Why Scotland should support Olympic football

Olympic Rings at St. Pancras Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThe Olympic draw was today and Hampden, Scotland’s national stadium, will host its first women’s game ever, USA v. France, on July 25. Olympic football is a controversal topic for Scottishfootball fans. The Scottish Review has kindly published some of my thoughts on the subject. Follow the link below for the full article.

Mention the Olympics to many football supporters in Scotland and you will most likely encounter a frown. The Scottish Football Association and a chorus of commentators suggest that a Team GB threatens the future of the Scotland team and that football should not be an Olympic sport.  
     Whatever the truth is with these claims, the situation is casting a shadow over a competition that provides an unprecedented opportunity to promote the sport and inspire many young players, especially girls. Many Team GB critics complain that the media and others neglect Scotland. These same critics have neglected to address how the decision to shun the Olympic team hurts the women’s game. 

Follow the link to read more:


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Challenging 4 myths about girl’s football

Female Soccer Player with BallRecently I came across some research that asked nearly 900 soccer players (aged 11 to 18) at a top-level competitive tournament in the U.S. about their motivations, attitudes and behaviours in relation to the game.  The results challenge a number of myths about girls and girl’s football.

Myth #1 – Girls aren’t as competitive as boys

The study found there is no difference between girls and boys in their desire to be competitive. Both girls and boys see winning and scoring as important parts of their game. Ninety four percent of girls (the same percentage as boys) answered that they play football because they want to be competitive.  It’s clearly an important part of why they play.

However, the research raised the possibility that girls might define “being competitive” differently than boys.  In their answer to the question “How important is winning when playing soccer?”, 80 % of the boys indicated winning was “important” or “very important;” while 61 % of the girls answered in this way. On the other hand, when asked how important playing fairly was to them, 72 %of the girls answered “important” or “very important,” while only 48 % of the boys answered the same.

It is possible that for the girls, it is more important for them to do their best, play fairly and lose, than it is to win at any cost. Maybe to girls playing fairly is a more important part of how they define being competitive than it is to the boys.

Myth #2 – Girl’s don’t want to play football

The study found that girls and boys play for the same reasons: to have fun, to improve their game, and to be with friends.

If you look at the numbers of girls who play football in US and Australia you can see that girls play almost as much as boys. Girls love to play football in Scotland too. So why do only 2% of women play? What is going on here?

This study said something about how parents and coaches help shape what children see as acceptable activities and their attitudes about competition. Children are very interested in the differences between girls and boys. I’ve read about other studies that show that it is not until around age 5 that they understand that their gender is fixed. They think that activities, clothing and hair style define gender and not biology. They don’t understand that if a boy wears pink, he is still a boy.

They listen to adults and peers to get information about what are “girl” things and what are “boy” things. It follows then that what they like and what they like because it further identifies them to a specific gender becomes blurred. On the flip side, they will start to “dislike” activities or things they understand as belonging to the “other side”, as it is often described.

It may be hard for us to believe but there will always be a number of children of both genders who are not at all interested in football.  However, there may be a large number of girls who are put off from even thinking about playing because parents, coaches, teachers and other children label football a “boy’s game”. The study outlines that coaches and parents have a large role in helping both girls and boys understand the positives they can get out of playing football.

Myth # 3 – Football encourages bad sportsmanship.

Bad sportsmanship and other bad behaviour at the top-level of game grab headlines and discourage some parents from encouraging their children to play football. However, this study found that the vast majority of players at youth level in the States had healthy attitudes towards competition and that bad sportsmanship was not a widespread problem.

The only study I could find about youth players’ competitiveness or sportsmanship in the UK supported this study’s findings males and older players were more likely than females to accept cheating and gamesmanship. It however did not shed any light on whether bad sportsmanship was problem in the UK in youth football. This is important as there is something cultural in the attitudes and behaviours in relation to football. At the very least this study can show us that it is possible to have competitive youth games without unhealthy levels of competition.

Of the young players who said they felt pressure to be competitive, as many cited their parents (25%) as source of this pressure, as they did coaches (26%). One in four mentioned both. Parents, as well as coaches, have a large part to play in player’s attitudes and behaviour and also whether or not competition in sport becomes a negative pressure for children.

Myth #4 – Female coaches are too soft and don’t get results

This study also looked at the impact of a coach’s motivational techniques, attitudes and behaviors on the players.  There were differences in what the players said about the attitudes of female and male coaches.

According to both male and female players, female coaches are more likely to feel that “playing fairly” and “that everyone gets a chance to play” are important or very important.  However, the players indicated there were no differences in how male and female coaches emphasize “winning” or “playing your best”. Players with female coaches are as likely to write down winning and competition as important as players with male coaches.

Female coaches are also less likely to make negative comments, yell if mistakes are made and apply undue pressure. However, female coaches are just as likely as male coaches to “help me bring out the best in myself”, “help me be a good sport” and “motive me to do my best rather than to do better than others”.

In terms of coaching techniques, there were no significant differences between the ways in which boys and girls answered questions about how their coaches motivate them. According to the young players in this study, the most motivating tools used by coaches are positive feedback (76 %), pep talks (76 %) and humour (71 %), while the least effective tool is strict rules (35 %).

Your thoughts

As always, I’d love to hear what you think about the issues above. 

  • Do you think the findings from the U.S. translate to other countries or do you think football culture is just too different in different places to draw conclusions?
  • Do you think girls define “being competitive” differently than boys? If so, how?
  • What can we do to make sure that football is not seen as a “boy’s game”?
  • Is bad sportsmanship and unhealthy competition a problem in the youth game?
  • Do the findings about what motivates players sound right?
  • What findings to you take away and find most useful for your club or situation?

For further information about this study or to read the paper see the following:

Healy Jonas, M. “Attitude towards competition: do differences exist between boys and girls?” Melpomene Journal, Vol. 21, no. 2, 2002, p. 21-28.

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Can girls handle tough coaching? Yes, says a book that follows an u14 US team

The Beautiful Game: 16 Girls and the Soccer Season that Changed Everything by Jonathan Littman“Confrontation? The modern coaching handbooks confirmed that it didn’t work. Girls just closed down and tuned out, their self-esteem too brittle to handle the challenge. . . . And sure enough the first practices after the confrontation seemed to prove that Emiria had indeed miscalculated. The tough woman coach had crossed the line that men believed couldn’t be broken. Catherine continued to emotionally withdraw from the team.” (The Beautiful Game, p 173)

Is coaching girls different? Are they less competitive and more emotional? Is their draw to the game more for social reasons than the individual achievement boys are after?

Jonathan Littman’s book The Beautiful Game: Sixteen Girls and the Soccer Season that Changed Everything (1999, Avon Books) examines what happened to one American U14 girl’s team after it made the shift from recreational to competitive, from the committed, well-meaning dads to a focused professional female coach, Emiria Salzmann. The book follows the Santa Rosa Thunder team from try-outs and appointing the new coach through to the Northern California State Championship game.

Salzmann, a record-breaking All-American player in college, had a clear vision about what was needed to win and it wasn’t hand-holding. At first the girls and the parents hated the rigorous drills and increased commitment demanded by the young coach. Many of the girls thought about quitting and some parents tried to have Salzmann replaced. However, when the results started coming and the girls started to see what they might achieve both as a team and individually they were willing to overcome personal challenges on and off the pitch to be part of the new team.

This book provides an interesting case study into how girls respond to high levels of discipline and competition. I know as a young player I longed for a coach that took the game as seriously as I did and would have loved to play for a coach like Salzmann. However thinking about my former team mates I was reminded that not all players would have responded well to this style as some in the book did not.  As I read, it was clear to me based on my experience of younger girls that this approach was not appropriate for them.

I’d like to know what you think. 

Have you read the book?  If so, what were your thoughts?

Is this rigorous, disciplined style of coaching appropriate for girls? Yes or no, please send your experiences.

Is the question about coaching girls more about delivery than about discipline and rigour?

If so, is there a best age for starting to ask for more commitment from girls?

How do we make sure that while we accommodate the girls who want to play competitively that we also take care of the girls who want a recreational approach?

I look forward to hearing your views.

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Club Profile – Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club

Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club LogoLast week I spoke to Doug Johnston, Head Coach for the Girl’s Section at Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club  about how they’ve developed their programme for girls.

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.

Linlithgow Rose Under 11s provided half-time entertainment at Scotland v Finland International Friendly 21 Sept 2011 Photo provided by Doug Johnston

Linlithgow Rose Under 11s provided half-time entertainment at Scotland v Finland International Friendly 21 Sept 2011 Photo provided by Doug Johnston

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.

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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.

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