Did you follow the Netherlands’ victory at July’s Women’s U-19 European Championship? Have you worked with any of the players and coaches involved?

De Reus: Being based in Australia, I could only follow the U-19 competition on the UEFA website, but I worked with four of the U-19 players who won in Norway. I worked with Jeslynn Kuijpers and Laura Strik when I was coaching PSV in 2012, while I also worked with Nienke Olthof and Lauren Delleman in a KNVB development squad back in 2010.

Andre Koolhof and Mirelle van Rijbroek, two of the coaches who guided the players to this great victory, were colleagues of mine when I worked for the Dutch FA and team manager Jeoen Roest worked alongside me in every Netherlands U-17 and U-19 squad I coached.

WSU: What have been the main developments in the women’s game since you first started coaching? How do you expect the game to evolve over the next ten years?

De Reus: The level of the game has improved a lot. This development is due to the growth in player numbers, players starting at a younger age, better development pathways and an elite platform for the very best players to perform on, by which I mean elite competitions and the elite training facilities that come with that.

Women’s football is now world-class football. Players have a good knowledge of the tasks and roles required across the different playing areas of the field, while players’ knowledge of how to resolve footballing situations at the highest level has improved enormously during the last two Women’s World Cup [WWC] cycles. What is more, I expect it to improve a lot more over the next ten years due to ever improving domestic competitions. I also expect the level of goalkeeping to hit world-class standards [over the coming years]. During the WWC 2011 this was still a comparative weakness, but I believe that decision-making in match situations will improve significantly.

The WWC 2015 will be expanded to 24 teams, which means that more countries will be exposed to the demands of competing at the highest level. This should encourage those countries to further develop their domestic leagues, preparation programs and talent pathways. Additionally, I think the commercial side of the game will make huge progress, while I hope and expect to see more women in committee rooms around the world. This will make a difference to the amount – and quality – of attention that women’s football gets.

WSU: You will continue to play a hands-on role in this development in the coming months. Can you tell us about the projects you have lined up?

De Reus: The AFC provides support for the development of women’s football through the Women’s Assistance Program [WAP]. WAP is a program introduced to the AFC’s member associations as a development tool, which aims to customise development plans and programs according to the state of women’s football in each association and their requirements.

WAP services are provided under the two main pillars of Development and High Performance. The Development pillar provides technical services and resources regarding women’s and girls’ football, courses, training and special projects. Under High Performance, meanwhile, the services and technical expertise provided place the emphasis on players, coaches and also special projects. To sum up, the purpose of WAP is to raise standards in every member association, based on their current stage of development and their available resources.

UEFA has a memorandum of understanding [MOU] with the AFC [Editor’s note: This is defined as a bilateral agreement which expresses a convergence of will between two parties, indicating an intended common line of action], and I will provide support to the AFC under that MOU. Based on this memorandum I will deliver technical assistance to Asian countries as a part of their WAP programs. First will be an assessment visit to Kuwait and Iran, and that will be followed by a month’s technical support in Kuwait.

WSU: One final question, given the obstacles many girls around the world have to overcome before even starting to play football, what would you say to parents who object to their girls playing the game?

De Reus: Experiences are more powerful than words. I would probably try to find ways to organise football activities for girls within their communities, so that their parents can see the girls’ potential and enthusiasm, as well as the enjoyment they get from it.

Playing football can contribute a lot to the lives of children. By playing football, by being a part of a team, children can learn valuable life skills such as team play, discipline, fair play, respect, confidence, creativity and solidarity. Most parents want their boys to play football for these very reasons, and they can get those exact same benefits for their girls.

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