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17 Jul 2023 106

Play Their Way to tackle gender enjoyment gap as Lionesses look to inspire a generation of girls

Ahead of the FIFA’s Women’s World Cup and an expected further surge in demand in girls’ football, the Children’s Coaching Collaborative’s Play Their Way campaign has called on coaches to put child-first coaching at the heart of their approach to tackle the enjoyment gap between girls and boys and make sure girls stay in sport for longer

UK Coaching is spearheading the delivery of the Play Their Way campaign and is proud to be part of the 17-strong Children's Coaching Collaborative (CCC) – a collective of like-minded organisations, committed to creating a nation of child-first coaches. Child-first coaching, where coaches focus on championing every child's voice, choice and journey in sport and physical activity, aims to address this enjoyment gap and ensure positive experiences for every young person by empowering the people who know them best – their coaches. 

Sport England's most recent Active Lives survey showed that there are 100,000 more girls playing regular football than there were five years ago, and in the three months following the Women's Euros last summer, England Football reported a 196% increase in womens' and girls' football session bookings.

However, despite this and an anticipated significant increase in interest during and after the World Cup, there remains an enjoyment gap between boys and girls when it comes to sport. Currently, 56.8% of boys agree they enjoy taking part in exercise and sport compared to just 37.2% of girls, which contributes to 43% of girls disengaging from sport following primary school having previously been active.

Taking a proactive approach ahead of a major sporting moment, the CCC is helping coaches to prepare for an influx of young girls into the sport with practical child-first coaching resources that help coaches put their participants' voice, choice, journey, rights and needs at the centre of their early sporting experiences. This is key to creating positive experiences that will encourage and motivate them to stay active throughout life.

As part of the drive to champion child-first coaching that prioritises great first experiences for all young girls, former Lioness Laura Bassett returned to her first-ever club Bedworth United for a best-practice coaching session, introducing girls to the sport for the very first time.

Reflecting on a standard-setting child-first session back at her home club, Laura said:

It's fantastic to be back at my first club with the Play Their Way campaign to see a child-first approach to the coaching, where the coaches listen to and respect children's voices and act on their feedback to make sessions as engaging and enjoyable as possible. Bedworth Girls is where I was inspired by the fun that I had to pursue my own dreams, and to come back and see my former teammate working with the next generation shows the power of child-first coaching.

"The Women’s World Cup will inspire even more girls to try football for the first time. Collectively we need to make sure that those first experiences for girls are inclusive, enjoyable, and fun."

Research undertaken last year with 4,000 girls by leading charity and CCC partner, Women in Sport, also revealed that 90% of girls rated 'having fun and feeling happy' as the most important reason for being physically active.

Head of Coaching at UK Coaching Heather Douglas emphasises the significance of creating impactful initial encounters for girls in sport and encourages coaches to adopt a child-first coaching approach.

We were truly inspired by the remarkable impact of the Lionesses, as they ignited a passion for football and physical activity among countless girls nationwide during the Euros last summer. As we anticipate the Women's World Cup, it is imperative that we prioritise positive first experiences for girls in sport. Through the Play Their Way campaign and our unwavering commitment to child-first coaching, we want to inspire coaches to embrace their vital role in empowering girls, helping them have a voice and make choices that shape their sporting journey, fostering a life-long love for sport and physical activity."

Head of Girls Football & Welfare Lead at Bedworth United Hayley Bennett said:

"Our coaches always take a child-first approach and as a result, our young girls are free to express themselves when they play football. Women's football has grown exponentially over the last few years and we have an important opportunity to inspire a generation of girls into sport – but it is so important that we ensure those all-important first experiences are positive and uplifting."

We put fun and individualisation at the heart of our sessions, helping our young people to reach their own personal goals and empowering them to become more resilient and develop new skills - we believe that when our young people are having fun, their voices are heard and they are given the chance to shape their experiences, meaning that every individual benefits more from sport."

The Play Their Way campaign was launched in May to transform the way children and young people are coached by prioritising their rights, needs and enjoyment in a 'child-first' approach. The campaign is funded by Sport England and The National Lottery and is led by the 17 partner organisations that make up the CCC.

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