Meet Dona Rajab - the Saudi football coach blazing a trail for women in the kingdom

The national team assistant coach is the first Saudi woman to obtain an A Coaching Licence from the Asian Football Confederation

Dona Rajab, assistant coach of Saudi Arabia women’s national team, hopes many more will follow in her footsteps. Photo: Saudi Arabia Football Federation
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Dona Rajab, assistant coach of the Saudi Arabia women’s national team, is making waves in the kingdom having become one of the first women from the country to obtain an A Coaching Licence from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Rajab hopes to be something of a trailblazer in an already burgeoning coaching scene in Saudi Arabia. In the past two years, the number of female coaches in the kingdom has increased from a little more than 100 to almost 1,100. Meanwhile, local coaching courses are understood to have risen by 550 per cent, with overseas courses up by 200 per cent, according to the Saudi Arabi Football Federation.

Here, Rajab tells The National about her footballing background, her work with the national team, and how she hopes many more Saudi women follow in her footsteps.

Becoming involved in football

“I grew up in the United States and that’s where my journey in football began. I played there for 15 years, but stopped after I returned to Saudi in 2015.

“When I arrived in Jeddah, I knew that women’s football wasn’t officially recognised in the country at the time. I did, however, meet lots of girls who were playing it as a hobby. Football has always been the No 1 sport here in Saudi – and women’s passion for football is the same as men’s.

“I got to know many of these girls better and since I was the most experienced football player, they eventually asked me to train them and teach them things about the game. They wanted to be better players, so this was the beginning of my coaching career. That was in 2017, when I was 26, and I’ve been coaching ever since.”

Earning an AFC A Coaching Licence

“First and foremost, everyone wishing to take the course must already have their AFC B Coaching Licence. Developing as a coach is a process in itself, and to progress professionally, everyone has to gain experience and coach different age groups.

“This is essential because developing as a coach requires continuous learning across the football pyramid and experiencing different ways to coach players technically, tactically, physically, and mentally.

“The AFC B & C courses are invaluable for developing knowledge and skills in these areas. I strongly recommend them to anyone who asks me about a career in coaching – men and women.

“Being an A licenced coach is about reading the game tactically and understanding the deep meaning of football on the pitch. But, first, you have to climb the coaching ladder with the proper approach and application.”

Encouraging other Saudi women to follow suit

“This is certainly a step forward for me as a coach, however it’s also a step forward for up-and-coming generations. I hope many young girls can look at me as an AFC A licensed coach within the national team set-up and realise that they too can achieve their dreams.

“I believe it shows that women are not only capable of embarking on successful careers on the pitch; they have the passion and platforms to enhance their knowledge and make a big impact behind the scenes as a coach.

“I hope this opens another door for female coaches and inspires them to take their A license, which presents another path to achieve their coaching aspirations.

“Working with players on the training field, guiding them, nurturing them, and developing their game, is instrumental to achieving desired outcomes in competitive matches. And there’s so much demand for female coaches in Saudi Arabia – a demand that is increasing.”

Objectives with the Saudi women’s national team

“Receiving my A licence shows the hard work I’ve applied in recent years. There have been endless nights and long travels along the way, but it’s been worth it because I want to play a role in developing women’s football here in Saudi.

“Being an assistant coach with the national team certainly positions me to do this. We’ve already made tremendous progress in such a short space of time.

“We’ve entered the Fifa rankings for the first time in our history and won our first competitive tournament: the inaugural Women’s International Friendly Tournament this past January.

“We believe this is just the beginning and everyone involved with the national team has the same objective: to inspire our people and play and compete at the highest level internationally. This is what we’re working towards.”

Updated: November 29, 2023, 9:23 AM