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Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson, left, has been named head coach of Canada's women's youth teams.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

For a long time, Rhian Wilkinson thought teaching would be her second career after her days as a soccer player were over.

Coaching was not in the cards.

“No, never. And I adamantly told anyone who asked that I’d never be a coach,” recalled Wilkinson, who won 181 caps for Canada in a distinguished playing career that stretched from 2003 to 2017.

But John Herdman, then coach of the Canadian women’s team, offered her a chance to be an assistant coach with the under-20 team in 2014.

“I slowly started to recognize that coaching is teaching, which is what I wanted to do – [what] I thought I wanted to do,” Wilkinson said.

Now a key piece in the Canadian Soccer Association’s coaching hierarchy, the 37-year-old Wilkinson was appointed head coach of both the Canadian women’s under-17 and under-20 soccer teams on Friday.

The native of Baie-D’Urfé, Que., who now calls North Vancouver, B.C., home, will remain an assistant coach to Kenneth Heiner-Moller with the senior side.

Her immediate tasks are to help the youth sides qualify for their FIFA world championships next year. It starts Sunday with an under-20 camp in Burnaby, B.C.

Wilkinson, who took part in four World Cups and three Olympics, most recently served as head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite program.

Unable to play before and after the 2015 World Cup because of injury, Wilkinson got her UEFA B coaching badge with the Football Association of Wales – paying her own way.

That prompted Herdman to start offering her coaching opportunities, with the under-15, under-17 and under-20 teams.

“It changed what I wanted to do because I loved it,” she said. “And it came from really enjoying working with these young players.”

Heiner-Moller says Wilkinson is perfect for her new coaching job.

“She’s got playing experience, great character, huge talent,” said Heiner-Moller, who sees bigger opportunities for Wilkinson down the road.

Wilkinson is also part of the Elite Player-Elite Coach program. Started by Herdman, it is the reason that Wilkinson and former players Robyn Gayle and Melissa Tancredi were part of Heiner-Moller’s support team at the World Cup. Former international Carmelina Moscato will be helping Wilkinson.

Wilkinson coached the Canadian under-17 women to a career-best fourth-place finish at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup last year in Uruguay although she deflects any credit to former coach Bev Priestman, who left to join the England setup prior to the tournament.

“That was her team and then I got the privilege of leading them to a World Cup,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson, whose first name is pronounced REE-in, has never shied away from a challenge.

After winning bronze at the Rio Olympics, she ran the Montreal marathon and crewed a yacht in the Mediterranean. After the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she walked part of the famed Camino de Santiago trail in Spain with her mother.

Wilkinson has a bachelor of arts in communications from the University of Tennessee and a degree in anatomy and physiology from Athabasca University. She has served as a member of the FIFA Strategic Committee, tasked with dealing with “global strategies for football and its political, economic and social status.”

Wilkinson will work closely with Heiner-Moller and Danny Worthington, who oversees the Excel developmental pipeline. Heiner-Moller heads up the women’s program and is involved in all aspects.

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