OPINION | 'I Lost My Way': Priestman Reflects On Difficult 2023 Ahead Of Women's Soccer Olympic Title Defence | CBC Sports


As CBC Sports senior contributor Shireen Ahmed writes, Canada’s women’s soccer coach Bev Priestman reached arguably the greatest moment in Canadian soccer history and then experienced what she calls her professional low point. The 38-year-old looks to inspire a new, positive chapter at Paris 2024.

National coach looks to write new chapter after unsavoury World Cup run in Australia

Shireen Ahmed · for CBC Sports

· Posted: Jun 06, 2024 6:23 PM EDT | Last Updated: 8 hours ago

Canada head coach Bev Priestman prepares to embark on an Olympic title defence in Paris, on the heels of an unsavoury 2023 World Cup performance in Australia. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)On a rainy Sunday morning in Toronto, Bev Priestman walks into the room of a downtown Toronto hotel.

The 38-year-old head coach of Canada’s national women’s soccer team is mighty despite her petite frame. She offers a huge smile and her eyes shine when she speaks. She settles into the chair for the interview with ease and confidence. She’s emphatic and often uses her hands to emphasize her points while speaking.

This is not the first time I have interviewed Priestman, but it is the first time it is in such a quiet setting even with the church bells tolling in the distance off of Queen Street. True to her character, she was honest and open about the challenges of last year.

I have been on dozens of Zoom calls with Priestman, sat in post-match pressers in different continents at different tournaments, and at different stages. She took over the senior program in November 2020 from Kenneth Heiner-Møller.

Previously, Priestman has been on the coaching staff of Canada and England’s various national women’s and youth programs. Although she was familiar with the team, Preistman came during the pandemic.

WATCH | Priestman offers insight into team’s approach ahead of Paris 2024:

Bev Priestman on lessons learned from ‘lowest point’ of her career at 2023 World Cup The Canadian women’s national team head coach discusses her approach to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

She took the team to the Tokyo Olympics and made history. I recall watching a beaming Priestman run onto the pitch after Julia Grosso converted a penalty kick to clinch the gold medal. She looked elated as we all felt.

Fast forward to Australia 2023, I saw Priestman at a restaurant in Melbourne two days after Canada was eliminated from the group stages at the World Cup. A bunch of Canadian journalists were having dinner as most of us would be departing to return home. Priestman came over and thanked all of us for our work and our coverage of the team.

I remember thinking “she’s incredibly brave” after she waved and walked back to her table where she was sitting with the coaching staff. Priestman speaks of bravery a lot. It’s an important part of her coaching methodology and personal practice.

But with the Olympics less than two months away, Priestman is using brave in a different context — and in an empowering way. She’s managing this team with wisdom learned in battles on the pitch, and in having to manage noise off the pitch.

In a press conference after the second match of the send-off series (a 1-1 tie with Mexico) on Tuesday, Priestman says the path was not as clear.

The “environment” she’s referring to is one that was anything but calm and focused. To say that 2023 was a tumultuous year would be a gross understatement.

The team threatened to take job action against the Canadian Soccer Association, testified in front of a committee on Parliament Hill. Beating the best teams in the world in an intense competition with the backdrop of chaos was not possible.

2023 World Cup a low pointPriestman has always been positive even on a loss and draws lessons from every experience. But in this hotel room, she is thoughtful and even vulnerable.

“The lowest point in my career, you could say, was the [2023] World Cup,” Priestman recalls.

“And so, in those moments, you have to dig deep. You have to look hard in the mirror and promise yourself things that you’ll never do again. I said to some of my technical staff ‘don’t let me make that mistake again.'”

Priestman says that the key to being successful in Tokyo was bravery, clarity and being a bit ruthless.

It’s fair to deduce, that did not happen in Australia. It’s hard to navigate through such a tremendous amount of mess and try to protect your players and keep them focused when they are emotionally and psychologically exhausted despite being a tight-knit group.

WATCH | Priestman optimistic ahead of Olympic title defence:

Bev Priestman: ‘Belief, confidence, and bravery’ key to CanWNT gold medal in TokyoThe Canadian women’s national team head coach explains what she’s seen from her team that inspires confidence they can be successful at Paris 2024.

Sometimes the cost of keeping steady and surviving is not being the champions.

“I think, in a storm of chaos, I probably lost because I wanted everyone to feel good,” Priestman said.

Her honesty, with her unfailing smile, is almost heartbreaking to hear.

Canada’s performance does not lie on her shoulders alone. She isn’t stating that. But a coach of her calibre couldn’t help but look inward. Particularly one who cares so deeply and publicly about her players.

Highs and lowsPriestman reached arguably the greatest moment in Canadian soccer history after being on the job for less than a year, and after that I saw what she describes as her lowest.

To get back up to where she says she is “hungry” is important. It also wasn’t certain that the team would make it to the Olympics.

When the team qualified in September after beating Jamaica, it felt like a huge relief. With the impending retirement of Christine Sinclair — when a chapter closed and the page had to be turned — it also felt like a completely new volume needed to begin.

When we chat about mentors and whether she leans on someone, Priestman says that sometimes the job is like being on “a hamster wheel.” She is a FIFA coach and mentor but could have used some extra support or guidance.

Sure, she is friendly and collegial with other national coaches, but Priestman is more guarded because she might have to compete against them.

Recently when asked if she’s chatted with Emma Hayes, the English soccer manager now coaching the United States, Priestman said she will chat with her in France at the Olympics.

I’ve heard her repeat the phrase “couldn’t see the woods for the trees” — to mean that an easy path or solution was unclear.

Heading into the Olympics, Priestman says that she is excited and even has selected the song Return of the Mack as her personal anthem. Quite telling.

Hopefully all that metaphoric forestry is in sight, and her own bravery will come with another gold medal.


Shireen Ahmed is a multi-platform sports journalist, a TEDx speaker, mentor, and an award-winning sports activist who focuses on the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is an industry expert on Muslim women in sports, and her academic research and contributions have been widely published. She is co-creator and co-host of the “Burn It All Down” feminist sports podcast team. In addition to being a seasoned investigative reporter, her commentary is featured by media outlets in Canada, the USA, Europe and Australia. She holds an MA in Media Production from Toronto Metropolitan University where she now teaches Sports Journalism and Sports Media. You can find Shireen tweeting or drinking coffee, or tweeting about drinking coffee. She lives with her four children and her cat.

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