Girls football is on the rise in Sheffield and South Yorkshire ...now to get more women into coaching
A little over a year ago, there was a major push in Sheffield and the surrounding areas to get more girls playing football.
Backed by the local and national FAs, the Wildcats programme gives young girls the opportunity to have the space to enjoy the game, perhaps for the first time, or learn new skills and build confidence.
The project, which is aimed at girls from the ages of 5-11, has been a terrific success up and down the country and our region is no exception, with huge numbers playing and developing in different centres every week.
In a sense, though, they have now become a victim of that success.
The more girls that turn up, the more need for coaches and helpers.
More often than not, the Wildcats centres are organised alongside established clubs. This helps provide a pathway into a structured team-based development, should the girls wish to carry on with that. It also means there are ready-made qualified coaches able to take the sessions.
However, these coaches are volunteers and invariably also manage their own team, on top of giving up more time to help keep the Wildcats going.
Some centres are struggling more than others and while in most cases there isn’t a shortage of people to help out, attention has been drawn to one thing that organisers would like to see ...more women coaches.
Women and girls football is enjoying unprecidented levels of interest, helped by the success of the Lionesses, who begin their Wold Cup campaign this week, and a shift change in how female participants are perceived.
In the recent past, many women will have been lost to the game for various reasons but had little opportunity to get back into it when their circumstances changed.
That is no longer the case and there is now a concerted effort to try and bring women back into football, through coaching the girls.
Sam Dyson, 33, from Sheffield, recently began helping at Crosspool Juniors’ Wildcats sessions. This bridged a footballing gap, with Sam having stopped her involvement in the sport when she had her daughter, who is now seven.
“I got involved in Wildcats because my daughter started and I was just stood on the sidelines watching the coaches,” she said.
“Then loads more kids kept coming and and I was thinking they definitely need some help, so I offered to help and I've been here ever since.”
Sam added: “I used to captain a womens team before I had my daughter; I've worked as a PE teacher in a primary school, I have my football qualifications so it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“The time was right. I was working at a youth centre on a Thursday but I stopped working there to help with this. Since then it's been growing and growing and now we have 45 kids so it's been brilliant really.”
Sam will now also go on to run the youngest of Crosspool Juniors’ girls teams for the new season which begins in September and part of the Wildcats’ strategy is that it can help to maintain a conveyor belt of keen players and hopefully keep them in the game right through adulthood.
She says the girls benefit from hearing a female voice in a sport that remains male-dominated.
“I think for girls, it good to have a role model, having another girl.
“If you manage a team if you coach, you have got to work alongside men and I think some women think they wouldn't be able to provide the same experience. For me, that just makes me want to do it more, to show the men us girls can do it. I think it's been really refreshing for the girls here particularly having a girl coach them.
“They react differently,” Sam adds. “When I watch them with the men, they try it on a bit more. I think with me they look at me and know I have played before, I have been on a team and worked in a school and they think 'she means business'. Like, they want to impress.
“I definitely think we need more women. We just need more women role models for the girls here. We need to show the girls that whatever age you can still love football, still play football, manage football - as a woman there are so many more opportunities in football to think about.”
“My passion is making the girls know that they have got a role model and that there are role models for girls and that in football they aren't just looking up to men or boys. I just want them to know that girls can be what they want to be in football.”
Sam wants an assistant, and she’s not alone on that score, with the anecdotal evidence suggesting that many women don’t realise there is a route back into the game should their interest have piqued again following a break.
Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA (SHCFA) offer coaching programmes aimed at bringing women into football, or helping take girls who are currently playing, into a different pathway.
At Dronfield and Kiveton Park, they use their older girls teams to provide assistance to the coaches at their Wildcats centre, which benefits all parties.
That’s something that is replicated around the region but not every team is able to provide that and the local FA is hoping to see a rise in the number of women getting involved.
“We would love more women coaches and it is something we are very keen on pushing,” said Mike Drummond, Youth Football Officer at Sheffield and Hallamshire FA.
“We want everyone to see Wildcats at being a part of the community, where girls can grow and be confident and express themselves, be healthy and active and make new friends.
“We are so reliant on volunteers and I can’t stress enough how thankful we are to each and every one of them who takes the time to give young people the chance to play football.
“There are centres, though, that could do with a bit more help in terms of coaching and from our point of view, the Wildcats priogramme is a great platform for women to get involved in coaching.”
As Sam says, that doesn’t mean you would be expected to turn up and start chasing after 40 excited children.
“There are loads of different things that you could do. Even if it was just coming down and being here, you don't even need to do the coaching side of things, as in leading.
“You could come and take the money, help set up the cones or hand out the bibs and then take it from there. In terms of managing a team, it's the same, there are loads of different roles that you could fulfill in the sport if you don't want to play or coach.
“I would love an assistant, preferably a girl. There are loads of things out there but I just want women to be confident enough to go out and do it.”
For more information and an online map detailing your local Wildcats centre, visit: http://www.sheffieldfa.com/players/youth/wildcats