Fun at the heart of girls growth

With the football season underway at a host of clubs in Auckland, more and more girls are making football their game with the fun-first junior experience at the centre of the rapid growth.

Girls playing numbers in the Auckland Football region in the 4-12 year-old junior bracket topped 2,000 in 2016 – accounting for well over half of the total number of females playing the game in the Federation – part of a 30% growth boom in the numbers of girls and women playing football around New Zealand since 2010.

New Zealand Football Women’s Development Manager Holly Nixon puts that rapid rise down in large part to the emphasis placed on enjoyment as players take their first steps in the junior game.

“The most important aspect for any experience at a junior level is fun,” Nixon says.

“If we provide a fun experience we ensure kids are staying in football and that their love of the game is growing. If the fun is not there we might not see them stay in the game.”

Building on that fun first taste, Nixon says the adoption of the Girls Junior Framework has given the Football Ferns stars of tomorrow a clearly defined pathway, something that simply didn’t exist in her own junior playing days.

“The experience junior girls’ footballers get today is far superior to when I was growing up. “As a five-year-old, I was the only girl in a boys’ team, playing on 11 v 11 full size pitches and I had no idea of the pathway. I went from a junior straight into the senior pathway. So, by the time I was 12 I was already playing senior women’s football.

“The Girls Junior Framework was developed a number of years ago and is a tailormade pathway, which, like the Whole of Football Plan, was developed to create a consistent and coordinated approach in order to meet the needs of junior players,” says Nixon.

“It includes pathways which cater for both girls who want to play in a girls’ only environment as well as girls who prefer to play mixed football.

“It also provides ideas around how to reduce barriers to get more girls playing and it also delves into what each of the age groups require both technically and tactically as well as emotionally and physically.

The coaches’ behaviours around the social and emotional side are equally as important in meeting the needs of young girls. Coaching boys and girls might not be different but the way you motivate and speak can differ slightly. The social side for girls is really important.”

With the Junior season now live and kicking Nixon recommends game leaders or parents new to the game this year should check out New Zealand Football’s various online resources.

“Have a read of the Girls Junior Framework, it’s a really valuable document to gain an insight into what we’re trying to achieve. The Junior coaching videos that have just been released by New Zealand Football are a great example to follow and it’s also important to utilise what clubs and the federations offer in terms of coach and referee education.”

The end goal for Nixon is clear – everyone has a part to play in helping our youngsters fall in love with the game.

“As a game leader or parent you have a massive opportunity to be a part of something quite special in the lives of their children.

“We all know the benefits of playing sport but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and realise that you are part of something special. We want to ensure our kids are having the best time possible and that it will carry on for a number of years.”

Click here to access the New Zealand Football Girls Junior Framework.