By Kait Borsay.
Although football is the number one team sport for girls in the UK, participation is still low compared to the rest of Europe. The FA Girls’ Football Festivals hope to tackle that foot first.
With over 8,000 attendees in 2014, the FA Girls’ Football Festivals in association with Continental Tyres is one way the national association hopes to engage girls at primary and secondary school level on a localised basis.
There are 25 events this year: all are free to participate in throughout England, from Yeovil to Cumbria.
This year’s calendar kicked off in Yeovil, where nearly 300 girls from five to 16 years old tested their skills in a range of activities combining football, fun and music.
Polly Fildes, Women’s Football National Project Officer for the FA, said: “The different activities at the festivals help appeal to a wide variety of girls.
“Whilst we have a number of exciting football-based interactives, such as speed cage and target shoot, a freestyle workshop and referee workshop, we also incorporate face painting, hair braiding and music, to show that whatever your involvement in the game, there is something for everyone.
“Our main aim is to get all the girls that attend interested and playing the beautiful game.”
FA Women’s Super League stars Ellie Curson and Shauna Cossens of Yeovil Town Ladies were on hand at the festival opener to share tips, advice and their experiences in the game.
The majority of players in the WSL play football part-time, and must fit training in with paid work, or in Cossens’ case, study.
The Yeovil Town Ladies midfielder found football at a young age, playing in a girls’ team whilst at Bristol Academy’s Centre of Excellence. Her skill on the football field earned her a scholarship at well-known private school, Millfield, where she is currently studying for her A-Levels. She wants to study medicine – and will actively chose a university near a WSL team in the hope she can continue to play.
After taking part in the festival held in Yeovil, the 18-year-old said: “I would have loved this event when I was younger, getting to meet professional footballers [from Yeovil Town] at this level is rare in men’s football.
“Some of the girls here today have never kicked a ball before, hopefully we’ve secured some interest.”
Fildes admits they are “fighting a bit of a battle to ensure football is offered in schools”.
Kelly Simmons, Director of the National Game and Women’s Football, said: “Growing female participation in football is one of our biggest aims and the festivals give girls the opportunity to try out football in a fun and engaging environment.
“That 85 per cent of last year’s participants said they’d like to continue playing football after trying it at the festivals shows how effective programmes like these can be and why it’s important that we take the festivals around the country.”
Fildes added: “In 2014, the results were great: 500 girls signed up to a basic refereeing course, quite some rise from the year before when we sent 97.”
In addition to the activities available on the day, all festival attendees receive a free ticket to a match at their local FA WSL club – great news in the drive to secure more followers of the women’s game.
For more information on the Football Festivals, click here.