Finland GK Tinja-Riikka Korpela: The People’s Captain

In part one of our feature on goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela, ,we highlighted the Uniqueness and Role Model qualities of the Finnish and Bayern Munich linchpin. Her abilities to unite and lead have characterized much of her professional career as well as made her a deserved choice as a captain of Finland’s national team. Korpela is strongly engaged in community initiatives, but she’s hardly lost sight of her primary responsibility as a professional athlete: her team. In learning more about Korpela’s influence on the field, we reached out to her and two of her teammates to gain further insights into what makes her such a special leader.

A four-time Finland Player of the Year, Korpela is a role model her compatriots look up to 

Like many effective leaders, Korpela has learned a lot from others before her. She particularly credits German and Scandinavian soccer culture with instilling in her the importance of building team chemistry. In referring to Bayern Munich, she states that “they want us to be a really solid unit. They want us to take care of each other.” And when thinking of her clubs in Scandinavia, Korpela mentions that “they really want us to feel that this is a family. And that’s how I do feel.” It’s no surprise to see those same elements emerge in the Finnish national team, and Korpela has been more than happy to foster the cohesion.

Even though she captains Finland’s national team alongside Maija Saari, who’s also 30 years old, Korpela sees Saari as one of her biggest role models. The two have played together for a long time, while Saari has been a captain since a young age. “As a younger one, maybe I didn’t realize how much care I have to take for myself. I saw how Maija was doing things and how good an example she showed on and off the field.”

Eventually Maija transferred from the Finnish club they both played on to join the Swedish League, and though that meant losing her role model, Korpela was chosen to fill the void and serve as the new team captain. “That was a really big honor for me to be the captain after her because she was captain a really long time. I think I’ve been taking a lot of her style to my style being captain. Of course, now it’s more my own style but in the beginning, I had to take something from other captains that I admired.”

For Korpela, “commitment is the biggest thing in being a professional 24/7 athlete.” Commitment is also the reason she saw Saari as a role model in the first place. Korpela has learned a lot from her co-captain over their years together, but she’s also integrated many of the cultural and successful team elements she’s experienced into her current role as captain. The end product she’s been able to offer has been a special blend of unity, support, and guidance. Her teammates have undoubtedly embraced the approach.

Tuija Hyyrynen, a defender for Danish side Fortuna Hjørring in addition to the Finnish national team, vividly remembers Korpela’s message to the team before a 2015 European Championship qualification match against Ireland. “We were all really pumped up for the game and Tinni was our captain on that stormy, windy afternoon in Dublin. Just before the game started, we gathered together on the field into a small circle and Tinni started speaking. She was yelling her heart out to convince us that we are good enough to beat Ireland. I remember seeing that will power in her eyes and hearing the determination in her words, and the message was clear – we are going to win! There was magic in that small circle and we ended up winning the game 2-0.”

Korpela’s speech that night was a powerful one. But that’s not to say her repertoire of inspiring others is solely made up of rah-rah cheers and shouts of encouragement. “As a captain, Tinni is not the type of captain who is always talking or yelling. She is a type of captain who leads the team by showing a great example,” said Emma Koivisto, another defender on Finland’s national team who currently plays at Florida State University.

“I met Tinni for the first time during my first full national team camp. I am really shy so I was nervous about meeting other “older” players. I remember that Tinni was really nice to me already from the beginning. She made me feel that I was an important part of the team even though I was attending my first full national team camp. She has a talent to make everyone feel important in a team. She shows that she respects everyone no matter how experienced the player is.”

One of the most capped veterans on the team at age 28, Hyyrynen sees the same qualities in Korpela. “Tinni is a brilliant role model in our national team. She is always professional on and off the field and shares her ideas and advice with everyone in the team.” She can also, evidently, match the message to the moment. “Every now and then she makes us all laugh,” says Hyyrynen. Her ability to diffuse tension and keep the team loose when needed has had a noticeably positive effect on team chemistry and performance.

One of the younger members of the squad at age 22, Koivisto has particularly benefited from Korpela’s leadership. “As her teammate, I can say that when I see her train I want to train better by myself because she shows that she is always doing everything in 100%. She makes me want to play in 100% because I know for sure that she does everything she can to make us win the game. I do not want to disappoint her.”

Korpela’s preparation and approach to the game make her an invaluable asset from whom others can soak up a wealth of soccer knowledge and wisdom. “First thing that comes to my mind when I think of Tinni is her attitude and professionalism. I think that she would be the best person to show how to be an athlete 24/7. I have learned from Tinni how to be a professional. When we are having a team dinner, already her plate shows that she is a pro who wants to be as good as possible as a player.”

Korpela may often display a quieter and more reserved approach in her role as captain, but that’s not to be confused with a lack of faith in her ability as a leader and player. “Already the way she carries her body shows that she is a good player,” said Koivisto. The same stood out to Hyyrynen. “Tinni walks chest up and back straight with a big confidence in her abilities and big pride in playing for Finland and for Bayern. Tinni told me if you don’t believe in yourself, no one will”. And at the end of the day, Korpela reminds her teammates that, ultimately, it’s a game they play. “She always reminds me to enjoy the moments on the field. To enjoy playing football.”

From Korpela’s perspective to how she presents herself, there’s a great deal from which her teammates can learn. Above all, however, is her capacity to provide transformational leadership – not by forcing and yelling, but by motivating and empowering. And through doing so, she becomes someone who supplies leadership that lasts, and that forms well-rounded citizens in addition to balanced athletes. Like with most aspects of her career, Korpela’s leadership grew out of commitment. It’s now been successfully sustained through commitment. And moving forward, one might predict that few things will change that.


Follow Tinja-Riikka Korpela on Twitter @tinnikorpela

Follow Tuija Hyyrynen on Twitter @tuijahyyrynen

Follow Emma Koivisto on Instagram @emmawkoivisto and Twitter @emma_koivisto

Written by Athlete CRUSH Staff

Posted 13 November 2016