Football: Where are all the girls?

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Girls football

My oldest (7) was very excited when we moved her schedule around this term so she could play football. She is keen on the sport and has played on and off since she was three. Her early years were spent in California, where “soccer” is as popular with girls as tap or ballet.

Imagine her disappointment when she turned up in her football boots and shin guards last Monday afternoon to discover she was the only girl among a small swarm of boys.

She didn’t let that stop her. The coaches (from the local football club) were great and supported her involvement, awarding her player of the day. I was very proud watching her muck in there with all the boys. After, she ate two helping of shepherd’s pie and fell asleep on the sofa…

But I have to wonder… where are all the girls?

Loughborough University did some research a while back on why girls dislike PE.

It boiled down to four things:

  1. Horrible PE kit;
  2. Cold weather;
  3. The super hearty, if not bullying, attitude of the archetypal games teacher (sorry had to quote that directly);
  4. The competitive nature of sports.

I can agree with the first two. We have not (so far) come across the third, but I am worried about the last one. Surely a little friendly competition can help prepare our little girls to compete in the next decade’s workforce, which I’m sure will still be male centric, right? Shouldn’t we encourage this?

I asked some of the mothers why their daughters didn’t play football and many said they wanted them to play, but their daughters weren’t interested. They dismissed it as being “for the boys”.

What do you think about the lack of pink on the football pitch? Does your daughter play football or any other competitve sports? Do you want her too?

Photo credit: wworks

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  1. 11/03/2015 / 18:39

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  2. Clair Maskell
    03/05/2012 / 10:02

    I for one used to love kicking the ball around with the boys. It took a while to be accepted into their games of football, but once they did and realised I wasnt too bad, I used to get asked more often!!
    I hope that my daughter, if she wishes to play football, gets as much encoragement from her peers, teachers and of course we will be rioght behind her as her parents!!!
    Let’s get girls playing football!!

  3. 02/10/2009 / 06:41

    Thanks for taking the time to help, I really apprciate it.

  4. A Modern Mother
    29/09/2009 / 20:07

    Tasha — that sounds horrible about the bullying PE teacher…
    Geeky — yes, hockey and netball..
    Mad House — will check it out…
    Jennifer — I should have known!

  5. 28/09/2009 / 16:30

    I think the “establishment” philosophy over here goes a long way to explaining it. At my daughter’s school, there are boys’ sports and girls’ sports. the boys play football and cricket, the girls play netball and field hockey. i hate it, because i grew up playing soccer in Texas. But there it’s closely related to the class thing, methinks.

  6. 28/09/2009 / 02:38

    I hope she gets to keep it up. Do girls still play hockey in the uk? That’s fun too. My 3.5 year old is in a pull out soccer program at her preschool and loves it. Though at home she likes to play soccer in her ballet kit!

  7. 27/09/2009 / 08:09

    Rosemary’s still too young for competitive sport (I assume!), but Chris encourages and teaches her how to kick about a football. I would imagine she’d be interested given the opportunity, though we are concerned at the moment that her best friend at playgroup is pushing her far too much towards ‘girliness’ and all things girly. At nursery school she plays with lots of boys and some girls and she has always been really into running around doing energetic things. At playgroup, she gravitates toward this one (slightly older) girl and plays a lot more dressing-up, ballet and mummies, daddies and babies.
    I hated most sport at school. I was home-educated for a few years of primary school and, while I did lots of PE (swimming, trampolining, gymnastics), none of it was team sports and I never learnt the rules or had any practice in them. On starting secondary school I got thrown into the deep end with a bullying PE teacher, who had massive goes at me because I had no idea to play netball or hockey.
    The first (and probably only) team sport I really enjoyed at school was basketball. This was the only team sport that they offered with mixed genders. And it was fun because no-one else knew how to play either, so we all learnt at the same time.
    I do hope Emily can persuade some more of her female friends to give it a go. It’s great that they make football (and other sports) available to both genders. Do the boys get to play netball and hockey, too, though?

  8. A Modern Mother
    26/09/2009 / 07:47

    Clarey — thanks!
    Caroline — I’m sure that has something to do with it, and parent attitudes…

  9. 25/09/2009 / 07:41

    Interestingly, at the local primary school where I work, there are equal numbers of girls and boys in the after school football club. Maybe it’s to do with the way it’s presented to the children?

  10. A Modern Mother
    23/09/2009 / 20:04

    Antontell — yippee!!
    Tim — is that because the boys are too competitive?
    Working Mum– yes!!!
    Erica — each region seems to be a bit different…

  11. 23/09/2009 / 19:16

    I played a lot of football when I was younger and we always had plenty of players for a girls team, I don’t know what’s happened?
    As for Erin, well at the moment she’s a girly girl so it’s highland dancing and ballet at the moment.

  12. 23/09/2009 / 18:29

    You’ve just listed the four reasons I hated (and that’s hated with a vengeance!) PE at school. So it still continues today?

  13. 23/09/2009 / 15:56

    Sally probably falls into the ‘I hate PE’ camp that the Loughborough research was all about. But having started at secondary school this year, she’s starting to enjoy her PE lessons more. The reason? No boys! Although she’s in a co-ed year group, the sexes are separated for PE!

  14. 23/09/2009 / 11:48

    My daughter is crazy about football, not watching but playing! Here in the village there were so many girsl who wanted to play that they had to make two girls football teams! And now they’ve started a girls’ football team in school as well. She’s abandoned ballet/tap and Brownies for being able to train and play and she doesn’t not regret that at all. I do. I hate standing on a freezing football pitch under the pouring rain! I think football is for warm countries, not for the UK. All the best. Ciao. A.

  15. A Modern Mother
    23/09/2009 / 10:43

    Half Mum/Biscuit– I’m not very athletic either, and am defo influenced by cold weather… thanks for the mention!
    MTJAM — I think you could have your own small team?
    Whistle– Yes, mums and the media — the biggest influencers! (thanks for the reward!)
    Lindy — I think you are on to something, the mums really do influence… I’ve had several similiar remarks
    PerfectlyHappy — personally I don’t like it either — but my daughter does and I love that she mucks in with all the boys…

  16. 23/09/2009 / 07:38

    I personally dismissed rugby and football for being far too boisterous for me! In France you get to try these sports in PE whether you are a boy or a girl but I hated being kicked and pushed in the mud. I am far too girly for these sports 🙂
    I only have boys so I suppose that if one of them want to be a ballet dancer we might have the same conversation the other way.
    My sister has got twin girls and one is very “girly” and the other one plays football and is very competitive. They have been brought up the same way, so I suppose it all depends on personality. What I think is brilliant though is that they don’t seem to have the same obstacles as before depending on the gender and the sport they want to play.

  17. 23/09/2009 / 00:50

    Everyone in the US plays soccer! (You’d think the national team would be better-ha.) I’m surprised that there aren’t more girl leagues here in the UK but wonder if class snobbery is somehow involved. I know that some of the mums I have met have made snarky comments that have lead me to think this might be the case.

  18. 22/09/2009 / 23:12

    I remember playing football and cricket at school but they didn’t interest me very much. I think the media in this country portays these sports as very masculine and many girls don’t find that appealing. Plus the women’s national teams get no media coverage at all (despite being often more successful in their international competitions). There’s an award for you at mine!

  19. 22/09/2009 / 21:55

    All mine (3, 2 & 2) want to play rugby and cricket. I think this has something to do with dad’s influence…!

  20. Half Mum Half Biscuit
    22/09/2009 / 21:55

    Because I’m forty-something, it does feel like football for girls is a new invention. Given my time again, I’m not sure I’d be keen. So you get to chase a ball up up and down a pitch. And? I liked netball though, and cross-country running…
    I’ve linked to your article on blogging in a piece I wrote for One Space here:
    Your article was what got me started.

  21. A Modern Mother
    22/09/2009 / 20:41

    Linda– Absolutely. My daughter tends to do her own thing (hmmm, wonder where she gets that from) so not so influenced by her friends but I’ms ure that is a factor.
    Expat Mum — American football is what all the boys go for there… my hubby finally got into it when we were in La Jolla… oh well, can’t win them all
    Jane — you go girl!
    Rosie — LOL!

  22. 22/09/2009 / 20:27

    She’s disappointed there are so many boys??
    My daughter loves football. If she wanted to join a team or after school club, I’d certainly let her. I know a number of other girls that do. I think if one or two join then the rest will follow.

  23. 22/09/2009 / 20:13

    Sports were very segregated when I was at school. Netball and hockey for the girls football and rugby for the boys. I would have loved to have played football instead. Well done Emily – keep it up. You are a credit to us girls!

  24. 22/09/2009 / 19:51

    I always thought it really odd here that little girls seem to play soccer almost more than the boys but then it all stops when they get to about 12. I know there’s a great US women’s soccer team but I have a feeling that the reason there’s not much money or interest in professional soccer over here is because the men don’t play it. Very sexist actually.

  25. 22/09/2009 / 19:21

    I heard the same report as Tej – a council paying for hair straightners for girls doing PE – unbelievable.
    Here’s a piece by Carrie Dunn explaining why she thinks women’s football is treated unfairly by the media:
    Do you think a lack of role models for girls in football while there are in other more traditionally female pursuits has an effect?
    I just asked my daughter why she wasn’t interested in football when she was younger (I remember asking her if she wanted to) and she just said: “Because none of my friends did it.”
    Girls can be so sociable and not as competitive, do you think that could be a factor?

  26. Ladybird World Mother
    22/09/2009 / 18:45

    At Brownies and Ballet. Amazing how nothing changes. But keep that football up… brilliant that she loves it.

  27. A Modern Mother
    22/09/2009 / 14:41

    Victoria– that is horrible, it sure makes a difference if the coaches are supportive (and the weather is good;-)
    Let’s Share– amazing!
    TooMany–we’re trying…but no luck yet

  28. TooManyHats
    22/09/2009 / 14:31

    Well, I’m in California and YES girls are very into soccer here. All of my children have played at some point. You cannot go near a field on Sat or Sun around here without encountering a soccer tournament of some sort. I think healthy competition is a good thing. Your daughter will just need to recruit some of her friends by talking up how fun it is.

  29. 22/09/2009 / 13:55

    I remember hearing something on the radio recently, about a school that now provides hair straightners for girls, because that was one of the reasons why girls avoided doing PE! Unbelievable!!

  30. 22/09/2009 / 13:51

    My daughter started football after school in year 1. She lasted about half a term before giving up. She loves running around, but the boys were all much more competitive than her and I think she used to kick the ball about once a session. The coaches also showed no interest in her, to the point where she was ill one day and they just made her sit on the sidelines for the session until it was time for me to pick her up. It was a cold winter evening and they didn’t even make her zip her coat up. She had a high temperature by the time I arrived and refused to go back after that.

  31. A Modern Mother
    22/09/2009 / 13:21

    Tara–we obviously live in the wrong area!
    Iota–I think you may be on to something…
    Martini–hear, hear!

  32. 22/09/2009 / 13:15

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a competitive sports nature – and girls can be just as good as boys – our England Football and Cricket teams are examples of that! Get the girls on the pitch, I say :o)

  33. Iota
    22/09/2009 / 12:55

    When I was at school, girls would never play football. It was a boys-only game. So I wonder if some of the reluctance comes from the mums, not the girls themselves. It’s hard to shake off those old prejudices! I was pleasantly surprised at how unsegregated sports are over here. Although I don’t see many boys doing ballet, or girls doing American football.

  34. 22/09/2009 / 12:25

    I can’t say we’ve ever had that problem. My son trains at a local rugby club and there are loads of girls there – up to the age of 14 and 15.
    So much so that when I asked my 4 year old what she’d like to do her instant answer was rugby. I think she just wants to tackle everyone!