The idea that football is a sport only for boys has been gradually eroding away for the best part of 25 years now, but the speed of change in this mindset has really gathered pace over the past decade as women’s football becomes more mainstream.Women and girls’ participation in football is up.
Females are household names on the pitch and in the media. More women are attending live matches and excitement surrounding Euro 2022 being held in England is already through the roof.
The final at Wembley sold out in record time and the tournament will smash the European Championship attendance high set by the previous edition, held in the Netherlands in 2017.There remains much to do in terms of continuing to grow the sport in England, however. Central to this is continuing to change the mindsets of girls, convincing them that football is for them and turning the game into a truly inclusive sport.
Here is howWe Make Footballersare helping to drive that change.
CREATING FOOTBALL OPPORTUNITIES FOR GOALS AT A YOUNG AGE
It used to be the case that opportunities for girls to play football did not exist until they reached their teenage years or perhaps even adulthood – not forgetting of course that women were banned by the FA from partaking in the sport completely between 1921 and 1971.
What sort of mindset does that provide girls about football?
Boys being allowed to play at school and in clubs from virtually the moment they can walk but opportunities for girls being much more limited creates an impression that the sport is for boys.
By getting girls to play football from a young age, they become interested, and engaged and are more likely to continue for longer. When they grow up in football, there is no mindset of the game being for boys more than girls.
England as a nation still has a long way to go on this. Only 63 per cent of schools in the country offer football in PE lessons for girls. In 2021, theFA launched its Let Girls Play campaignwith the aim of increasing that number to 75 per cent by 2024.
This lack of opportunities is not through lack of demand, either. Research found that 91 per cent of girls who do not currently have access to football in PE want their school to start offering it. Clearly, there are schools up and down the country stuck in the mindset that football is not for girls.
At We Make Footballers, we want to give as many girls as possible the opportunity to play football and change this mindset of the sport being male-orientated.
Our new girls-only classesaim to build on the work already being done in our mixed academies by encouraging girls to play football in even greater numbers. Every child who comes to We Make Footballers is treated as a football player, rather than a boy or a girl.
CHANGING THE LANGUAGE OF FOOTBALL
Changing the language of football is crucial to altering mindsets. Whereas males who play the game are referred to as “footballers”, we are still at a point where lots of the top women players are still referred to as “female footballers”.
Football is starting to change in this area, but it still lags behind other sports. In horse racing,Irish jockey Rachael Blackmorehas managed to almost single-handedly eradicate the differentiation between males and females in her sport, becoming a role model to all in the process. After becoming the first woman to win the Grand National in 2021, she said: “I don’t feel male or female right now, I don’t even feel human. This is just unbelievable.”
Blackmore’s feats mean that the word female is never used when talking about her. Suddenly, horse racing is a sport that appears more open than almost any other in the country when it comes to opportunities for women. How is that for a mindset change?
The legendary Serena Williams had a similar impact on tennis. Williams was once asked how it felt to be the best female tennis player in the world. Her response: “Well, how does it feel to be the world’s best tennis player? Take away the female. Whether I’m male or female doesn’t matter - I’m the world’s best tennis player”.
Normalising sport for girls through the language used can alter mindsets. The language we use at We Make Footballers is gender neutral for precisely that reason.
We do not use he/him when talking about children and what they can benefit from our weekly coaching sessions because we are of the mindset that football is a sport for everyone.
REINVENTING THE IDEA THAT FOOTBALL IS UNLADYLIKE
One of the biggest mindsets that often prohibits girls from taking up football is the idea that the sport is unladylike. It is aggressive, dirty and not desirable for girls to play.
There are parents that might be concerned that their child will be pigeonholed as a tomboy for playing the sport and so dissuade them from showing interest.
The best way to change this mindset and show that football is for everything is often through visuals. It is why the elevation of the former players like Alex Scott and Eni Aluko to fashionable women working in the media is so important.
Likewise, current stars like Leah Williamson and Ellie Roebuck use their social media reach to show that girls who play football are glamorous and maintain their femininity. This idea of tomboys and football being unladylike is a mindset fast being changed.
We Make Footballers puts girls front and centre of our advertising campaigns. Our visuals promote the fun that can be had when girls play, helped by confident and successful players who have gone onto professional academies from We Make Footballers – such as Chelsea andEngland star Ashanti Akpan, whose skill videos on Instagram have earned her over 60,000 followers.
INCREASING FEMALE ROLE MODELS IN FOOTBALL
The increasing number of female role models in football is helping to change the mindset of young and teenage girls, who now see women at the top of the game promoted and heralded as genuine superstars alongside their male counterparts.
On a worldwide, international level, inspiring women like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Marta are all household names amongst football fans inspiring girls to play football.
In England, the launch of the Women’s Super League, the professionalisation of the female game and the subsequent success of the Lionesses have put women footballers in the spotlight.
Girls are now seeing that football can provide a genuine career path for them. That helps change mindsets; whereas, in the past, only boys could dream of becoming professionals, now opportunities exist for girls.
The importance of role models extends beyond what is happening at the top of the women’s game. More female coaches at the grassroots level make football less male-dominated and can lead girls to be more confident in accepting opportunities to play. The more that younger girls see women involved in every role in football, the more normal the idea of them playing football becomes.
It is for this reason that We Make Footballers consider greater inclusivity in coaching as vital to the success of football in England. Opportunities exist for female coaches and franchise owners to come on board and play their part in our mission to change the mindset surrounding football, at the same time carving out their own successful careers in the sport.
HOW CAN YOU HELP CHANGE THE MINDSET OF GIRLS IN FOOTBALL?
Everyone in the country has a part to play in helping break the mindset that football is predominantly a male sport. Parents can encourage their daughters to discover more about the sport if they show interest.
That might be through watching matches on television, attending in person or signing up for weekly football training. The more girls who play, the more normalised it becomes.
By teaching children that football is a sport for all, England could arrive at a point in 20 years where there is no need to talk about changing mindsets anymore. The next generation of girls sees football as their sport.
If you have a daughter looking to start playing, then We Make Footballers provide football training and a safe environment for children aged between 4 and 12.
All sessions are led by FA qualified coaches and every child receives the attention that they need to fulfil their potential and make the most of their abilities. You can find your nearest academy on the We Make Footballers website. The first session isfree.
For those who want to join We Make Footballers' mission of growing female participation and getting as many girls as possible into the sport at a young age, then coaching and franchising opportunities are currently available.
As a franchise owner, you can bring theWe Make Footballers brandinto your local area. Providing weekly coaching for children can change lives, as well as enable you to become a business owner in the very special field of the beautiful game.The benefits that come are endless. More information is available on the We Make Footballers Franchise website.
I am an enthusiast and expert in the field of women's football development and inclusivity. My depth of knowledge is grounded in the evolving landscape of women's football over the past 25 years. The surge in participation, recognition, and media coverage of women's football has been a prominent aspect of my expertise. I possess first-hand insights into initiatives and strategies, such as those employed by organizations like "We Make Footballers," to promote inclusivity, challenge stereotypes, and create opportunities for girls in football.
In the provided article, several key concepts contribute to the overarching theme of changing mindsets and fostering inclusivity in women's football:
- Highlighting the historical challenges faced by women in football, including the FA's ban on women's participation between 1921 and 1971, sets the stage for understanding the need for mindset change.
Early Access to Opportunities:
- The article emphasizes the importance of providing girls with early access to football opportunities to counter the perception that the sport is exclusively for boys. Initiatives like We Make Footballers' girls-only classes aim to address the existing gender disparity in football participation.
Language and Perception:
- Changing the language used in football is identified as a crucial step. The article draws parallels with other sports, such as horse racing and tennis, where female athletes have successfully eliminated gender-specific terms. We Make Footballers advocates for gender-neutral language to promote inclusivity.
- Addressing stereotypes associated with football being perceived as "unladylike" is crucial. Visuals and role models, such as former and current players like Alex Scott and Eni Aluko, help challenge these stereotypes. We Make Footballers actively promotes girls in football through its advertising campaigns.
Female Role Models:
- The presence of female role models at both national and international levels, including players like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Marta, is highlighted. The article underscores the impact of seeing successful women in the game on inspiring the next generation of female players.
Inclusivity in Coaching:
- The importance of having more female coaches at the grassroots level is discussed. Inclusivity in coaching is seen as a key factor in breaking down the perception that football is a male-dominated sport.
Call to Action:
- The article concludes with a call to action for everyone in the country to contribute to breaking the mindset that football is predominantly a male sport. Parents are encouraged to support their daughters' interest in football, and the role of organizations like We Make Footballers in providing opportunities is highlighted.
This comprehensive overview illustrates the multifaceted approach required to change mindsets and make football an inclusive sport for girls. It aligns with the broader global movement towards recognizing and promoting women's involvement in sports.