Interview – Pete Nowakowski – Illawarra Stingrays

Whilst we still play the waiting game for a full return to football, we’ve conducted another interview, this time with Illawarra Stingrays 17s coach Pete Nowakowski.

TCS: Good evening coach. How have you been looking after yourself during the times we find ourselves in? Have you been keeping in contact with your team? What’s the mood been like being away from your team for nearly 2 months?

Pete: The time off has been a great time to reflect on my current coaching practice, and then plan on areas I want to improve on personally. So there has been a lot of professional development and education that I’ve done during this time. Regarding the u17 squad at Illawarra Stingrays.

Originally I gave the players an individual training program to do at home, but a lot of them messaged me saying they missed he face-to-face aspect of training. So since then, we’ve started doing FaceTime workouts together for 45-60mins twice a week. It’s a chance for us to catch up, have a laugh together, and do a workout so that we are staying physically and mentally prepared for whenever football does return.

TCS: So as we asked coach Perko it’s been said recently that the shutdown could be used a chance to bring Australian football back to life after half a decade or so of stagnation. What are your thoughts on the game at the moment & what we should be aspiring to do?

Pete: I agree that football has hit something of a ceiling in its current format. Luckily it’s a glass ceiling so I believe that there are plenty of good people out there who can see the light and are willing to smash through whatever barriers are in the way to see football in Australian reach new levels.

How will we get there? Focus on the positive experience of football and understand that the journey of football isn’t a pure pathway where players should consider going up a success and going down is a failure. The beauty of football is the number of access points for people to find their own best versions of themselves. The game itself is meant to be fun, but when we consider it to be ‘work’ for the next-generation, then we’ve lost our way.

TCS: On the plus side the women’s game in Australia looks to be going from strength to strength with the national team flying high & players such as Sam Kerr & Caitlin Foord plying their trade in top leagues overseas. What do you attribute this to?

Pete: European football will be the next world powerhouse – with the likes of England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany all moving to full-time professional set ups where players are in elite environments with top level resources and the support around them, then there is no wonder that Matildas are looking to head overseas. That said, the 18-22 year old age group, there is still a connection to the US College system – the opportunity to play football at a top level, and study at a world class facility at the same time is enticing.

There are some massive names from the Young Matildas and Future Matildas programs who are looking to head across in the next few years. That said, it’s an ideal opportunity for football in Australia to refocus and ensure that the player journey in the grassroots and NPL club spheres are the best that they can be so that this is just the start of our Matildas heading overseas, not just a rare occurrence and a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

TCS: You coach at Illawarra Stingrays who are a bit of rarity in that they are solely a women’s football club. What’s that been like? Any major differences from clubs you’ve coached at that run both men & women’s programs?

Pete: It’s an absolute joy working at the likes of Illawarra Stingrays (and previously coaching at NWS Koalas FC) who focus purely on the development of their female footballers. Fewer number of teams and fewer number of players means their experience has to be absolutely the best it can be.

The opportunity to have u10 players know and not be afraid to talk to senior players, there is a sense of idolisation. With a female Club President, Kathy McDonogh, as well as other key female representatives, the next-generation of footballers coming through the clubs can see that there are pathways for women in football – leadership, refereeing, coaching, playing for your country, and volunteering.

TCS: Women’s NPL seems to be administered completely differently to the men’s game at least in NSW with different rules & comp regulations. What’s your take on this?

Pete: It’s the same game – 11v11 on a pitch, chasing after a ball trying to put it into a net. I can understand why some competition rules and regulations need to be different, for instance, our NPL club play u14. u15, u17, reserve grade, and first grade, back-to-back on a Sunday. Every team in the Women’s NPL and GCL space play on the same day. Logistically, I can understand why it’s easiest to have this set up, but at the same time, this could be the ideal time to try a Saturday Night Match of the Round feature game.

There is always the circular argument that there isn’t enough interest in the game, so there can’t be more investment. However without more investment, then it’s tough to build up the interest and engagement of the game. Currently it’s interest and engagement organically, but this could be fast-tracked if there was significant investment and promotion of women’s football in Australia.

TCS: You yourself have been lucky enough to experience coaching development overseas doing your UEFA B Licence. From a coaching standpoint are there many major differences from the European coaching style & the Aussie style? Anything we should be looking to take from them?

Pete: For me personally, the experience of heading over to Northern Ireland and studying on the UEFA B course was a richer one than courses I’ve been on here in Australia. Admittedly it has to do with the people on the course and the course instructors themselves. When people are paying for flights, accommodation, and the course fees, and having to submit applications to even be considered, then you get a high calibre coach on the course – people actually wanted to be there, and people were happy to share their experiences and their stories. From working with coaches from South Africa, Morocco, USA, Hong Kong, France, and Nigeria, it was a chance for everyone to focus on our own coaching practices and improve our coaching personalities and styles. It was an experience rather than a “copy my session word-for-word if you want to pass” mentality.

TCS: Do you see anything changing in football once this all settles? Whether that be at the highest levels of the game, domestically or in the NPL?

Pete: Somethings will change. Somethings will go back to exactly the same way as they are. If this isolation period has taught us anything, it’s who are the people out there grinding away, working on their weaknesses to turn them into strengths, turn strengths into weapons, and who are those who have gone absolutely silent off the football field. For me, there is no right or wrong way of going about it, it’s up to the individual’s, the organisation’s, or the sport’s themselves to be the best version of themselves. In terms of changes, I hope we get to see more action based on discussion, and we get to see people understand the true value of sport from not only a physical standpoint, but also from a social and psychological point of view. We cannot undervalue the importances of coaches as guides to players, the importance of high performance staff and physios who know players better than themselves at times, and the value of being on a patch of grass – nothing replaces that feeling, and nothing should come above the focus on creating positive environments and positive experiences for people first, athletes second.

TCS: Finally, as a coach where do you see yourself in the future? Would you like to take a crack coaching senior men’s NPL? W-League? Overseas?

Pete: My focus for National Teams currently is working with our Australian Deaf Football team who have gone through a transformation on and off the field with players, team identity, and technical staff – the team are looking towards competing at Deaf Football World Championships and hopefully qualifying for the Deaflympics. As well as developing the Blind Football Australia player pathway to have a team ready for the qualification process of the 2024 Paris Paralympics.

In terms of the future – I have some goals or targets that I’d like to work towards, definitely working in the W-League would be up there, likewise down the line being on a technical bench at a Women’s World Cup, whether it be for Australia or another nation, that would be high on my list.

For now though, I’m happy to keep my feet on the ground, grind away and study the many aspects of football from a media perspective, to the Strength and Conditioning coach, to even becoming a Football Intermediary – I want to ensure that if/when I do get a phone call saying there is a job out there, that I’m ready for anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.