This is the first in a series creatively called “Club Profiles”. The idea is to hear about what clubs and teams from around the world are doing to encourage girls. This first club is from Linlithgow, Scotland, a small town about 20 miles west of Edinburgh and under an hour from Glasgow by train or car.
I have been playing now for 18 months and love it. I have made so many new friends that i see outside football. Love playing as part of a team.
– Linlithgow girl player on playing for the club
Please give me a brief history of club and girls participation in the club. The club is a very community based organisation, and has recently attained the highest Scottish FA Quality Mark recognition. There are currently around 360 children and youths ranging from 5-19, with an adult amateur team due to start in August this year. The girls section has around 45 players aged 9-11, although there are several girls playing in the soccer school and younger mixed groups. We have done lots of things of which I am proud – it’s been a great club to be part of for the last 12 years or so.
How did you set about getting girls at the beginning? Is that different now?
We started off the girls section in early 2010 when my daughter and the daughter of another coach playing at u10’s thought we needed to think about longer term player pathways for our girls. With the enthusiastic backing of the main club, we spoke with the local “Active Schools” co-ordinator and asked if we could come and run some girls-only sessions during their regular PE sessions around the 4 local primaries for P5 girls. Our genuine expectation was that we’d be happy if we got 7 or 8 as that would give us a seven-a-side squad. We ended up getting around 25 notices of interest, around 30% of all the girls in the town! We’ve had a few drop out (although not many – of the 21 girls at the first training, 18 are still playing), and these have been replaced as other girls have come in, and we’re still at 25 for this group.
We repeated the process last year for the next P5 group, and have 19 in this group which has been running for almost a year, and we’re just kicking off the third round of P5 sessions over the next few weeks – it seems to work, and we’ve now a good story to tell the girls and their parents.
You mentioned that ensuring that the girls have a positive experience when they are playing is important. What do you see are the key elements to ensuring that this happens? How do you know if they are getting what they want from the experience?
I think that it is vital for all kids and youths to have a positive experience when playing football, but it is possibly even more critical for the girls as they tend not to be as immersed/obsessed with football as their male counterparts. We were dealing with such a wide range of abilities (especially in the early stages) from girls who’d played since they were five to others who almost literally had not kicked a ball before. If they are not enjoying themselves they simply will stop coming – why would you do something that isn’t fun? The kids don’t have to be there.
The key elements of ensuring it is a positive experience are, I think, to take time to speak to the kids individually, ensure all feedback is couched positively, and make sure that what we’re doing as coaches is structured as far as possible to challenge and stretch the kids to the level that they are capable of achieving. Managing a group of two dozen girls can be an “interesting” challenge, but structure is the critical thing for training.
I also think that absolute transparency in everything that you do as coaches is critical to ensuring that the kids’ involvement remains positive. If parents know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you’re going about doing it, they can discuss it with their daughters, ask questions and generally be involved.
As for “how do we know if they’re getting what they want”, I think the only way that can be judged is by how often they keep coming and how they are when we have them. I absolutely do not believe that winning games is a measure of success in this area, certainly not at this age group. Winning is great and its better than losing, and it’s what we try to do, but as a measure of how we are developing the kids as players and (as far as we can influence, people), its broadly irrelevant when we look to see how well we’re getting on.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced in the girl’s section at the club?
I’ve been very fortunate. I have a fantastic group of kids and an extremely supportive set of parents. The coaches are very good, very dedicated and are all pushing in the same direction. The wider club has been fantastically supportive, as have been the Scottish Football Association/Scottish Women’s Football in the region. To date, we’ve had nothing (at least nothing that’s come to me!) that could be thought of as a challenge in a negative sense. Going forward the main challenges I think will be continuing to be able to get coaches as we seek to grow the section and possibly the introduction of competitive matches this March may change some attitudes, but having been involved in boy’s football for 15 years as coach and referee, the atmosphere surrounding girl’s football – certainly in our area – is much less stressed and much more co-operative.
Are there particular models you follow that have helped shape your programme? Are there any useful coaching resources you can recommend?
We sat down last year and thought about what we should be doing to make sure the coaching was fresh and in the right direction – all of us had coached boys, and we thought there may be different things to consider with girls. We ultimately engaged Coerver Coaching through their Just4Girls programme, and I think it is probably the best thing we have done. I am now faintly evangelical about the Coerver method – the girls love the sessions and we (the coaches) get great benefit in terms of coaches coaching sessions, session structure, resources etc. Just this weekend we were watching the girls play, and to see them try some of things they’ve taken on board through Coerver – 1v1’s, different ways of controlling the ball, confidence to try stuff was the most rewarding thing.
What I particularly like is the ability of the Coerver method to cope with the varying levels of ability in the section. We have some players at LRCFC who have the potential to play at a very high level, and others who are still at a very developmental stage – we’re delighted to have them all.
What we can do is raise the challenge appropriately to match the individual or group we’re working with – the better players don’t get bored, and the less experienced players don’t get frustrated or downhearted about not being able to do something. I can’t recommend Coerver highly enough.
What are your 3 top tips for encouraging girls to play
- Have as much fun as the girls do.
- Be relentlessly positive praise of effort/attempt.
- Don’t worry about scores.
What’s next for the girls at LRCFC?
I’d love us to become one of the biggest girls football clubs in the country. We know as girls get older numbers will likely drop off, but our first goal is to ensure we have a squad at u15 (2 years) when the girls go to 11-a-side, and have a full pipeline of girls coming through year on year. If we keep getting the same type of numbers from the school sessions, it would be great to think that by March 2014 we’d have around 100 girls playing.
Is this your experience as a coach, parent or player? Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts.