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Here come the girls

30 November 2015 Ben Cartwright womens, football, soccer, female

Please forgive the obvious headline and yes the irony of a man writing about the emergence of the women’s game isn’t lost on me either, but I hope I can be forgiven! You see I have spent the best part of 2 years working exclusively with female footballers and I have to say, it’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my coaching career. I have (very sadly) witnessed at first hand the barriers and problems females face in order to play a sport that i believed was accessible to everyone. I am however, overjoyed to have seen the change that the women’s game has undergone from a largely ignored sport with little (if any) press interest, to a flourishing one that gets national media coverage in a very short space of time.

The catalyst for change

Certainly in England the most obvious reason for the increased interest is the recent 3rd place finish of the national team at the World Cup. It would however be unfair to say that this is the only reason. There have been various people and agencies that have worked extremely hard to promote the female game to that of an equal standing with the male one. Up and down the country there are a vast number of coaches (including 35,000 qualified females) and volunteers who sacrifice their time and effort to provide females of all ages with training and playing opportunities. These unsung heros have been the backbone of the womens game for a number of years. Speaking to Wigan Athletic Ladies Midfielder Ash Taylor she explained how the biggest barrier she experienced growing up was the lack of girls football clubs to play for. She and many others had to join boys clubs in order to gain access to coaching and matches. Then once they turned 12 they would find themselves unable to play for the boys clubs due to segregation rules and would often drop out of the game altogether. But the effort put in by those at grassroots level has gone someway in ensuring that girls have the ability to be part of a club and competition within their gender group. This has resulted in football becoming the largest female team sport in the country, an amazing achievement I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

The support of the Big Guns

Without doubt a crucial element to progress has been the involvement of the FA. Prior to the World Cup the FA launched the ‘we can play’ campaign that aimed to eradicate the negatively distorted image of the women’s game and boost female participation. The FA’s decision to adopt a proactive approach to dispelling the completely ludicrous stereotypes and derogatory attitudes that had been holding back female involvement in the game has been fundamental in the changes we are now seeing. In addition to this, the FA women’s super league (WSL) has gone from strength to strength. It’s popularity has seen the attendances at games rise significantly (breaking all records post World Cup) and a lucrative sponsorship deal with Continental has been secured. The involvement of the BBC in bringing Women’s football to our screens has also contributed to showcasing the talent and ability of female players. Huge strides have been made in opening the floodgates for girls and women to play the game we all love so much, but it will be this media coverage that will drive development even further.

 

The next step: A new hope

I believe that the women’s game is at a critical tipping point. The metaphorical straw that will break the camels back will come in the form of the women playing at the highest level. They need to be seen, their matches need to be broadcast consistently and their success needs to be publicly celebrated. The impact this will have on future generations of females will be momentous in terms of aspiration and acceptance. Girls will no longer feel that the elite game is for men exclusively and that they would never be able to attain the same level. The good news is this is happening right now. England and Manchester City player Toni Duggan is pioneering the role of what can be achieved by females in the game. Her exploits on the pitch and the spectacular goals she scores are smashing away the unseen barriers that has undermined female confidence for years (staggeringly the FA report that 4 out of 5 girls playing recreational football don’t feel confident in doing so). I have highlighted Miss Duggan for a specific reason. Her match winning volley against Chelsea in last years WSL won the Man City ‘Goal of the Season award’, beating the likes of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero. The implications of this accomplishment cannot be understated. The message it sends out to females is empowering, this isn’t a mens game, it’s our game, and we can play it equally as well. The fact we have young girls arguing about being Toni Duggan rather than a male counterpart is an indication we are finally heading in the right direction.

 

Football fitness for females

What does this have to do with football fitness you may ask? Well much of what is written or posted about training in football is fairly generic and more often than not aimed male players. Due to the inherent differences between the genders it would be a big mistake to superimpose a male training strategy onto female players (as is often the case to due the limited sources of information on the subject). We as coaches have a responsibility to ensure that the training is properly suited and specific for this population of players. After all the progress we have made to establish equality in football, it would be a real shame for us to fall at the last hurdle by neglecting this vital part of a female players development. Plan your training with the specific needs of females in mind, if you don’t you are selling them short and taking us as a sport back to the dark ages.

Enjoy your football!

 

Women’s football in numbers (taken from FA website)

1: Football is the No1 female team sport in England

6: England’s world ranking

7: Number of England Women’s teams

18: Teams in The FA WSL

25: Female A Licence coaches

96: Teams in The FA Women’s Premier League

259: Entries in The FA Women’s Cup

927: Qualified female referees

3,756: Players in the England Talent Pathway

8,000: Young football fans attended FA Girls’ Football Festivals and Fanzones

45,619: Record crowd at an England Women’s match

86,000: Total attendances at FA WSL matches last season

1.3m: TV viewers for the 2014 FA Women’s Cup Final between Arsenal and Everton.

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