Junior football is experiencing growth like never before.
The Junior Grassroots Club I’m attached to have increased the number of teams we run from 12 to 28 in a little less than 3 years thanks mainly to the explosion in popularity of girl’s football.
Whilst it was widely anticipated the success of the England women's team winning Euro 2022 would reinforce the growth of girl’s football, the numbers wanting to take up the game have still managed to take many by surprise.
And although the Lionesses didn't quite manage to win the Women's World Cup in 2023, the additional significant attention given to the women's professional game will only boost numbers further at grassroots level.
Women's football has recently provided young girls with more role models to look up to than ever before. Seeing women compete at the highest level in football is inspiring young girls to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.
We know this also helps to break down gender stereotypes and encourage more girls to participate in sports more generally.
There can be no question though that their performances have created a meaningful bond between the England players and supporters, a bond that is inspiring young girls to dream of playing football at the highest level and for their country.
The growth of women's football means that activity rates for women and girls are increasing with more participating in sports and physical activity. This is a crucial step towards combatting the rise in obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles.
By providing women with more opportunities to participate in the game, football is taking a significant step towards improving the overall health and wellbeing of women. According to a report by the National Health Service (NHS), in 2019, 29% of women in England were classified as obese, compared to 26% of men.
This trend is also seen in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with women having higher rates of obesity than men. Additionally, research has found that women tend to have higher rates of other health conditions associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
I know from my own experience that playing and then coaching football has provided me with a level of physical activity and fitness that has looked after me over my life. By providing safe and positive routes into the game, Junior Football Clubs are supporting wellness of a whole generation of girls.
Additionally, the growth of women's football is helping to create a more inclusive society. By promoting gender equality in sports, the UK is at the leading edge of the message that everyone, regardless of gender, should have the opportunity to participate in sports and physical activity.
This helps to create a more accepting and diverse society, which is something we should all be hopeful of.
The foundations for growth in the girl’s game were laid some years ago. The FA's Wildcats initiative, launched in 2017 for girls aged 5-11, offers non-competitive football for those who want to give it a try.
The FA also developed plans to expand its talent program for women's football, aiming to double the number of players to 4,200 by the end of the 2023-24 season.
With up to 70 Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres across the country for girls aged 8-16, more opportunities are now available for young girls to develop their skills. Two of the players at our club are currently engaged on the England pathway.
Senior Women's football is also rapidly becoming one of the most exciting sports to watch, with talented players and thrilling matches. The increasing visibility of women's football means that more people are being exposed to the games, which can only be a good thing. It's only now that it’s getting the media visibility and public awareness it deserves.
TV coverage of women's sports generally, including rugby, cricket, and golf, is on the rise, with a recent study by The Women's Sport Trust showing that more than 15 million viewers watched coverage of games in the first quarter of 2022. This is a record number, beating the previous record of just over 10 million in 2019 by nearly 50%.
Women's football is leading the way in terms of growth, with participation and spectator numbers increasing rapidly. The Women's Super League is now being broadcasted on BBC One and BBC Two, as well as on Sky Sports increasing exposure.
Free match-streaming and online channels have also helped raise the profile of women’s football.
Watching accessible matches brings players and teams into people’s homes regularly and helps create a bond with fans and female players have become household names, bringing more girls closer to football.
Through all the media channels, football is now more readily available to everyone. People discuss players, teams, leagues, tournaments, and upcoming fixtures more often, which means that dialogue surrounding women’s football is ever-present and is becoming more normalised than ever before.
Finding out which leagues and teams your favourite players are in is easier than ever. Player information is readily available through social media and news outlets, such as Her Football Hub, which covers leagues, teams, and players from around the world. Following your favourite players' progress through domestic and international performances is now more straightforward.
The success of women’s national teams across different sports also helps to promote the achievements of the Lionesses, England's women's national football team, more regularly in the news.
Although there is a lack of regular coverage in the printed media, constant social media posts, opinions, and results keep the game and its developments in public consciousness.
This is vital for the future and success of competitive teams and leagues, as it provides a platform for further investment in the game.
Financial backing from companies such as Barclays has enabled girls to dream of playing football as a career. Investors are also starting to support serious senior clubs in lower tiers, which can become more selective about players and enhance their own promotion opportunities.
As the game progresses to higher tiers, the development of playing standards and performances can only be beneficial for the game and future women's national teams.
Judging by the sheer numbers turning out for our grassroots club every weekend, the explosion in popularity shows little sign of slowing down and that is something we can all celebrate.