The Dilemmas of a Soccer ‘Mom’

Many view childbirth as the curse of career advancement – but combining motherhood and a flourishing career is now a common feat in sport.

There are many examples of women returning to elite competition after giving birth. Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York Marathon 10 months after delivering her daughter Isla and Jo Pavey became European champion around 11 months after giving birth.

One of the most high profile mothers in women’s football is Chelsea captain Katie Chapman, a member of the Lionesses squad who claimed a bronze medal at last summer’s Women’s World Cup.

But Chapman’s England career hasn’t always been plain sailing. The 33-year old mother of three boys was ostracised by former England manager Hope Powell, who failed to understand the challenges she faced juggling a young family and being a footballer.

Mothers in sport often face challenges through an increasing gender pay gap, lack of childcare and support from national governing bodies and a sizeable risk that they may not return to the same level of performance.

The juggling act of playing at an elite level and being working parents can prove difficult and this is something that Reading and Wales striker Helen Ward knows all too well.

The 28-year-old joined up with former Arsenal teammate and Wales captain, Jayne Ludlow, at Reading Ladies in November 2013 and gave birth to daughter Emily the following year.

Ward, like any mother, finds it difficult to leave her daughter at home while she pursues her career, she says: “I’m fortunate with Wales that Jayne has been very supportive, other nations aren’t quite as accepting of it and maybe see a woman having a child as a hindrance more than anything.”

US Soccer are the leading light in supporting mothers in their set-up, which is not yet the international standard. This is due to a number of reasons, for example: some national teams believe children travelling with the team could hinder the professionalism of training camps and tournaments.

Ward, who plays in England’s WSL 1, believes clubs and international teams in Britain and also national governing bodies can learn from the way the USWNT treat mothers.

“I think what they do is huge and actually something for everybody to aspire to. Obviously they’re fortunate that they’ve got a lot of finances available to them and I think the financial restraint is probably the biggest problem.”

Each child travelling with the team is given $25 a day and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, between the USSF and the USWNT players, provides for the cost of one nanny to travel with the team.

Christie Rampone, the USWNT’s “super mom”, has two daughters and was three months pregnant when she won the 2009 WPS championship with Sky Blue FC.

“Of course it’s tough like anything else to juggle the career and being a mum. US Soccer’s done a great job of setting the standard and I’m hoping to see more mothers out there playing and encouraging women just to do what they want to do, and have that passion to keep going and not stop because you want to have a family,” says the former US captain.

A lot of the issues female footballers face in England comes down to financial difficulties. Not all teams in the WSL have the privilege of being professional; therefore they have to make the commitment to juggle a job alongside their playing career. When you add in to the mix the decision to start a family, it simply becomes untenable to also pursue a football career.

We are all aware that more money needs to be invested in to the women’s game. But, surely less female footballers would call for early retirement if they were given the same support as other nations provide.

Follow Emily at @Egmagee

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