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Why Girls Stop Playing Football

  • Monday, May 18 2020 @ 08:16 am ACST
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Over the years there have been many studies and articles that dealt with why girls and young women give away their football. Often men write these articles and often the women that write them are not active in sport themselves. These are no less relevant or important but it is rare to find an account from the eyes of a young woman still involved in playing, yet questioning her own desire to continue. 

A young woman playing soccer writes the following story. MarvaMSK’s (the name on her WordPress article) story is as relevant to Australian Football as it is her own code of choice. With the AFL postponing the AFL Premiership season on the same day they cancelled the remainder of the AFLW season, questions were raised as to the priorities of the AFL when it came to women’s football. Some believe that the AFL may have inadvertently devalued the women’s game through that decision-making process (suggestions that if the men’s season can be postponed, why couldn’t the women’s seasonω).  

In many ways, girls and women face the challenge of questioning their place in the game, and this article goes a long way to understanding that questioning process.

 The destruction of my confidence with football began early and today I was reminded why. 

An important but lesser known reason for gender imbalance in football is the shame, bullying and insecurity of girls that is created from a young age. An embarrassment that can often stop girls playing before they have barely started. Today I was reminded of how much this still lives within my psyche. 

There are pictures of me with a football by my side from as young as two. My brother and dad are huge followers and my mum is huge on overturning gendered stereotypes. So naturally, I was massively encouraged in my love of football from a young age. I would be taken to all-boys training sessions at the age of 6 and was full of confidence in my ability. But while that level of support was kept at training, it was different elsewhere. I got quickly used to boys at school making the “you’re good for a girl” comments, the constant singling out, I even got used to the unique trial that only I had to do in order to play in the playground El Clasico of year 5 vs year 6.

I remember thinking it was stupid for the year 6 boys to make me prove I was good enough to play AGAINST them, but I was secure in my ability, knowing I was also playing for Spurs, who were they playing forω However, all of this could have easily been enough to put other female potential players, who did not have that confidence, off ever wanting to play again. Why put yourself through the singling out and possible humiliationω 

As I got older though, things got nastier. In parks, boys would ask to join in with games I was playing in, we would let them, only for it to often turn sour. Lots of boys found it difficult to be beaten by girls. Some would physically confront me and my friend in anger, others would say cruel things. Once at my local park, a group of boys just tormented me. They laughed at me if I did anything wrong, continually mocked me, went in extra rough on tackles, made comments about me not being able to chest the ball, (I was 11 so chesting the ball was definitely not much of an issue, I can assure you) until I faked an injury, took my ball and went home. Yes, they were bullying me while playing with my ball. The cheek of it. 

I moved past all of this, as my teenage years taught me that that was very light in comparison to the sexism I would experience elsewhere in life. But I still have always had a chip on my shoulder when playing with men in later life and when practicing kick ups on my own in the park ever since lockdown began. My lockdown kick up sessions were going well though, I massively improved at freestyle tricks and my confidence was up.  

Until today. As I was practising a trick I noticed some murmuring, I brushed it off as the chip on my shoulder getting to me. But sure enough, soon after, I heard wolf whistles and shouts. A bunch of teenage boys were mocking me, in the exact same park I had experienced it all 13 years ago. Usually I would give them some sort of feminist rant, but there were a lot of them (and not socially distancing may I add) and I felt defeated. 

I really thought girls now did not have to deal with those same attitudes anymore. I see so many more young girls participating in football in public and it truly warms my heart. But as a 24-year-old woman with a degree, a job, and many other footballing and life achievements, I found myself feeling exactly like that 11-year-old girl again. Embarrassed, insecure and singled out. 

I am very much done trying to convince the men who do everything to show that they are adamantly against women’s sport, to watch it. Watch what you want, I could not care less to be honest. But what I do care about, is at least giving women’s sport and its athletes a bit of respect, because the degrading attitudes towards it is what contributes to moments like this. 

 When women and girls playing sport on TV is mocked, not normalised and not accepted, women and girls playing sport in life are disrespected. All I want to do is use my few moments of freedom outside to do some kick ups in the park free from harassment. Please teach your boys to see that, acknowledge it, and walk silently on. Then maybe we will finally get a generation of girls fully confident and encouraged to be the best footballers they can be. 

I have coached junior girls since 2001 at both school and club level. I have witnessed the growth of skill levels in individuals as girls commit heart and soul to the game, put their bodies on the line and play a dashing style of football in 2020 – a huge leap from back in 2001.  

Sadly, I have also witnessed the bullying, teasing and devaluing spoken about in this article- and not just from other kids. Adults are just as bad, often worse. I have also had wonderful players either leave the game, or question their own self-worth through acts of sexism and despicable behaviour towards these girls. 

I hope a story like this one helps girls and women to raise a voice and always believe in themselves.