Last Wednesday saw the launch of an initiative on the part of the Cornwall FA to increase participation levels in women’s football.
The Women’s Recreational Football programme is centred around 16 free-to-attend one hour weekly sessions at five centres across Cornwall. Supported by funding from Sport England, the aim is to attract a wide range of age and ability groups into the women’s game.
Speaking at the first session, held in the Truro Prep School sports centre, the Cornwall FA Womens, Girls and Disability Officer, Andrew Heapy explained the idea behind the programme.
“During Covid, the number of people playing football fell. A lot of women are now looking to either start playing football or to get back into the sport, and we wanted to provide women of all abilities and backgrounds with a platform to do it.
“This is designed to be a low pressure environment where participants can decide what they want to get out of the sessions. Everyone will have her own individual goals. Some will be doing it purely for fitness while others will want to polish specific skills. Looking forward, many might keep coming just to enjoy a kick about while others will want to take the next step into a club, and we can then point them in the right direction.”
While clubs are, of course central to the game, Heapy points out that the demands associated with playing every week could be a barrier for busy women.
“Lots of women might not be able to commit the time required to play for a club every weekend. Here there’s no pressure to be in games or to be at every session.
“It’s very flexible and people can just turn up when they are able.”
The sessions – which, it is hoped, will ultimately be held at venues in Penzance, Penryn, Launceston and Looe, as well as Truro – will last for an initial 16 weeks. At that point, when numbers have grown and the weather has improved, the next step could be to book 3G pitches and to start to play matches. The Flexible League approach, whereby matches with variable numbers are played once or twice a month, would be an obvious model.
“It’s about making football more accommodating to people’s lifestyles”, is how Heapy sums the programme up.
The first session at the Truro Centre was attended by seven women, some relatively new to the game and others who were club players. The evening was run by coach Zoe Arundell-Lethbridge, who, as well as playing for St Agnes Ladies, works as a coach with Saints South West, the Official Partner of Southampton Football Club in the region.
Zoe said: “Being coordinator for this pilot centre to try and grow the women’s game is right up my street. It went really well tonight, and considering some of them said they were new to it, the standard was high.
“These things start slowly so it was great to have seven tonight. They’ve all gone away smiling, wanting to come back and play football again and saying they’ll bring friends next time. We’re all about getting as many people as possible involved, regardless of age. One girl said their mother-in-law wants to come!
“It’s completely open. If you want to run miles you can, if you want to walk you can. If players have something specific they want to work on we’ll do that. It’s their session and it’s about making it as much fun for them as possible.”
The Cornwall FA’s immediate priority is to identify coaches for the other four centres. Bringing more female coaches into the game is a key longer-term goal as well.
Andrew Heapy said: “At the moment, coaching is still quite male-led. The FA is trying to change that by to getting more women into coaching. They want to break down the barriers and train up more female coaches, and that’s why we’ve just announced a programme of seven Female Community Coaching Workshops to be held between March and July. The women-only workshops are for new coaches and existing ones who want to get more qualifications, or for women who just want to see what getting into coaching is all about.”
Further information on the Women’s Recreational Football Centres can be found HERE
Details of the Cornwall FA’s Female Community Coaching Workshops can be found HERE
[Featured image: Colin Bradbury / Cornwall Sports Media]