In Focus: Beverly Priestman
Posted on 28 January 2014 in Coaching
Wherever she’s gone, success has followed.
Everton FC knew she was a winner, hiring her even before she finished university. A year later Beverly Priestman joined England’s Football Association. Soon after, her ability caught the attention of New Zealand Football, where in 2011, after five years and a series of promotions, she became the head of football development at 25 years-of-age.
In 2013, Priestman, in search of a new challenge, decided to join Canada Soccer as the Director of the Women’s Excel Program (U-14/U-17). And, once again, results have followed.
At the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship, Canada was the class of the tournament. Lauded for its ball possession and organization in both attack and defense.
Having scored 24 goals and conceded three, Priestman’s players swept the individual honours, including the Golden Ball, Golden Boot, Golden Glove and seven spots on the tournament’s Best XI list.
Born in Consett, a small town 23 kilometers outside of Newcastle, in Northern England, Priestman is a self-confessed workaholic – what she calls the price of excellence.
Her next challenge comes in March, when Canada travels to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014. While Canada has a strong team, Priestman says that it’s a mistake to focus solely on the results.
For her, it’s more important to develop players. Players like Sura Yekka and Jessie Fleming, who have already transitioned toward the senior team. It’s a rewarding task, and one of the reasons why Priestman chose to come to Canada.
Canada Soccer spoke with Priestman at her office in Vancouver.
From her mysterious nickname, to her playing days, to her transition to coaching and rapid rise we cover it all, including her success at the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17Championship and preparations for the up-coming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014.
Canada Soccer: Is it true that your nickname growing-up was “Beverly Bites Your Legs?”
Beverly Priestman: (laughs) It was actually “Beverly Bites Your Ankles.” Basically, I don’t know if people have seen me, but I’m this tiny person. And as the only female on a boys team at school my principle started calling me this because, on the football pitch, I was this little whipper snapper.
CS: Was John Herdman your coach as a player?
BP: Yeah, he was my coach and then, at the age 14 or 15, when I became intrigued by the coaching pathway – due in part to his passion and enthusiasm - he became a mentor.
I switched to coaching because I knew I wasn’t good enough to play for England; I didn’t have a left foot. I played at a reasonable level, but became intrigued by coaching and ended up turning up at John’s sessions every night of the week, that’s how my passion got started.
CS: Was the transition from player to coach a difficult one?
BP: No. Growing-up I always wanted to be a teacher, because I had some great teachers. I was intrigued by learning and went right into coaching from a very young age.
CS: Besides John Herdman have you had other mentors?
BP: Mo Marley has also been an influence. She coached the Everton Ladies, a team I worked with while attending John Moores University in Liverpool. She’s now the U-20 England Women’s Head Coach. Both her and John have had a massive impact on the way I see the world of Coaching.
CS: Let’s come back to your view of coaching but, first, you mentioned Everton FC and you’ve also worked for the Football Association… both jobs began almost immediately upon completing your studies. You’re clearly driven, but does anything else account for your success? It came quick.
BP: If I’m going do something I’m one to do it the best that I can. Like I said, from an early age, I got straight into coaching. I did my badges very young and went to University to do my football degree. I got backing from Everton and from there the Football Association. I followed John [Herdman] to New Zealand, because I had been out there and wanted to be a part of the great work that was going on. So yeah, I guess I had my eyes set on where I wanted to go and knew what I had to do to get there.
CS: You arrived in New Zealand in 2009 and four years later end up becoming the Head of Football Development 2012. So why did you come to Canada and what attracted you to Canada Soccer?
BP: In New Zealand I progressed, in a very short space of time, helping to leave their program in far better shape than when I arrived. It was a steep learning curve and I was given fantastic opportunities, but I was attracted to Canada for a few reasons. One of them was John Herdman, who is a unique person. He’s driven and we share some of the same characteristics.
Following John to Canada, I knew, I would be part of something special. I knew that it [Canada] had massive potential, like really massive potential in terms of player numbers and what could be achieved if the system was right. So for me, it was about the opportunity to work with a strong leader. And then, obviously, you have a home [FIFA] Women’s World Cup and a massive fan base following the [2012 Olympic] bronze medal. So the timing was perfect and I was ready—it was once again time to get out of my comfort zone.
CS: Where does the drive come from?
BP: I’m not sure. Growing-up, in small town England, there weren’t a lot of females playing football. And I think being that unique person, is something that probably has run through my career. I want to be different. I want to achieve the things that maybe a 27-year-old female shouldn’t be able to achieve. I guess I just want to shoot for the stars and be the best that I can be.
CS: You’re now Canada’s Women’s Excel Program Director for the U-14/U-17 – what does this mean?
BP: There are two parts to my role: a) building a system that ultimately produces more Women’s National Team players for the future and b) aligning Provincial and Territorial Associations to deliver national standards. The hope is that by doing these things we’ll be taking the system forward for the next 10 years, and beyond, to produce more players in a systematic way.
CS: Going back to when you started in June 2013, what did you inherit and what are you trying to change?
BP: Rather than saying what I inherited, it’s better to be clear about where we want to take the Canadian style of play. And where we want to take it is toward a more possession based game.
I’ve come at really positive time. A time with clear strategic direction. It’s fantastic to be part of the shift that is taking place. In the past, the U-17’s, for example, were going and playing as a team and being successful, but now it’s not just about the final score, [because now] the way we measure success is by how many players have progressed through the system.
My job is to find the right sort of players that have the potential to progress, and use events as staging posts to test them… to see how they cope on the world stage, and give them [international] experience.
CS: At the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship Canada was the class of the tournament. CONCACAF’s own technical report praised the team for its passing, ball-possession and its organization. What did you think of the tournament and what needs to be improved?
BP: I was really, really happy with the tournament. We have statistics that measure whether our players are doing the things we feel are required. And in all of the games, minus the one with the USA, we achieved these statistics. Even, against Mexico [in the final] the numbers were positive, the result just didn’t go our way. From my perspective, I’m very, very happy and there were some shining lights [that make me] excited for the future.
CS: Absolutely! You had the U-17s playing like a junior version of Barcelona.
BP: Yeah, it was great to move towards a possession-oriented game, while retaining Canadian traits that we certainly don’t want to lose, such as power. The real test will be against tier one opposition at the upcoming [FIFA U-17 Women’s] World Cup. John [Herdman] is a clever guy. He’s done a lot of research to make clear what’s required at the senior level, and my job is to bring this alive and foster it in our younger players.
CS: So we can expect more of this possession based, attacking style at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014?
BP: Yes, for sure. As I said, it’s not just about getting results, but developing players and following a style of play that we believe in. And to do this we have to attempt to do things on the world stage, against the best. And, in Costa Rica, we’ll be playing the best, so that’s good.
CS: Sticking with Costa Rica, what do you think of Canada’s group, which includes Ghana, Korea DPR and Germany?
BP: Yeah, people labelled it the group of death at the draw. You could look at it two ways: 1) you could say it’s a really big ask to get out of the group; there’s Germany, the European champions, and Korea DPR who have progressed all three times, twice in the final and wining it once. But I look at it a different way and say these girls need to be tested against the world’s best. It’s a massive learning experience, but we would love to progress because it means we get more games and more experiences to apply later in our system. So, yes, it’s a massive ask, but from what I hear and from what I see of this groups’ ability they have a good chance—so we’ll give it a real crack.
CS: The tournament’s theme song is ‘Pasion Total’, is it on your iPod?
BP: No I haven’t heard it. I should probably download it.
CS: We ask because the Women’s National Team listens to Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love”, prior to their matches, do the U-17’s have a similar tradition?
BP: Yeah, teenage girls have a lot of modern music, but the staff and I, even though I’m only 27, take the music taste back a few years. But yeah they have a lot of songs and enjoy the singing and dancing, but there is not one theme song just yet.
CS: How do you get the most out of your players, and do you have tips for other coaches?
BP: My job, as a coach, is to give my players self-belief. The coaching team’s mantra is that these girls have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That means getting them out of their comfort zones and doing things that they haven’t done before. So I have to create an environment where it’s okay to try new things. It’s not about performing, but about learning. It’s about creating a safe environment, while instilling enough passion and desire to keep them working hard.
CS: Are you able to turn your mind off of soccer?
BP: Work is a massive part of my life. Since I’ve come to Canada it has been full-on, but I ‘ve loved every minute. Football has always [been there for me], first as a player and now as a coach. To get anywhere can you afford to switch off from the game? I’m not sure.
CS: But is there anything that helps you re-charge?
BP: I guess working out and going out for nice food are probably two things that get me out of the bed in the morning, other than work.
CS: Is there something else we can do to ensure Canada keeps producing world-class players like Christine Sinclair?
BP: Some coaches [purely] chase success, even at the youth level. My philosophy, and something that we implemented strongly in New Zealand, is rather than chasing the result focus on the process and the improvement of the individual. For example, some coaches might park the bus and defend a 1-0 lead with 30 minutes to go, well that’s not going to produce a Christine Sinclair because players are not going to live on the ball. It’s about being prepared to take risks and knowing what your job is. And I believe that a youth coach’s job is the individual, not the result.
CS: How has this mental shift been received in Canada?
BP: At the national level it has all been very, very positive. At the elite provincial level, the provinces have been fantastic. Already, there is some brilliant work happening and with this kind of support, I have no doubt, that we can collectively change the women’s game in Canada.
CS: How about getting more women involved at all levels of the game, how are those efforts going?
BP: This is something that I’m passionate about. There are a lot of females out there who are involved in the game. The participation numbers in Canada are fantastic. What we have to do is make that pathway very clear and have some role models to drive more females to have the confidence to get involved. Having Candace Chapman - a Canadian legend in women’s football –, for example, as my technical assistant is the kind of figurehead we need to drive more women to get involved.
CS: What about yourself, do you feel uncomfortable being a role-model?
BP: No it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I’m really passionate about this. I meet a lot of women who, perhaps, don’t have the confidence but potentially have the capability, so if I’m a role model that shows that a bit of confidence, belief and hard work can get you somewhere then I’m not uncomfortable with it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON BEVERLY PRIESTMAN:
- Follow her on Twitter @bev_priestman & @CanadaSoccer_EN
- Support Canada’s Women’s U-17 Team as they travel to Costa Rica to participate in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup from 15 March – 4 April 2014.