The good, the bad and the ugly

Little Soccer Player StretchingWelcome to McSoccer for Girls.  This is a new blog where I hope to post all sorts of good stuff about the girl’s and women’s game in Scotland and around the world, and hear what you have to say about it.

I am passionate about the game. However, as a fan, player and coach I am frustrated about why more girls don’t play, how girls who do play are treated and the image of the girl’s game in the wider public.  The aim of this blog is to post stories, profiles, videos, reviews of books (you name it) about the girl’s and women’s game and to start to contribute to the conversation about how we encourage more girls to play.

In this first post I will talk about how I got here and briefly outline the state of play as I see it: the good, the bad and the ugly. Finally I will pass the ball to you to see what you think the problems are and, most importantly, how to address them.

How I got here

I grew up playing in the States. I moved to Scotland twenty years ago and I started coaching an U11 girl’s team just over 2 years ago. 

The boy’s teams at my Edinburgh club were all oversubscribed. However, I struggled to get more than a handful of girls to come along on a regular basis. The girls that did come to training seemed to love the football as much as I did. However, even some that did love to play, eventually quit.

I am not the only one who has trouble attracting girl players. In Scotland, fewer than 10% of players are female. In the US, girls play soccer as much as boys, almost 50/50. This contrast doesn’t make sense to me. The game is the same in both countries, right? In addition, the US is only a newbie in the football world next to Scotland’s long, proud history.

  • Why don’t more girls and women play in Scotland?
  • What can I do to make football more attractive to girls?
  • What is everyone else doing?

These questions led me to develop this blog. I figured I couldn’t be the only one asking these questions and I am sure there are people who can give me some good answers. Also I am sure that some of the answers are complicated and there needed to be a space for some good discussion. So here we go…

The state of play: the good

The good news is that girls and women love football.

  • More than 26 million girls and women play worldwide[1] and football is the fastest growing participation sport for girls in the world[2].
  • Scotland has 140 Registered Clubs and approximately 4,700 girl and women players[3].
  • In England, football is the most popular team sport for women[4].

Women’s football is setting new records.

  • The Women’s World Cup final this summer was the most tweeted-about sporting event in history. It even beat the Tweets-per-second record for the men’s final in South Africa[5].
  • England Women’s World Cup quarter-final against France was watched by a peak audience of 3.2m in the UK[6]. The final between USA and Japan got an audience of nearly 30 million in those two countries alone. An average audience of more than 17 million people in Germany watched their team lose out to Japan, representing nearly a quarter of the German population[7].

The bad

  • Globally, girls and women only make up 10% of the people playing football[8].
  •  In Scotland, only 1% of women play compared to 13% of men[9]. In England, less than 8% of players are women[10].
  • By the age of 14, 65% of girls do not reach the recommended levels of physical activity[11].

The ugly

Sexism, homophobia, snobbery, bigotry, and violence keep girls from playing and enjoying football in the UK.

  • Despite that 61% of girls agreed that watching successful sports stars inspired them to get involved, women’s sports coverage in the UK makes up just 5% of all sports coverage[12]. Women’s football is but a small percentage of that small percentage.
  • Only 0.5% of all sponsorship in the UK goes to women’s sport[13].
  • When there is media coverage or sponsorship, stories about the game or player achievements are often overshadowed by the debate about whether or not to use sex to sell the game. FIFA Head Sepp Blatter’s comments about women wearing “tighter shorts” or members of the German team posing for Playboy in the lead up to the World Cup this summer are examples of this. Is it any surprise that 44% of girls in Scotland feel on display whilst taking part in sport and that girls start to connect physical activity with negative associations[14]?

Now I have to move into the anecdotal and observations from my experiences as a player and coach. I suspect there is some good evidence of these issues contributing to playing decisions, but I’ve not found it yet (please pass on information if you have it).

Many parents and people associated with my club were supportive of the development of a girl’s team.  However, on the training ground and at games, other adults made comments within earshot of me and the players that football is not a place for girls and that they were taking up valuable training time that should be reserved for the boys. Some of these men and women had daughters who stood and watched the girl’s team practice as they waited for their brothers to finish training. These comments made the girl players very uneasy.

The girls who played for me said that boys at school made fun of them for participating in a boy’s sport. Getting teased a little is part of growing up.  As a girl, I actually liked some of the special attention I got when I was the only girl playing on a boy’s team. However, I really remember the negative comments about my femininity. The comments did not stop me playing, but they could easily stop a lot of girls playing. They were also very confusing and hurtful. I just wanted to play. Why did people have to say mean things to me just because I was a girl?

Stereotypes about what girls like to do can also determine activity choices.  I’ve had this conversation many times:

“I think my daughter would prefer ballet.”

“Has she tried ballet?”I asked.

“Well, no. But I think she’d like it more.”

“Couldn’t your daughter try both football and ballet? She might like them both,” I said.

No, she’s a girly girl. I think we’ll stick to ballet.”

Since when did active girly girls not play football? I’ve never been on a team without a number of them.

As a coach, I’ve had several conversations with parents who have more or less suggested to me that having their daughter play football might make her too masculine or turn her into a lesbian. My understanding is that playing football is a lifestyle choice. Being a lesbian or perceived as manly are not.

I have also had other conversations with parents who suggested that football’s working class roots made the game unsuitable for their daughter. I never know where to even start with this, but it always makes me laugh a little as soccer was originally considered a “preppy” or posh sport in the States.

On the other hand, I do agree that the bigotry and violence often associated with the men’s game tarnish the game for everyone. I have a some sympathy for parents who might want to keep both their daughters and sons away from a game that sometimes seems to encourage bad behaviour of fans and players at the top-level.  The football community as a whole does have responsibility to fight this bad behaviour, but the bad behaviour is not the fault of the game itself.

What I want to know

Does my list of uglies start to hit on the real reasons why more girls don’t play football? What’s missing?

All of these uglies exist in the US and other nations where girl’s football participation is higher than the UK’s.  Is there something different about how these things manifest themselves in the UK?

How do we get the news out that football is a great game for girls?

Why do some girls continue playing? Why do some girls, who look like they love playing, quit?

Is a girl player’s experience different from a boy’s experience? What is the nature of that difference?

What does the girl’s and women’s game look like in other countries? Can we learn anything from them?

This is just the start.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear from you. Please comment here or get in touch with an idea for a post.


About Jennifer Flueckiger

writer/blogger, accidental parisienne, girl's football/soccer coach, lover of travel and good food
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5 Responses to The good, the bad and the ugly

  1. Hey – very good start!! Lots of questions though.

    I’ve a few more – although you are focussing on football, how does the percentage of girls involved in other similar sports compare? eg hockey, rugby, etc

    What sports are actively encouraged in school, particulalrly primary schools – does this differ from the states/Germany etc. There is a general decline in the numbers of both sexes participating in sport generally.

    Have you spoken with anyone from the SFA – they are going through a huge trasnformation at the moment, really trying to encourage more participation, re-structuring numbers playing matches (more 4v4 and 7v7 for younger kids), both sexes play same game until secondary school. They also have codes of conduct for how players, coaches and parents should behave, though this has still some way to go before it becomes reality on the sidelines.

    One last comment, i was listening to ‘On the Ball’ on recently, pre-football warm-up show, and they were discussing what it meant to watch football, bigotry, violence, foul-language etc. Someone had texted in stating something along the lines of ‘football was the grown males chance to be completely and utterly irrational for one and a half hours’! It made me laugh at the time, but there do seem to be a lot of people who go to watch matches to shout, swear and generally let off steam – and probably act in a way that they never do outside a football ground!

  2. Molly F says:

    Interesting. Maybe I misunderstand, but it sounds like Women’s football is doing well in England – fourth most popular team sport & high profile teams. Is there a significant difference between participation rates for girls within areas of the UK (between England and Soctland for example)?

  3. Mary Kay says:

    As the mother of a son who played soccer and a daughter who has always played sports, albeit it not soccer because girls teams are few and far between in Switzerland, I wanted to applaud your initiative in starting this new blog. Well done!

  4. Very interesting blog, Jen. I’d like to know why football – sorry, soccer – appeals increasingly to girls. Despite all the bigotry, violence etc. Also, check out an article in The Spectator 4th Feb “An Acceptable Hatred” sub-titled “The last politically correct form of prejudice is against football’s working class supporters” Not about girls in sport but thought-provoking.

  5. Pingback: The good, the bad and the ugly | Football for Girls |

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