Interview with Vera Pauw on her new role in the US Women’s National Soccer league as Houston Dash Head Coach
Vera Pauw is a Dutch born soccer coach who has had an incredible career and continues to make her mark on women’s football around the World. Vera has set a number of unique records in Dutch football as she was the first woman who played abroad, the first woman who earned a professional football coaching diploma and one of the first women to serve on the Technical Committee of FIFA (together with Sylvie Beliveau) and finally, she helped lay the foundations of the Dutch Premier League for women.
After a very successful international career as a coach which has seen Vera travelling the World to Scotland, Russia and South Africa, she now enters a new chapter as a Head Coach in one of the World’s most competitive women’s club leagues – The National Women’s Soccer League in the US.
In the lead up to the Rio Olympic Games when Vera was Head Coach of the South African Women’s Team, we spoke with her just days after a historic win against Equatorial New Guinea which saw her team qualify for the Olympic Games. To read the full interview, please CLICK HERE
On November 28th 2017, it was announced that Vera was to become the third coach in Houston Dash history and the first female coach in the franchise history. Her aim will be to take Houston to it’s first playoff appearance.
Vera is now one of three female coaches currently in the NWSL, joining English born coach Laura Harvey and US born coach Denise Reddy. Laura, who had spent 5 seasons previously with Seattle Reign will be entering her first season with Utah, and Denise, who was the Assistant with Washington Spirit for the last two seasons will be entering her first as Head Coach of Sky Blue FC.
Soon after the official announcement, Vera took part in an official press session and of course our US FCN reporter Erica Ayala was there to listen in on the action and ask Vera a few of her own questions. Below is the transcript of those questions:
From all of us at the FCN, we would like to wish Vera Pauw all the best in her new role. We would also like to say a big thank you to her for her countinued support of the FCN and for being such an inspiring role model to female coaches around the World!
To me this is a fantastic challenge. I have always been a national coach and worked in training camps for several months, but never worked at a club before. To get this opportunity at this stage of my career is amazing becuase Houston Dash is a combined club, with the men and women – together with Houston Dynamo. The facilities are fantastic, the stadium is superb, the training facilities is everything that a coach needs. The players are at the top of their career and we can truly work towards top level performances.
Q: Since your new to the league, what steps are you taking to learn about the NWSL that may be different from other clubs worldwide?
I think the NWSL is the most competitive league in the world, becuase it’s now in the hands of US Soccer which I am a huge fan of. By doing this, you make equal opportunities for every body. The strength of the teams are more or less equal, so everybody can beat everybody, there are no easy games in the league. Every minute it’s competitive. If you compare that with other leagues – for example, you have world class players playing in France for Paris Saint Germain, but the league is not a challenge at all. It’s the same with Barcelona as they win games by 12-0, for me as a coach that would not challenge me.
This is a big advantage of the NWSL and it will ultimately help the national team as well. So for me as a coach, it is very attractive to have come to the US and be part of this fantastic journey.
Q: What are your thoughts on things like the salary caps which leagues around the world don’t have?
I am very much fond of the league already and in favour of the salary caps. Maybe that surprises people, but it is necessary to have that to make the league sustainable. The salary cap does also mean I am not getting the salary I got in other places, but I am not coming to this job for the salary I am coming for the challenge. And that is why so many players want to be part of this challenge also. You can make a lot of money in Barcelona for example, but if you win every game 12-0, it will influence your career and not make you the best you can be. So even though they [Barcelona] could probably win the UEFA Champions League, the domestic league itself could not sustain that. In the US, in order to have a competitive league, you need these salary caps and drafts etc to keep the equality of the teams guaranteed. I am a player developer my nature, so this is always more important to me than anything else.
Q: Had you spoken to any of the players in the NWSL before you decided to take the role?
Before deciding I had only spoken with Carli Lloyd and for me the challenge is the competitiveness of the league. I have been involved with all the FIFA World Cups since 1999 and I haven’t missed one since! I have also been involved with many U20 World Cups, so I know what the process with that is. But to be able to coach at this level with Houston Dash is like a dream come true. On a weekly basis we are challenged, which is something very special in women’s football.
Q: So did Carli encourage you to come on over?
Well it wasn’t about encouraging me, I wanted to talk to her becuase my training methods are different than from other coaches, and I was not sure what they would be used to over here. I want to grow the team further from where they were at. I want to introduce training recovery time, recovery time from the explosive actions of the sport and recovery times so that they can perform at a higher level. This is a different method from what they may be used to than lets say endurance work etc. So I wanted to know if I would get support for my training menthods before signing to be coach because I need the support of the players so that they believe in the way I coach. Although all the results prove themselves through my training (because I have been successful in all the jobs I have taken), I still need to have the trust from the players before we start.
I only have 4 weeks of preparation time with the players before the season starts, so I really wanted to know if I would have the support. I have also spoken with some other players since signing and they are all willing and happy to step into this new process.
Q: Most of your management so far has been with national teams, so how different will this be for you managing a club team now?
On a daily basis it wont be much different from what I did at South Africa for example. In the lead up to the Rio Olympics, we were more or less in camp continuously for 9 months, so The Daily training sessions and the periodisation will not be much different. The difference is coming to training and coming home and what that means within the team. It’s also a professional sport, so it’s a job for the players, which is different to what I have had before. Training and coaching wise it will not be much different.
Q: There will now be 3 female head coaches in the league, how important is that to you to have more profile for female coaches in this league in the women’s game?
It shows that women are developing and that they add value to the teams. In Europe, of all the medals that have been won internationally (European Champs, World Cups etc) 94% have been won by female coaches. So it’s not that women are better coaches than men, the men tend to coach in the men’s leagues because in Europe in the men’s leagues you can get a lot more money coaching the men’s game. The women’s game is often amateur based or a very small salaray unless you coach a national team. So in that sense, in Europe, the women coaches coach at a higher level than the not so good men…becuase the best male coaches stick with the men’s game. In the US is different becuase there is more or less equality in coaching in the men’s or women’s game. So that means that male or female coaches can coach in the men’s or women’s game. I think that is the reason why there has not been many women appointed to the women’s game, becuase there are male coaches with more experience wanting to coach in the women’s game. Now, it’s starting to turn round. With myself, Denise and Laura, we all have experience and bring with us as much as if not more experience than the male coaches who applied. That’s a good sign because it shows there is a future for women in the USA to become coaches as a profession. Jill Ellis is a fantastic example of this and how you can build your career to the national level. To have these role models for the young women to become a coach is very important for the future.
Q: Can you talk about going into the college draft at the top of the year and what your conversations have been with the club about preparing for that.
The conversations to prepare for that is most of all, we are looking for a very experienced assistant coach, based in the US who knows the system, who knows the players and who knows where the players are playing, what their qualities are and knowing all the strengths in the league. Because of course, being away having coached South Africa for the past two and a half years. It means that I do not have a clear picture of that. So, the efirst thing that we are doing now if finding that experienced assistant coach. ANd, we’re on track with that and hopefully we can announce that soon. But you are right, it is crucial for the success of the Houston Dash that I have somebody from the country with me. And that’s why I always go to a country without a Dutch assistant coach because I want somebody from the country itself.
FCN Q: You talked about speaking with Carli Lloyd and other players about your system, particularly as it comes to training and building up a team. But, what is your approach as a coach coming into a team that has already been developed and how can you mold around what the players already bring to the club itself?
As I said, my starting point is where Randy (Waldrum) and Omar (Morales) have left the team. So my starting point is there. And, from there we are going to build further. Let’s say we’re going to build the next level of the building. And, in that for me, the most important thing is … the talent of the players themselves. Not so much what they cannot do, but their talents that they bring [to] the game.That’s what we are identifying now and players are helping themselves to make that clear to me. I’ve got all the links of all the games last season. So, I’m halfway, watching all the games already and I’m analyzing them all from there we go to get balance in the team. We need to see, like every year, you need to see what players you can attract, what kind of qualities we need to get [more] balance and a step further than where Randy has led them.And, from there we go to work to create teamwork on the pitch especially. The players understand each other and that we’re running with our team strategy and system by the time the [season] will start. And … of course the players need to get fit and that last part, I’ve spoken to the players about if they could trust me to do it in [my] way and that’s what they’re going to do and they’ve expressed themselves that they do trust, so we’re going to work from there.
FCN Q: You’ve been an advocate for the women’s side of the game. Can you what some of the advantages of coaching in the NWSL market will allow for the growth of the game, but also … the opportunity to be a mentor not only to the players on the pitch but other people in this American market that might reach out to you.
The people that know me knows that I am that I’m always open to share every experience that I had. And, that doesn’t meant that will help you any further because I don’t know if I can. The experience and the knowledge I have I will always share with everybody, that’s my philoposhy. I would never keep something to myself, other than of course the [team] stretegy … What I can add to the NWSL, that needs to show during the [season] of course. I’ve got my way of work, other coaches have their way of work. But, of course I take my experience and my knowledge towards the NWSL and I leave that to others [to judge] if that adds something. I’m going to work with the Houston Dash and our goals are to – well, to reach playoffs for the first time and from there we’ll see. But, it will be hard enough to get to those playoffs and to be honest, this first year is just working very, very hard, keeping my eyes open, learning a lot from my my players, from the league, and adding my experience to that.So, it should be a mutual goal from players and staff .. with everyone working towards that same goal to get better football players, a better team, and with that hopefully reach the playoffs.
Erica Ayala: Erica is a sports writer with bylines at Double G Sports, MyWSports, Excelle Sports and the Female Coaching Network. She has covered events such as the WNBA Draft, the Inaugural National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) Isobel Cup Finals, and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement of Sheryl Swoopes. As a member of the Elon University softball team, she was selected as a 2006 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar. Erica received her B.A in Political Science, with a minor in African-American Studies in 2008. In 2015, she received the Elon University Top 10 Under 10 Award from the Young Alumni Council. It is her love for sports and passion for advocacy that has brought Erica to sports writing. As a former athlete, she feels strongly about providing other children, especially girls, the opportunity to excel in athletics. As an advocate, she is drawn to the mission to continue to promote gender equity in the coverage, the funding and the compensation of girls and women in sports.