There’s nothing worse than dragging your child somewhere they don’t want to go, is there?
Actually, there is.
Dragging your child somewhere that they don’t want to go – that you’re only going to because you think they’ll love it.
And so it was last Saturday, when I poked the reluctant Bear from her lovely Saturday lie-in so that we could make the training session for the local SSE Wildcats Girls Football.
Bear loves physical activities – she’s genuinely game for anything.
She attends kickboxing sessions twice a week, she would give anything to be able to horse ride regularly, she loves climbing & hiking, pretty much anything that involves water… She’s also very sociable, and incredibly competitive (with three big brothers she was always going to fight to win…).
Being home educated, I’m aware that probably the biggest thing she misses out on is team sports. So when we were asked if she’d like a trial session with the local SSE Wildcats, I jumped at the chance. Physical, social, competitive… how would she not love this?
Hmmm. Saturday morning came, and I practically had to drag her from her bed and get the football kit on her myself. Not an ounce of enthusiasm was shown. Bribery may have been used to get her feet moving in the right direction. Tired stony silence may have been the atmosphere of choice in the car on the way there.
I know she’s not a morning person, but I frankly started to doubt whether this was a good idea at all…
The recent launch of the SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Clubs provides girls aged 5-11 with regular opportunities to play football – which has for so long been such a male-dominated sport. I know it was never even offered as an option throughout my school days. The Wildcats sessions give girls the chance to take part in organised activities in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls. The clubs started in the spring, and have run weekly; the aim is to provide a fun and safe space for girls to learn the game and make friends.
And so we arrived at the school in Blandford where our chosen session was taking place – and Bear looked around nervously. She had never played football beyond a kickaround in the back garden. Her dad’s a footie fan, and it’s often on the tv – but she’s not really one to sit and watch.
And suddenly I began to understand her reluctance – she knew no one, and didn’t even know the rules of the game beyond get-the-ball-in-the-net. How was she going to be able to do this?
As more girls arrived, it became clear this wasn’t one of the ordinary football sessions that I’ve attended so many of over the years with the boys. This was a mix of Wildcat groups from the region, plus lots of newbies, and no one knew everyone else there. But there was a real energy and enthusiasm around the place. The coaches were warm and welcoming, and rapidly picked up on any nervous or shy attendees, smoothly moving them away from parents and seamlessly introducing them into the groups already on the pitch; no one was left to stand alone or unsure.
Warm up was by way of games, the whole group taking part in weird and foolish activities en masse that had them all warmed up and the ice broken at the same time. I looked around at the girls taking part, looking for a girls-football type. I saw small little skinny 6yr olds working with sturdy confident 11yr olds. There were long swishy ponytails with bows in, and no-nonsense efficient plaits. Intense serious faces working with goofing around girls who couldn’t stop giggling. Idiot – of course there’s not a football type.
But each and every one was laughing, joining in, working together, and either trying really hard or having way too much fun chatting and laughing with new friends to really make the ‘arm tennis’ work!
Before long everyone was split into age ranges, and separated across the pitches to take part in various activities. It was neatly organised in a circuits-style pattern, where each group enjoyed an activity for 10 minutes or so, and then everyone switched around to try the next.
I watched Bear as she hesitantly joined her group for the first activity (based around dribbling). It soon became clear that my smart, coordinated girl has absolutely zero ball skills. She kept persevering, but I could see by the end of that session she was a bit disheartened with her own inability to keep the ball at her feet.
But throughout there was gentle encouragement from the coach, and a short pep talk while she came back to me for a quick drink had her setting her shoulders and heading straight back to the next activity with a determined lift to her chin.
And as they rotated through the activities I watched her confidence grow. Her team worked together to win the Connect-4 type activity, and she was in the thick of the rapid tactics discussions. She laughed her head off during the Treasure Island themed game of bulldog.
And she looked determined (if a little baffled) as she moved into her allotted defence position for her first actual game of football.
And she did okay! On her team there were girls who had clearly been playing football for a long time, but the coach kept things simple, and managed to combine the different skill levels among the two teams so that every girl was noticed and encouraged. She grasped her job, kept her eye on the movement of the game, and she blocked some attacks on her goal. Not bad for a first try!
Finally, two hours after we’d started the final whistle was blown and she made her slow way back across the pitch to me. I took in the sweaty bedraggled hair, the tired walk and the glowing cheeks, and wondered what she was going to say as she slumped next to me and grabbed her water bottle to drain it.
“well?” I asked hesitantly.
“It was brilliant! When can I come again? I was pretty hopeless, but I think I can get better. The girls were nice. Oh, man, these boots are a bit sore. Can I get new ones? Did you see me block that goal? It was a bit of an accident, I just sort of ran into her, but it worked. When’s the next session? I can’t wait. I had so much fun. Did you see me doing the dribbling? I was so rubbish…”
Obviously, we’re now signed up for the new season.
I’ll admit, I thought my winters standing on cold windy football pitches were behind me when the boys stopped playing. Hey ho – her dad’s thrilled ;)
After the session I got chatting to John Scott, the English FA Skills Coach (Specialist 5-11 year olds – in the gif he’s the one on the back row sliding magically left). He was thrilled with Bear’s response to her taster session, and how the whole group interacted on the day:
“I always believe no matter what sport someone may find themselves teaching or coaching, as coaches we must treat children like planting tomato plants. For them to grow and flourish they need the right environment and most importantly need the right amount of water & sunlight given at the right times.
Stepping back and watching the girls interact, having fun, smiling, engaged and learning along the way, it is satisfying that the coaches have started to ‘plant their tomatoes’, and have given them enough water for now to encourage growth toward the light.
I think I can sum this up with three words ‘More, Better, Longer’: More girls having a Better experience with football (and sports in general) and staying with it Longer!”