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“I’ve been playing musical chairs since I retired”.
Former Canada defender Carmelina Moscato – capped 94 times by her country and a veteran of three World Cups and an Olympic Games – is speaking honestly about her career since she hung up her boots.
In six short years, she has been talent manager for Canada Soccer, commissioner for League 1 Ontario and director of women’s football for the Bahamas FA.
Now Moscato, a UEFA A licenced coach, has taken over as head coach of Danish club Nordsjaelland, a move she describes as “circling back to my roots”.
The musical chairs really began during a nomadic playing career, with spells at clubs in Italy, Sweden, the USA and Australia punctuated by three retirements – during which, Moscato filled her time with coaching.
It is this rich tapestry of a career that has informed Moscato’s coaching philosophy, one of the most important foundation blocks for every good coach – from grassroots to the highest echelons of the game.
Her philosophy is centred around one thing: people. And she is keen to incorporate her players and colleagues into her culture- building.
“Connect with the person first. It just goes such a long way,” she told Women’s Soccer Coaching.
“Environment is everything. A good person showing up to a toxic environment could be turned toxic. It’s about co-creating an environment that people want to be part of.
“If I go into a role, I’m asking what the players expect from me. I’m asking the questions that people don’t really ask, like ‘what do you need from me to maximise your potential?’.
“Are you checking in with most players on most days? Can they approach you…?”
“Then, it’s about having structure and a routine that makes players better every week, with your staff designing the right sessions based on the themes.
“But behind the scenes is where the work is done. Are you having the informal chats? Are you checking in with most players on most days, or even all players on all days as a maximum goal? Do they feel they can come and approach you?
“The goals would be clear and co-created. If the team’s middle of the table, and they’re hoping to achieve top three – how do we get there? Have the great conversations around that.”
Moscato is having conversations of her own to make sure she’s where she wants to be, including work with highly rated sports psychologist Dan Abrahams.
She said: “I purchased sessions with him and asked him to help me develop my psych- social model.
“Technically and tactically, I have a lot of experiences there. But how do I better articulate the kind of social-emotional coach I want to be?”
Her advice to other coaches working on their philosophy follows the same vein.
“Dive into human development,” she said.
“If you don’t really know what an eight-year- old or 15-year-old is going through, in their physiology and how they are growing, dive into the parts that are not football.
“I don’t think enough people understand the whole person. And because a lot of roles are voluntary, you may not have the time to invest in every player and create individual performance plans. But are you at least checking in with every player all the time?
For Moscato, moulding a philosophy and culture is also about setting an example in your behaviours as a coach.
She said: “Role modelling is not as celebrated as it should be. You being the best person you can in your environment, your reach and in your sphere of control naturally is going to influence, impact and affect the people around you.
“I know for a fact that I work on educating myself and giving my best with a full cup, because that’s our responsibility – to show up with a full cup in every scenario we put forth.
“I think we get caught up in what we can’t really control like the system or the club.
“Control what you can, which is your immediate day-to-day, your environment, your structure, your learning capacity and what you’re willing to go through.”
Of course, there will be occasions when your philosophies, ideas and approaches clash with others’.
Moscato’s advice to coaches, in these instances, is to “scan out and know who the influencers are.”
“You being the best person you can is going to influence people around you…”
“It’s not always the obvious people,” she explained. “It’s not always the president of the club but it might be your colleague who has the ear of the president of the club.
“Be smart about how you go about change. You can look objectively and say ‘I’m going to go in and burst the door down and say my opinion’. That’s one way to do it.
“Alternatively, you can be your best self, actually enjoy your environment and slowly start to influence the people that can make the difference.
“If it really doesn’t align with your values, and you’re staying up at night for it, you probably shouldn’t be there anyway. But at least give it a shot. Understand the beast, how it’s run, the people in it – everyone’s human.”
Navigating barriers like differing philosophies is something Moscato has numerous experiences of. Much of her career, and the multiple moves between roles and countries, has been dictated by what she calls “landscapes that are not yet secure”.
‘HE CHANGED OUR LIVES’ – JOHN HERDMAN, ‘RED-HEADED DEBBIE’ AND THE OTHER COACHES WHO INSPIRED CARMELINA MOSCATO
“My first house league coach is the reason I fell in love with the game: big red-headed Debbie, who brought oranges to the field. She was an amazing woman. Those first coaches never really get talked about enough.
“Then my brother took over my youth experience for seven years, as the head coach of our team. I loved the relationship and mentorship from my brother.
“Paula Wilkins was my college coach and she challenged me in different ways. I wasn’t always a starter, she played me in multiple positions, I fell in and out of love with the game and I was developing as a person.
“With the national team, Even Pellerud and Carolina Morace were there when it didn’t go so well for me. They were influential too.
“But [former Canada woman’s national team head coach] John Herdman changed our lives in 2011. You’ll hear this from all of us, be it me, Diana Matheson, Karina LeBlanc, Rhian Wilkinson.
“As women we were all contemplating retirement. Canada had just come dead last in the World Cup and it was a really dark period for us as players. John came in and we got a whole new purpose with him.
“His learnings and his teachings have served me now for almost two decades. He gave me vocabulary, he gave me an ability to articulate the game like never before. I feel very lucky for that.”
‘PUT YOUR NAME IN THE HAT FOR THAT JOB’ – CARMELINA MOSCATO’S THREE TIPS FOR TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR COACHING CAREER
1. SET PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
“I’m probably run a bit thin sometimes. I’m spreading my time everywhere and I need to be better at that. I think as women – and maybe men too – we have problems with boundaries. I think getting to know yourself, having boundaries, learning your own learning potential and maximum, and continuing to be your best in your sphere of control is what gets you through.”
2. GIVE IT A SHOT
“Put your name in the hat for that job that you don’t think you’re good enough for. We all have this area of doubt and I think we need to explore that. Because if we let that govern our world, I probably would have never left Mississauga.”
3. DEVELOP A SUPPORT NETWORK
“I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done. It comes with hard yards and it’s very painful at times. I think you need a bit of resilience, but also a big support network because you can’t do it alone. I have a great group of people supporting me – family, friends and colleagues – that got me through some of those really hard periods, where I wanted to probably exit the sport.”
“I really despise the question ‘What are you going to be doing in five years?’”, she explained.
“If women’s football had that luxury, a lot of us would be in a position to say ‘here’s my planned pathway, this is where I’m going’.
“I’ve taken the clues, I’ve taken the breadcrumbs, I’ve learned more about myself and I have said yes to almost every opportunity that has come my way because I don’t have the luxury of turning them down.
“I’m lucky to still be in women’s football and still fighting and getting clarity on where I feel I can make the most impact for girls and women.”
The desire to make that impact was what led Moscato to taking up the director of women’s football role in the Bahamas, where she was able to learn more about the multitude of challenges facing the female game in that part of the CONCACAF region.
She said: “There’s a view of women in sport in the Caribbean where it’s not really celebrated. It’s not really this thing that girls should be doing.
“Maybe they have different roles in the home, where they have big responsibility, plus school and family. Anything extracurricular is a lot to ask in some cases.
“Where sport is accessible, I think some haven’t got to a place where there’s a really clear pathway for players, coaches and match officials; it affects all roles.
“They’re trying to get to the States because they don’t have a pro league in the vicinity which they can graduate into.”
“I haven’t maximized my potential as a coach. I really want to explore that…”
Moscato has now moved on, making a return to coaching with ambitious Danish club FC Nordsjaelland. But despite only being in the Bahamas office role for a few months, she has nothing but positives to say about the experience.
“I think the readiness and integration of the role was premature,” she said. “But now I know better what some of the challenges and barriers are in the region.
“I think we all learned from the experience: the federation did, CONCACAF did, I did. And I think we can better service the countries moving forward.”
Moscato ensures she takes learnings from each of her experiences, something which she would advise other coaches to do, too.
“There’s always perspective that you can have.,” she said. “For me, even going away and coming back to Canada, I get to see our pathway in a different way. I see why they’ve done, for example, club licensing the way they have.
“If you don’t get a chance to scan out, compare, contrast and make it your own, you probably get caught up in what you see. And what we see is not always truth. I think it’s important to expand horizons.”
Moscato’s next expansion of her horizons takes her to Denmark.
“I’m laser clear,” she said. “I haven’t maximized my potential as a coach. I really want to explore that.” WSC
“A lot of the hard decisions they had to make, the predicaments they were in, I can see it from outside now…”
HEAR MORE FROM CARMELINA, INCLUDING HER NEW-FOUND RESPECT FOR PREVIOUS COACHES, ON OUR LATEST PODCAST — CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD IT