In The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted last year girls spoke passionately about their love of sport. An 8-year-old girl told me she wanted to “be good at a sport and have that as my job”.
Interestingly, girls were particularly vocal about football. Children as young as 6 years old told me all about how much they loved football and aspired to be footballers. One 7-year-old girl described wanting “to be in a girl football team”. Another 11-year-old girl said, “I want to play for England and Leicester”.
This is why I’m so excited that this evening England’s women football team the ‘Lionesses’ take on Austria in the first match of the tournament in the UEFA Euros Women’s Football Championship.
As we saw last summer during the Men’s Euros, football has the power to unite the nation. This summer we need to show girls that we have the same enthusiasm and excitement for the Women’s Euros. Let’s all unite around, and cheer on, the Lionesses this evening as the Euros kicks off.
I am committed to encouraging girls to pursue their sporting dreams. We know that participation in team sports enables children to develop communication skills, create lasting friendships and build their confidence.
As England is host of the Women’s Euros this summer, we have a vital opportunity to show young girls across the country that we care about women’s football.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in the Big Ask girls also told me that persistent stereotypes, and a lack of inclusively holds them back from engaging in sports.
“I think that some stereotypes hold children back, such as girls can’t play football” – Girl 12
“A lot of girls think they can’t be footballers or boys thinking they can’t be hairdressers so if stereotypes stop a lot of people will be able to achieve their dreams and aspiration” – Girl 11
Girls also told me that they felt boys’ football was prioritised:
“I want to be a footballer when I grow up; as a girl, boys get priority because it’s a men’s sport”, – Girl 13
One young girl said “no one cares about women’s football” – Girl 12.
I want to reverse these perceptions and support girls to pursue their aspirations of becoming footballers.
Young girls are particularly impacted by negative stereotypes as they enter puberty, become teenagers, and move from primary to secondary schools. One teenage girl told me:
“I know somebody who has quit football even though she loved it because her friends suit thinking that they didn’t want to have a muscular body”– Girl 14
A recent study by Women in Sport found that girls were less likely than boys to take part in team sports after the age of 11. The study found that girl’s perception of their sportiness changed as they got older and transitioned into secondary school. Girls said the fear of feeling judged and a lack of confidence prevented them from continuing to take part in sport.
This was reflected by a girl that responded to the Big Ask, she said “because they might think that they are not good enough to do the things that they really want to do like football” – Girl 11
Girls also spoke about the need for more financial support to enable them to take part in sports:
“Some families struggle with financial problems that restrict children from trying new sports or joining clubs and limit their life experiences” – Girl 13
“Lack of funding for families whereby both parents work (so not on benefits) but money is tight and therefore not able to take part in outside school activities such as sport clubs – Girl 16
It is crucial that all children have access to sporting activities. As I signposted in my blog about Wimbledon last week, you can find out about the holiday activities and food programme here. The Youth Sport Trust is also helping children get involved in sport, you can see what they are offering here.
I want all girls to feel supported to excel in sport and follow their dreams. Let’s seize the opportunity of the Women’s Euros 2022 to show girls how much we care about supporting women’s football.