There has been significant development in women’s football in Croatia in recent years, especially at grass roots level. In cooperation with FIFA and with funding from the FIFA Forward Programme, the Croatian Football Federation invested 3.5 million kunas into women’s football development last year.
Encouraging participation in football among young girls and raising the quality of women’s football in Croatia are both among the Croatian Football Federation’s goals for the coming years. Initiating the organization of women’s U-15 and U-17 national leagues was an important step forward for women’s football in Croatia, and improving the quality of the Women’s First Division and the national teams have been made a priority.
The Croatian Football Federation wants to ensure that women’s clubs and players have higher quality development conditions.
One person who is playing a part in that development is 29-year-old Croatian-American, Helenna Hercigonja-Moulton, who is assistant coach of the Croatia Women’s A and U-17 national teams.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Miami, Helenna has been living in Croatia since she was 18. After representing Croatia at U-19 level, she went on to the play for the senior Croatia national team, earning over 20 caps.
After finishing her playing career in the Slovenian team ŽNK Pomurje in 2017, Helenna continued to play futsal in the Croatian women’s first league for MNK Alumnus Sesvete and the national futsal team until 2020.
In 2016, Helenna finished her UEFA B coaching licence and immediately started working for 2 clubs in parallel – NK Coerver Coaching Croatia, where she was working with boys teams at the time until a girls program was launched which she is the director of today, and Zagreb 041, where she managed the youth academy and the senior women’s futsal team.
In 2021, Helenna attained the UEFA A coaching licence and also got her first chance to work with the Croatian Football Federation as a project manager for UEFA Playmakers Disney, a fun program for girls between ages 5-8 aimed to increase participation in women’s football, as well as an assistant coach in the Women’s A and U17 national teams.
“Over the last 5-6 years I have been working and gaining as much experience as possible through camps, tournaments, match management, team management, organization and administration, youth as well as adult football, project management, individual sessions and more both in the USA, Jamaica and different cities in Croatia,” Helenna reveals.
As project manager for UEFA Playmakers Disney in Croatia, her role is to conduct coach education related to the program, relay information to all of the people involved and supervise that everything runs smoothly for the duration of the program.
“The Croatian Football Federation offered me the chance to lead this project and I have had the full support of everyone within the federation to see it through. The goal is to increase participation of young girls between the ages of 5-8 in football by introducing them to the sport through a friendly, entertaining and low-stress environment. UEFA has diligently studied the reasons why girls enjoy or quit football and their data has shown that girls prefer a non-competitive environment where they can engage with friends – so this project plans to give them just that in hopes that later they decide to stay in football and filter into our women’s clubs across the country from that young age,” Helenna tells us.
Helenna says that the state of women’s and girl’s football in Croatia is currently a work in progress, many new clubs that have launched girls teams as well as new tournaments for girls have arisen in the last few years.
“The Croatian Football Federation has also been investing more and more with time. Things are going forwards slowly but surely in every aspect, from youth to the women’s game. the enigma around women’s football has decreased with time as well, the general population is becoming more aware of the level of women’s football in the world (thanks to the media, movements and investments) and parents are more willing to let their daughters play as opposed to the times when football was exclusively a men’s sport in Croatia,” she says.
Whilst women’s futsal still isn’t that popular in Croatia, Helenna believes it is definitely growing in popularity.
“We made it into the top 8 teams in Europe in 2018 during the EURO qualifiers but unfortunately only the first team in each group went on to the EURO Cup. In the last round of qualifications we didn’t do as well but once there are more players that solely train and play futsal in Croatia that will certainly make us more competitive.The good thing is that there are plenty of clubs and options nowadays for girls to choose from and play for.”
Whilst coaching and travelling around the country for her roles takes up most of her time, Helenna says she likes to enjoy explore the city of Zagreb where she lives, hang out with friends and sometimes just chill at home in front of the TV in her spare time. She also gives English lessons and write articles for the Global Players Union FIFPro.
“I enjoy life in Croatia. It is a very safe country which is comforting. People still have a deep appreciation for their food, beverages and also rest. I also love travelling in Croatia. Everything from the seas to the mountains can be seen and experienced and it is very beautiful and welcoming overall,” she says.
Helenna’s has a lot of family in the US and Jamaica, and in the last couple years, due to the pandemic, she says she has not been able to go back as much as before when she would visit once to twice a year to see them and also sometimes too work and organize soccer events.
“My plans for the future are to keep moving forward. I have no way of knowing where I will be exactly in 5 years but I plan to just keep moving forward and see where it takes me,” Helenna concludes.
You can find out more about Helenna on her website here.