"Yes yes.. Hahaa!" is the sound of excitement from the sidelines as two of AGF's female players execute an unexpected combination, fooling two opponents, taking the ball out of bounds, and earning points for the team in their red jerseys.

The outburst comes from Katrine Pedersen. We attend a training session with AGF Women's team on a cold morning in early March. The former national team captain is completely absorbed in what is happening on the pitch, where 19 players are practicing passing plays and transitions. It almost seems as if the former football profile is itching to be on the field herself, and even though the clock has just passed 7:45 in the morning, the head coach's enthusiastic cheers cannot be contained.

Despite it being nearly impossible to find without typing "women" into the search field, it is not Peter Schmeichel with his 129 national team matches, but Katrine Pedersen with her 210 matches in the red and white jersey, who holds the record for most A-national team matches played for Denmark.

She is also one of only four women in Denmark who have obtained UEFA's PRO coaching license, and if there is still any doubt about whether this article's main character is a great football player and coach, it should be noted that she has been an assistant coach for the Danish national team for many years, and she is an ambassador for the Global Goals World Cup, an international women's football tournament that focuses on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

"I dream and believe that we are on the way to becoming more professional in women's football. We are still far behind what has happened on the men's side, but I dream of us having our own story on the women's side, where you have the opportunity to educate yourself alongside a top career and thus get even better conditions, even afterwards," says Katrine Pedersen when we meet in the cafeteria at Vejlby Risskov Sports Center, which is currently serving as a temporary clubhouse for AGF Women's team, after the team was started in 2020 as a joint elite project driven by the parent clubs VSK Aarhus and IF Lyseng. Katrine Pedersen started as head coach in the summer of 2021, after having been employed part-time as an assistant coach for the Danish women's national football team.

Photo: Liv Møller Kastrup / www.livkastrup.com
Dual career for a better future

It has been a few hours since the team went to the locker room after an intense morning training session, and they have eaten and analyzed data from the day's training in the meantime. Now it's time for strength training for the players who can push their studies to later, and school for the youngest in the squad, who are in high school.

"Do you want oats or skimmed milk?" Katrine asks, who has many roles and is not afraid to help out, even though she has the title of head coach and has a professional career at the top level behind her. With our respective flat whites, we find a spot in one of the couch groups at the back of the room.

"It's important that sport is the top priority, and therefore the players' day is structured so that we have them for training, both on the field and in the weight room, where they are most rested and where they also have the opportunity to rest well afterwards," Katrine explains about the professionalization process they are undergoing in the club.

When she herself was at the beginning of her career and played eight seasons for HEI, which became Skovbakken and also played on the fields around us, it was evening training four times a week, to make room for schooling and work for the players.

Although none of the players in the squad today live 100% off football, half are on contract, and they are all part of a professional setup where sport comes first

"We are working to make the 'dual career' mentality a reality. We see this as the best option for female athletes right now, but football clearly has top priority, and all our players organize their lives around it," explains Katrine, who believes it gives the players a good balance to have something else alongside their football career. However, she still thinks that the sport should have even better conditions.

"It should be legitimate to cut down your time and take longer to complete your studies when you have a career in the sports world alongside it. I think we get the players to perform better on the football field when they also have something else to do, and therefore, this 'dual career' mentality is also a tool we can use in the work of creating greater respect for women's football and better opportunities for women," explains Katrine.

Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Liv Møller Kastrup / www.livkastrup.com


Equality our way

"We shouldn't achieve equality by copying the everyday life and setup of male players; we need to be professional and improve our skills in our own way. If my daughter is going to look into a future where she is met with the same recognition and respect that my son receives in relation to football, and if she is to have the same opportunities to pursue her sport and believe that she can become really good and have a career, we need to think differently," explains the former midfielder.

"If a young girl comes to me and asks where the best place is to go if she wants to become a football player, I actually don't know what to answer, and I think that's poor. It should be clear to girls that they can go to school and play football at an academy, just like the boys can," Katrine elaborates.

While players' conditions and opportunities are one thing, for Katrine there is also a point in giving the women on her team as professional a setup as possible, and with two assistant coaches, a physiotherapist, and a fitness coach on the pitch for morning training, in addition to herself, AGF Women's team is well on their way.

"It doesn't matter to spend more time on football and prioritize it if we don't also have the professional framework with all that comes with it. We need to recruit, educate, and maintain more professionalism on the coaching-leadership side in women's football because otherwise, we contribute to the B-feeling that still exists in many places because women's football is not being invested in as much," Katrine explains and continues:

"It's about both money and prestige, but especially where talented coaches see opportunities to build their careers, where they see prestige in being. And, of course, it requires that some take the lead so that we can break the downward spiral and take steps in the right direction."

In fact, I think football is a little like chess. Of course with an extra creative dimension, but in the main it's about thinking in scenarios and constantly setting up moves and counter-moves

- Katrine Pedersen

Photo: Liv Møller Kastrup / www.livkastrup.com

Football is the world's largest women's sport

In a way, Katrine took the first step by dedicating herself completely to women's football and repeatedly declining offers and invitations to coach men's teams. When she started her coaching career at Norway's Top Sports Gymnasium (NTG) while still playing for Stabæk Fotball, she didn't know she would become one of the best female coaches in Denmark and one day make a living helping other young women continue to develop at the highest level.

Just as football started out as a passion and remained so, coaching was her own project all the way. There were no thoughts of the Champions League and professional football in the mind of 8-year-old Katrine, who just carried a ball everywhere and spent all her free time juggling and shooting at goal because it was fun. And when she started coaching girls at NTG, it wasn't a UEFA PRO license but a newfound understanding of her own game and the training she did on the field as a player that captured her.

"I found that I became a better player by being a coach because I became more aware of what we were training and why. I didn't have thoughts about what I was going to be and about making a living as a coach. I enjoyed playing and wanted to enjoy being a player for as long as I could without the extra responsibility that came with being a playing coach, which I was offered at one point," says Katrine, who as a coach believes in a systematic approach to the game of football.

"I want to inspire players to continue to pursue development, no matter where they are in their careers, and I want to be the one to help systematize some things in football for them so they can find the structures in training they need to build their game around when they play a match," explains Katrine, continuing with a comparison.

"In fact, I think football is a bit like chess. Of course, with an extra creative dimension, but in the main it's about thinking in scenarios and constantly setting up moves and counter-moves," explains Katrine, who learned a lot from the systematic approach when she was a player."

Ultimately, it's about the team and the culture that the former national team player can help create among the players, and here too, she draws on her own career experience.

"It's a question of how you are as a group and how you perform as a group, and that often happens outside the training ground too. We work on training culture, training intensity, and supporting each other in all aspects of life," explains Katrine.

It's about talking football, even off the field, creating a healthy culture of competition, even in training, and wanting to win at all costs.

A scene from earlier pops up. The quiet, frosty morning is in stark contrast to the energy Katrine puts into the training. A bad decision on a pass across the field results in the defending team breaking up the play. A "nooo!" is heard from the sideline, followed by Katrine explaining to the players with a smile on her face where the pass should have gone instead.

The coach's enthusiasm clearly rubs off on the players, who rally themselves and each other, shout "come on", and with even more energy try to get the passes to be more precise in the next play.

"I'm hired to win football matches. That's the primary purpose for me and what I'm passionate about, but that doesn't mean I can't try to do more at the same time," Katrine says over coffee back in the club room.

"If I can create a winning culture and a belief in these women that they can become really good, then I have done something good for equality and women's sports," Katrine adds.

She's not the type to hold back from leading and taking responsibility. She also shows this by having said yes to being part of the ambassador corps for the women's football tournament Global Goals World Cup (GGWCUP), which in 2022 comes to Aarhus in collaboration with the Permasport association. The GGWCUP teams play for one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which they have chosen themselves, and the winner of the tournament is not decided based on the goal score, but on a range of parameters for how much they do for their chosen goal, both on and off the field.

"I think it's incredibly important to support initiatives that fight for better conditions for women's football and for women's sports in general. Football is the world's largest women's sport, and it means incredibly much for women all over the world. It's about freedom and rights, and I'm ready to support it at any time," says Katrine, who also sees it as a natural extension of AGF's sustainability strategy.

Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Liv Møller Kastrup / www.livkastrup.com

Back on the training field this morning, Katrine puts her hands on the shoulders of one of the players and meets her gaze. The player has felt a injury flare up and is upset. Katrine tells her that it will be alright.

And she knows it, because no matter how much adversity the young players face, their coach has been through something similar during her almost 20-year career at the national team and highest club level.

"If there are girls who want to be good, and if I believe that I am a good coach, then that's where I should put my energy. All the learning and prestige that could come with coaching men cannot make up for the difference I can make for women's football, both here on the team and for women in general, by prioritizing them," Katrine concludes back in the cafeteria before taking the time to talk to a group of retirees who have sat down with a cup of coffee after a gym session.

Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Liv Møller Kastrup / www.livkastrup.com