From social worker to football coach: Profile of Women's head coach de Pauw

The Bayer 04 Women's team not only welcomed several new players to Leverkusen in the summer but also head coach Robert de Pauw. The 41-year-old has already coached at nearly all junior levels. He ended up at top club FC Twente via the Dutch women's team Achilles '29 and the Oranje Women's youth team – and now he is in the dugout at the Werkself this season. Four weeks ahead of the new season, profiles the Dutchman who was a social worker until a few years ago.

"It was a perfect fit," said de Pauw in describing his first impressions of the Werkself and meeting up with the players. "They have a really strong mentality and act very professionally," he added. For de Pauw, who has a UEFA A licence, the job at Bayer 04 is his first post as a coach outside the Netherlands.

inspied to be a coach by his father

"In 1994 or 1995," as de Pauw is no longer quite sure, the then teenager started to focus on coaching football teams alongside his own career. "My father was youth coordinator at SCE Nijmegen and he asked me if I'd like to help him coach youngsters. And I immediately said yes as I'd always loved football," he explained.

His father put Robert de Pauw on course to be a coach.

Back then de Pauw helped to coach 6-8-year-old boys. The Dutchman was quickly enthusiastic about coaching and he wanted to learn more about it: After the U9s came the U10s and then the U12 and U13 teams until he had finally worked with nearly all the year groups at SCE Nijmegen.

touchline instead of edge of the box

In 2004, de Pauw joined the neighbouring club NEC Nijmegen who were then as now in the Eredivisie, the top-flight in the Netherlands. He continued at the top club in his hometown where he left off at SCE: He coached the U15s, the U19s and finally the U23 side at NEC. He was also a player at the club at the same time. However, for de Pauw, who had won several championship titles in the highest Dutch amateur leagues as a player-coach, it became clear that he would focus on coaching due to a number of injuries.

"I was often asked whether I was more of a player or a coach. But that's really difficult to answer in my case as I started to think about systems and other coaching matters early on. Of course, playing was a lot of fun back then too. But I consciously tried to maintain the prospect of both options. And then I finally ended up staying on as a coach," said de Pauw in explaining his decision to take up the job in the dugout.

De Pauw: social woker ina tracksuit

The 41-year-old was particularly helped in his development into a football coach by one thing: Studying at the University of Arnhem and Nijmegen that ended in a Bachelor of Social Work qualification in 2004. De Pauw was unable to live from the income from his coaching job so he studied and went on to a post as a social worker in Nijmegen. He helped disadvantaged families who were faced with problems every day and he tried to help them and their children in particular to have a better future.

The Dutchman still benefits from his studies: "My work now is similar to the activity as a social worker. Basically, I'm helping people to develop in football and I try to create better conditions for them and make the most from a situation."


First job abroad: Robert de Pauw took over the Bayer 04 Women's team in the summer.

the start in women's football

De Pauw had his first coaching job with a women's team in May 2017 via SV Orion Nijmegen and NEC Nijmegen. In response to the approach from the Dutch top-flight club Achilles '29, the then 35-year-old provided a simple answer: "Of course, why not." However, due to the financial problems of the club de Pauw looked elsewhere after eleven months and his enthusiasm for women's football saw him take up a coaching position with the Netherlands youth team in 2018.

De Pauw coached several Oranje youth teams but was now full-time for the first time – and successful straightaway. In 2019, he led the U17 women's youth team to finish runners-up in the European Championships. "Unfortunately Germany won," he joked.

teacher in all areas

De Pauw did not escape the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. "In February, the KNVB (The Netherlands Football Association, ed.) and I agreed for me to finish. Coronavirus hit one month later," he recounted. However, de Pauw made use of the uncertain time giving webinars on great coaches and their styles of play for a Dutch coaching magazine. "I learned a lot myself and was able to use the time well," he explained.

Celebrations after the big win: Robert de Pauw lifted the league title with FC Twente Enschede in May.

The time certainly paid off for the Dutchman in the end. When football got going again a year later, de Pauw started at the top club FC Twente Enschede and he went on to win the Women's Eredivisie and the league cup in his first season. Reason enough for the Werkself to secure the services of the 41-year-old.

"we want to lay down a marker in the Bundesliga"

De Pauw, who was now been under the Bayer Cross for two months, currently does a two-hour commute between Leverkusen and his home in Nijmegen where he lives with his wife and seven-year-old daughter. "The commuting isn't actually that bad. I can get completely lost in football and from that point of view it's always good to see my family and I can concentrate on being a father at home," he said.

In Leverkusen, de Pauw is fully focused on football as he has ambitions with the Werkself: "We want to lay down a marker at Bayer 04. In the Bundesliga we look up to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. And in the Women's Bundesliga at Wolfsburg as well as Bayern. But at Bayer 04 we want to be a club in women's football where league rivals won't like to visit as they will expect a tough game."

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