Historically, football is not a game associated with girls. It is amongst the battery of stereotypes that are thrust upon children from an early age, as little boys are given their first ball, little girls are given a pair of ballet shoes, or something similarly feminine, by traditional standards at least.
But if Billy Elliott can dance, you can bet your bottom dollar that girls can play soccer, and have great fun doing it, and following the shattering of glass ceilings, Keira Knightly bending it like Beckham, and the success of the women’s football teams at London 2012, that proves a pretty good indicator that women’s football is on the up – the question is, are we doing enough to encourage it?
Obviously there is a question of nature and nurture surrounding the footballing stereotypes – do girls want to play football? Setting a visible example is important, with influence coming from the top down, so the FA’s launch of The FA WSL in 2011, a summer league for women’s football, was important, while kids football clubs have simply said that making the sport accessible with the funding and facilities for girls teams both in school and outside it will facilitate a desire amongst girls that is already there.
A study conducted by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) supported by the Youth Sport Trust, found that apprehension on the part of girls to play football however, is down to a wider perceived attitude about exercise and sport, showing that only 12% of 14 year old girls are reaching the recommended levels of physical activity and 51% of girls are put off physical activity by their experiences at school.
Issues cited included not wanting to exercise in front of boys due to a lack of confidence about their abilities, feeling overlooked by teachers if they aren’t the best in the class, and being worried about looking unfeminine in front of friends when they are running around getting sweaty.
Is that something that can be overcome? Clubs are addressing the issue by running sessions that are just for girls’ sessions so they are working with each other rather than with or against boys. They are also putting a focus on productivity, noticing that a focus on self-improvement rather than peer competitiveness significantly reduces any shyness, and self-confidence issues seem to be kept at bay.
These proactive developments, alongside the growing filmic and national interest that the game has tentatively seen in the last 10 years, dictates that the question of whether football is increasing in popularity amongst girls isn’t one of ‘if’ it is simply a matter of ‘how fast?’
Author Bio: Lyndon Ogden is an advocate for childrens sports and shareholder in myskillz the football skills rating system.