The Football Ferns derive strength from family. They see themselves not as fellow soccer players on a football field, but as sisters with a close bond, drawing on each other strengths in their united pursuit of excellence.
“We have this real family culture in football,” says captain Abby Erceg. “We think of each other more as a family than a team; instead of having a work colleague next to you, you have your sisters around you.
“The values we focus on are centred around our family values. Team first. We work very, very hard in our pursuit of excellence, making sure we help each other and push each other to those standards of excellence.”
They are a team who do not rely on one or two superstars, and often have to perform under a high degree of pressure, playing against teams ranked higher on the world stage. “But having that team strength helps us,” Erceg says.
For young forward Jasmine Pereira, who first joined the Football Ferns for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the strong team culture has made it easy for her to fit in.
“The team will always come first in everything I do. Even outside the team environment, I make sure that I am the best I can be for the team,” she says.
“We all have that one goal – the gold medal - and everyone is aiming for that same thing. We have no standards below that.”
Goalkeeper Erin Nayler, who’s been in the Ferns since 2011, says the team know each other inside out. “Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses can be the difference between winning and losing a game,” she says.
Communication is one of the most vital techniques for bringing out the players’ strengths on the field. “Communication in football is big. You can’t do your job and not talk to anyone,” says Erceg. “Talking constantly helps me to concentrate on my job too.”
As a goalkeeper, Nayler also recognises the importance of conversation on the field. While she needs physical strength to compete against some of the world’s best – and most physical – goal scorers, she also requires a ton of mental strength.
“Sometimes you only touch the ball two or three times in a game, so to have mental focus is really important. I’m communicating all the time, so I’m aware of what’s going on,” she says.
A goalie since the age of nine, Nayler says representing New Zealand on the world stage – and knowing she is inspiring other Kiwi girls – makes her want to train harder and “get the most out of every training, so when I do perform, I perform well”.
Erceg, who started playing soccer in Northland at the age of five, was inspired by watching New Zealand athletes on television competing at the Olympic Games. “Growing up in New Zealand, the Olympic Games was the pinnacle of sport; to compete at an Olympics is one of the biggest achievements you can have. I remember watching it on TV, dreaming about it. They inspired me to be the best that I could be, and obviously I wanted to be them, and inspire young kids too,” she says.
“Inspiring young kids has always been a big part of the job. When I was growing up there weren’t many female football players, so now in the back of my mind when I’m playing, I think how can I help them realise their dreams and their potential.”
Rio 2016 Jasmine Pereira Erin Nayler Abby Erceg Football