Opportunities for female coaches have been limited over the years, but one woman who continues to tap at the glass ceiling is former Papua New Guinea international, Margaret Aka.
After a playing career spanning more than 20 years, Aka became the first woman in Papua New Guinea to earn an OFC B Licence, and went on to become the first to be appointed coach of a senior men’s team, when she took charge of National Soccer League (NSL) side Southern Strikers.
Today, Aka is continuing her upward trajectory as she takes on the OFC A Licence after being announced as one of 47 talented female coaches in the latest cohort of the FIFA Coach Education Scholarship programme, alongside New Zealand-based coaches Annalie Longo, Alana Gunn and Tessa Nicol.
The FIFA Coach Education Scholarship programme is one of FIFA’s eight women’s development programmes, seeking to offer talented female coaches and/or players financial support to further their coaching education, along with career development mentoring, and networking opportunities.
For Aka, the scholarship is an opportunity to venture into territory no other female coach from Papua New Guinea has been in before, undertaking an OFC A Licence coaching accreditation.
“The scholarship pays for me to do the A Licence which is one of the next steps in my coaching journey,” Aka said.
“I applied for the coach education scholarship as a way of expanding my knowledge around how to do things in terms of coach education and coaching.
“For me, it’s a learning process and at the same time I’m trying to help other people learn as well.”
Aka has held football development roles, has coached at club level, and has guided two national teams in regional competition and at the Youth Olympic Games, she was also among the expert panellists shortlisting the female nominees for The Best FIFA Football Awards 2021.
Today she is responsible for shaping the future of women’s football across her native Papua New Guinea as the PNGFA women’s football development officer.
Her experience of both the grassroots and elite level of the game in PNG has left her with a strong sense of responsibility to give back to the game which she says, has given her so much over the years.
“Previously I had a job where I mostly served myself and my family, but now I’m involved in football I feel like helping a lot of people. I feel I have a responsibility to go the extra mile for them if I have to, and that means learning new thing for the benefit of other people,” she stated.
“Every day is a learning day for me to be honest and the reason I do a lot of what I do, is for the benefit of others and I hope that people get that from me. I hope that I can influence change and I hope that I can change lives. That’s the whole idea behind it.”
Aka said sacrificing her previous job to move into football, which can be a tough environment for women in the Pacific to succeed in, was actually an easy decision.
“Football made me who I am today. It’s helped me develop new ideas, helped me recognise myself and embrace my weaknesses and my strengths.
“There really is a lot more to football than just kicking the ball and chasing it. Basically, how I see it, is football is life.
“I get to serve a lot of other people including players, coaches, parents, colleagues and the organisers of the game itself. There’s a lot more to do in the football environment and I want my role to be that of a mentor, passing on knowledge and experience to others.
“I cannot keep everything to myself because it’s useless, it’s going to be useless, if I keep it to myself. I don’t see these experiences as me learning for myself. I’m learning for the benefit of other people, for the community, and for the betterment of football in Papua New Guinea.”
As well as providing the financial support to tackle her A Licence, the FIFA Coach Education Scholarship will link Aka up with a mentor and allow her to connect with experienced coaches across the globe in a similar position to her own.
OFC Women’s Football Manager Emma Evans said providing career opportunities for women in football is a key commitment in both the OFC and FIFA Women’s Football Strategy.
“The added mentorship and network support formed through this programme will have a huge impact on the development of these coaches.”