Houriya Taheri knows how the power of sport can change people’s lives for the better.
The first Arab woman to receive a professional football coaching license and the current UAE Women’s National Team Assistant Coach, Houriya was the perfect choice to lead the UAE’s two 7-a-side Special Olympics Unified Football teams at the World Games.
Houriya has been at the forefront of the development, growth and expansion of women’s football in the UAE and the region.
As coach at the World Games, she used her expertise and knowledge to instil in the A & B teams the importance of team work, dedication and setting targets as well as having fun on the football field.
Houriya’s talent as a coach paid off handsomely for the UAE’s two Unified Football teams, as the sides, made up of players with and without intellectual disabilities, finished their division in first and second place.
The B team secured the gold medal with the silver going to the A side after a hard-fought final that ended 4-2 at Zayed Sports City.
How important is it for women, and women of determination, to be involved in sport?
Houriya: “I think it’s really important for women to practice sport, not just football, but sports in general. Taking part in sport is very important health wise, life wise, and I think it changes the personally as well. It helps you to become stronger.
“With sport you face a lot of issues and have to make important decisions, because when you don’t go through difficulties you can’t take any decisions. When you are a part of sport, part of a team, a lot of things are going on - sometimes you win, sometimes you fail. You need to be strong, decide what you want, decide not to quit. That helps you in your life, even in your personal life.”
How do you use your football coaching skills to help the Special Olympics athletes reach their goals?
Houriya: “As a coach, I try to teach the players the technique of the game and how to play together as a unified team.
“It’s about believing in them. You need to believe in their ability, but you also need to choose the players with good technique and skill who will benefit the team. I give them a plan for the game, so everyone can play well, do their part, enjoy themselves – when this happens, this is the magic.”
How have the girls performed so far at the Special Olympics World Games?
Houriya: “For the first time the UAE has Unified Women’s Football Teams, so this is very good. Football is a very hard game, for men and women. Not everyone plays football well. So, when we chose to be part of this game and have unified teams, we needed to put in a lot of effort to be a success.
“Our target was to participate in the World Games and to do well, to show everyone that we have good players and can complete - and that is what we have done. Our A & B teams have made it to the finals, which is very good.”
Has the experience of being part of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 exceeded your expectations?
Houriya: “Yes, it has been really very good. I really wanted to participate in the World Games, and it was a positive step that I took to be here. I did not make the decision so that I could add it to my CV or professional experience, nothing like that. I just wanted to be part of this great event, to compete against teams from all over the world.
“I coached the UAE A & B teams, and both are in the finals, so I think I’ve done a good job and so have all of the players.”
How have you found coaching a unified team of footballers? How does it compare to coaching other teams?
Houriya: “It’s different because the unified players have been playing for a long time and have already gone through a lot of coaching, games and tournaments. But for the athletes of determination, this is their first time playing in a competition like this.
“The great thing is you see their teamwork develop as you coach them as players. At the World Games I coached two teams, UAE A & B. Both are of different levels and ages. One is very young and the other has older girls, but both are very good.
“During the games, many times the players can score goals. But it’s not just about scoring - all the players are scoring goals, they’re receiving the ball, passing, and scoring. This means that all of them are playing well, contributing to the team, enjoying themselves and playing a part in the game.
“Both teams are coached in the way that gives them all the opportunity to be better players, to play better and be part of something great. This is what they have done each game.”
How do you select the players to be part of the UAE Special Olympics Unified 7-a-side Football Teams?
Houriya: “I worked with the Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care and visited schools, watched students play and contact coaches. I went to different games and said that I want athletes who play sports, not just football, as I will teach them football.
“I watched different sports and I saw some players that weren’t being included or weren’t part of the game because of their skill or ability. So, I took these players and together we made two teams that have done very well at the World Games.”