The number of women and girls playing football in the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA region is on the rise, with a thousand new female player registrations recorded already this year – an increase of 30 percent compared to this time last year.
With a goal to increase female participation from 4,500 to 10,000 registered players by 2024, the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA is working alongside the Football Association (FA) and grassroots partners to provide opportunities for players of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to get involved in the game.
And with the rise in popularity of the FA Women’s Super League, increased grassroots opportunities, and the UEFA Women's Euro in 2022 coming to Sheffield and Rotherham next year, the growth of the women’s game is set to continue.
The impact is already being seen locally. The Sheffield and Hallamshire Women and Girls League has recruited 56 new teams and 1,007 new player registrations, of which 75 percent of those are youth players (aged 8-18).
Julie Higgins, Secretary of Sheffield Hallamshire Women and Girls League, said: “It has been amazing to see the growth in the league over the past few months. Predominantly this has been down to the addition of the U8's league, which we introduced for the very first time this season. We have also seen growth at U9's right up to U14's, which is very pleasing.”
A key driver behind the boost for girls’ football in the region is the Weetabix Wildcats programme, an FA and Weetabix Food Company joint football venture that delivers non-competitive football sessions by FA qualified coaches and volunteers for girls aged 5-11.
The aim of the programme is to offer girls the opportunity to play football in a fun and friendly environment which provides the perfect setting for young people to stay active, build confidence and meet new friends.
With 56 approved Weetabix Wildcats providers already across South Yorkshire, as well as ambitious plans to add 30 more, the County FA’s affiliated clubs are reporting a strong increase in girls making the switch from Weetabix Wildcats to competitive football, potentially paving the way for the next generation of Lionesses.
For instance, Barnsley Women’s FC has seen more than 100 girls try football for the first time since they established their Weetabix Wildcats programme over three years ago, with 70 percent of those girls going on to play competitively for their different junior teams ranging from under 8s to under 11s.
Stephen Gates, Director of Barnsley Women, said: “Through the Wildcats programme we have been able to form a partnership with Rockingham Forge Community Partnership, which has benefited our clubs to enable us to develop more opportunities for Women & Girls in Barnsley. It’s fantastic to see how the Wildcats programme has brought people together in our community”.
Pictured: Weetabix Wildcats session at Barnsley Women FC
Molly Johnson, Youth Development Officer at the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA, believes the Weetabix Wildcats programmes has created more opportunities to play football for girls.
Molly said: “It’s incredible to see more clubs creating equal opportunities for girls to take part in football while ensuring that every person within the community has a chance to play organised football.
“A huge part of the increase in girls football participation has been down to the success that clubs have had in developing new teams from Weetabix Wildcats. This has also had a positive knock on effect for our new under-8s girls’ football league, which now means we can provide opportunities to play football for girls and ladies aged six to 50+ year old.”
Charnock Rideway FC, based in Sheffield, has seen an increase in new players since become a Wildcats provider.
Michael Carl, Chairman of Charnock Ridgeway FC said: “Over the last 18 months, we have seen with over 50 girls try football for the first time through our Wildcats programme, with a strong number of those going on to play for our youth teams or continue their football journey at other clubs."
While West End Terriers FC, based in Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, has been able to form a girls team at every age group due to the success of their Weetabix Wildcats programme.
“The Weetabix Wildcat program was a perfect fit for us. it was a new way of engaging with girls in the area to help meet our overall aim: to have at least one girls’ team at every age group”, said Dale Appleton, Secretary of West End Terriers FC.
He added: “Any girls that wish to play football between the ages of 7 to 12 we accommodate in our teams. This is why I would highly recommend becoming a Weetabix Wilcats Provider to any club that has the capacity and enthusiasm to do so.”
Pictured: (left) Charnock Rideway Women and Girls FC, (right) West End Terriers FC
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