By Emma Pocock
Why is it that running “like a girl” has such negative connotations? The young women on courses at the Cardiff City FC Foundation are proving that the stereotype of sport being a man’s world is no longer relevant and that playing “like a girl” is not a weakness.
Traditionally, sports participation among females is considerably lower than their male counterparts. The Active People Survey found in October 2014 that there were 2 million fewer 14-40 year old females regularly playing sport than males of the same age category. This issue becomes particularly prominent during adolescence as at this age, many girls quit sport for a variety of reasons.
Issues of body confidence, self-esteem and peer pressure have all been speculated as causing lower sports participation levels among teenage girls. There is also a lack of opportunities out there for girls to get involved with sport. Joanne Hodge, who is now studying with the Foundation, said that: “When I was at school, I had to play for a boys team up until the age of 12 because there just weren’t any girls teams around.”
This is where the Foundation has stepped in, offering a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma to males and females aged 16 to 18. Geraint Wadley, Head of Education within the Foundation, said: “It’s an education programme first and foremost as it is equivalent to 3 A-levels. What makes our programme unique is that we attach a sport to it, which for us is Futsal.” The students participate in a technical training programme three times a week, run by UEFA A and UEFA B licenced coaches, as well as an 11-a-side programme for the first year of the course. Joanne said that she liked this practical aspect of the course because: “It’s not all just work, work, work! There’s a nice balance between education and sport which makes it fun.”
In recent years, the Foundation has succeeded in getting more girls into sport, with a significant increase in the number of females joining the programme. Geraint said: “Traditionally, we recruited a lot more males than females for the course. But now, 25% of our cohort for that programme are girls which is great.”
Also, the strong link between the Cardiff City Women’s’ development team and the educational programme at the Foundation has encouraged more girls to give sport a go. Female role models are in short supply in the sporting world, so this connection with the club definitely benefits the Foundation’s programme as many of them start off in the development team there before progressing onto the education programme with the Foundation.
The girls on the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma course are achieving outstanding things. Joanne was recently selected for the Welsh Colleges Team where she will play among many national players, an achievement which she is rightfully very proud of. Daisy Evan-Watkins plays for the Wales U19 Ladies Team and recently attended the Wales International training camp, an incredible achievement but one which doesn’t come without hard work and dedication. Daisy trains twice a week with the Wales team on a Monday and Friday, with Cardiff City Ladies on a Tuesday and Thursday and then plays matches on Sundays. When I asked her how she had time for all of that, she said: “I’m so busy all the time! But I do really enjoy it.”
Emily Viller, who is also on the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma course, said she has to get up at 5.30am every morning in order to get two trains and a bus to the Foundation, and doesn’t get home until around 6pm. This dedication is admirable and she had this to say about the course: “I think it is very good and really beneficial that there is the educational aspect to it as I’m learning lots that I didn’t learn in school.”
The girls also said they enjoyed the social side of things, as they all get on well, which then leads to excellent teamwork on the pitch. Daisy said: “The course is very enjoyable and the people here are really nice so everyone gets on.”
With many of the girls hoping to go to university after the programme, the educational element to this course is very important as it allows them to gain qualifications while also improving their sporting ability. Daisy said that her ultimate dream would be to play football professionally, but said that she was drawn to this programme as it gives her the qualifications she would need to apply to university where she would to train to become a PE teacher in order to pass her passion for sport on.
Some of the girls are looking to get into full-time employment too, like Emily who wants to get a job once she finishes the programme. She says she would continue playing football for a local team and perhaps do some coaching in her spare time as well in order to keep fit and healthy.
So, these young women continue to prove that girls can play sport, and they can do it very well. In more recent times, things are looking up for female participation in sport more generally as it was found in September 2015 that 7.01 million females aged 16 and over played sport at least once a week, an increase of 703,800 since 2005. These improvements need to continue so that girls and women can continue to enjoy the social, physical and mental benefits of sport and prove that running “like a girl” is something to be proud of.