For the last 4 years, women’s football has been the fastest growing sport in the UK – and it is still growing, even participation continued to grow in-between COVID lockdowns in the last 12 months.
Only 5 years ago it was sport mocked and ridiculed by male TV football pundits – yet despite that, it has seen massive growth since then. The standard has increased at a phenomenal rate – and yes, it is not as good as men’s football, and it is difficult not to make comparisons – but it is now good enough to be watched on TV and enjoyed.
The standard is increasing so quickly due to increased grass-roots play over the last 10 years. The players we saw playing for England 5-10 years ago are not nearly as good as they are now. This is because many of those England players did not begin playing until they were 16 or 17 years old – would Messi have been as good as he is if he hadn’t started playing till that age? Definitely not. It is too late to master certain base skill sets. But the players playing for the national team now, and the top English Women’s Super League (FA WSL) clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal teams, have all been playing since they were 9 or 10 year of age. They have had time to develop the skills from a much younger age – an age when learning physical skills is considerably easier. This is why the improvement seen on the professional stage is so dramatic in such a small space of time. The quality of football we have seen from 2019 onwards is the cause of those 10-year-old girls a decade ago who were inspired to play – AND had a platform to play – all because the women’s international football was given its first real coverage – even if it was mocked!
Girl’s teams were quickly established for training purposes only, as there wasn’t the local league structure to support them initially. The first league options were to enter a local boys league. But at least it was a start. Soon followed girl’s specific leagues in some areas. The last 3 years has seen an incredible rise in girl only leagues in every area of the country – and now there are some girl-only academy training programmes girls can attend (separate to being scouted by a professional club) – so we are only going to see the standard increase year on year.
The standard of women’s squash has been steadily increasing every few years, but I think the last couple of years has seen a sudden jump in the speed and athleticism on display. The result is that women’s squash has never been better to watch than it is now – so how can we make the most of this to increase participation in the UK?
The UK is definitely getting left behind when you look at the girls British Open and World Open squash results over the last decade – so something has to be done to change this, we can’t just hope it will change. The FA recognised that at grass-roots level, it was helpful for girls to only play with and against other girls. I think squash should do the same. Most junior squash leagues in the UK are mixed. I suggest each county creates a girls-only junior league at the weekend, with all ages catered for – so an U11 League, U13 League, U15 League and a U17 League. Maybe leave out the U19 for now until demand increases.
I do believe that to become a successful senior sportswoman, they need to play against men, but that can come later as the individual grows in skill and confidence – but initially I can see from what The FA have done, that giving girls and option of separating away from the boys will only increase confidence and participation numbers – which will quickly lead to increased levels of performance/quality. This will quickly snowball as more national role-models are created to inspire the next generation of champions.
by Andy Whipp