How Sports Shelters Can Boost Grassroots Girls’ Football
August is always a time of great interest in football as the new season starts. But while the men’s teams have got their domestic campaigns underway, women’s football has been enjoying plenty of attention thanks to the World Cup.
This has been particularly true in England, where the Lionesses followed up their triumph in the European Championships last year with a run to the World Cup final in Sydney. They may have missed out on the biggest prize after losing 1-0 to Spain, but their success has helped raise the profile of women’s football further.
However, while the likes of Mary Earps, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp have all become household names, the question will remain; will their success feed directly into the further growth of the game at grassroots level?
This is where the provision of more sports shelters can help. Faced with increased interest among girls in playing football, the simple solution for some clubs may be to start a girl’s team (or at least training sessions for girls) from scratch or expand the activities they may already have for female players.
However, for some that may mean there are capacity constraints. For example, if a grassroots club with one pitch has different male age range teams, they might have one team playing at home and another away on any given Saturday. That might mean they need to find another pitch for their girls’ team to play, hence more facilities will be required.
Sports shelters could include a range of provisions. As well as pitch-side dugouts, there will need to be dressing rooms, not least as segregated changing facilities will be required if male and female teams are playing on adjacent pitches.
At the same time, the fact that there may be further growth in female participation could help boost the funding required to invest in facilities and equipment, both because the football authorities may provide more grant cash, but also because of voluntary donations from parents who now have daughters interested in football as well as sons.
The Football Association’s current strategy for grassroots football - which was launched in 2021 and covers the period to 2024 - promised a “sustainable model based on a world class, modernised offer”.
While much of the emphasis at the time was reviving the recreational game after the Covid lockdowns, there was also a focus on better facilities and increasing the number of high-standard pitches. This will certainly help provide more good spaces to play on, but there will be a need for the pitch-side facilities to make this a practical reality.
The plans speak of setting up partnership networks with schools and clubs, with the aim of equal access for girls in 90 per cent of primary schools and 75 per cent of clubs by 2024.
With these plans being drawn up before the recent successes of the national women’s team, the interest is likely to be there and there is more chance of schools and clubs responding to this by increasing their own efforts. But that needs to be backed up not just by setting up teams or acquiring kits, but by adding new facilities as well.