How to get into football for fitness and fun from the women in the sport

With the Lionesses scoring freely through Euro 2022, it’s the driving force needed to get more women and girls involved in football in the UK. Sadly, females represent just 2% of people playing the sport, according to Jim Law of the Findaplayer website, which helps locate local teams and events.

Reassuringly though, that number is expected to rise dramatically this year, with more than 6,500 active female-only or mixed games across the nation.

Whether it’s on a competitive or social level, there are so many reasons to give football a go.

Euro 2022 tournament sponsor Visa commissioned a report into women’s football, Women Thriving On And Off The Pitch, which showed that:

Three quarters of those who play team sport say it has had a positive impact on their business life.

Half of those who play a team sport say it helps them deal with stress, tiredness or being overworked.

Visa ambassador Karen Carney 
MBE, who has 144 caps for England, says: ‘The biggest eye-opener for me is how transferrable skills from sport can be – the ability to work in teams, to be adaptable, resilient, and hard-working.’

Carol Thomas BEM, former England captain and the first captain to take England to a European final, is delighted to see the Lionesses’ success inspire women to take up the sport.

‘The success of the Lionesses at Euro 2022 will have inspired not only young girls, but women of all ages,’ she says. ‘It’s so important they have these visible role models to look up to.

‘The starting point is to find yourself a ball and enjoy a kickabout.

‘Look at Wildcat Clubs, established local clubs and gyms for sessions that best suit your level. But the main thing is to just enjoy it.

‘Nothing compares to sharing the highs with ten other women on the pitch and having them all to lean on during the lows.’

To encourage visible female role models who will inspire future generations, on and off the pitch, Carol Thomas is working alongside LinkedIn, a national sponsor of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022. Follow Carol on LinkedIn and join the conversation #FollowInHerFootsteps

Age shouldn’t be a barrier, either. Older women in particular are highly unlikely ever to have kicked a ball, brought up on a diet of hockey and netball at school. But Karen, a former Arsenal and Chelsea winger, tells them: ‘You can do it!

‘To girls and women interested in taking it up, it’s never too late,’ she says. ‘The skills you can learn and friendships you can make from participating in team sports are unmatched,’ she adds.

‘It can be intimidating to try something new and do something 
that is outside your comfort zone, but take that risk.

‘There are so many benefits to playing sport – not only physical health, but also for mental health.

‘Team sports have even been shown to help women succeed in their work life or with the skills needed to set up a business.’

How to get involved

If you’ve never played or you fear trying something new, Yvonne Harrison, chief executive of Women in Football, a leading organisation for gender equality in sport, has some advice on how to get involved.

Visit the FA’s website, and contact your county FA to see where you can get a game locally.

Find out when your local club plays/trains and head along to watch and have a chat if nervous.

For older women, follow Crawley Old Girls on social media to see how welcoming football can be.

There are lots of new fun recreational sessions running as part of the Women’s EURO legacy programme and via Women In Football.

‘It’s important to have fun’

Sharon Uka, operations executive, and Richard Bron, head of development, Barnet Nightingales FC, the first and largest female-only club in the borough.

‘It’s important to get more girls and women involved, partly as a means of growing confidence. Football can be seen as a male-dominated industry, but with more visible women in the industry, such as players, coaches and presenters, this naturally creates a diverse environment, which is better for everyone.

‘Creating more accessible inner-city football clubs is key. We offer free, daily open training sessions for girls aged seven to 12. Working as a team encourages us to be selfless, sympathetic, empathetic and gives a sense of belonging. Don’t worry if you’ve never played before, the most important part is that you have fun.’

‘I have made some of my best friends through football’

Stephanie Warren, a designer by day, plays for Chesterfield Ladies FC.

‘I’ve played for the team for over 
ten years. We’re the main club in North Derbyshire for women’s and girls’ football.

‘I started playing football when I was seven and got introduced to CLFC by a friend at school. It’s a great team sport and it offers more than just expanding football skills. It’s a great place to express yourself and meet people with similar interests.

‘Five-a-side is a good stepping stone into the sport as it’s less results-driven than a league team. I enjoy the challenge of constantly bettering myself and pushing myself physically and mentally.

‘I’ve made some of my best friends through football. Most teams are very welcoming. From now to September is key for exploring your options.’

‘You don’t even have to run’

Amy Oakes, sport and family service manager, YMCA Newark & Sherwood runs women’s football training sessions and the football academy at Camp Williams. There are sessions for everyone.

‘It’s been hugely encouraging to see the rise in popularity of girls and women’s football. Participating in team sport like football can be daunting, but there are so many benefits, including reducing stress and depression, higher self-esteem, and developing skills such as leadership, problem solving and goal setting.

‘Plus, you get to keep fit in a fun and sociable way. Take a friend if you’d rather not go alone.

‘We offer “walking football” sessions for people who want a lower-impact way to enjoy the sport. Or head to the park with a group of your friends for a kickabout.

‘Football is one of the most affordable sports to play. Camp Williams has dedicated football skills clinics.’

How to get football-fit and train like a Lioness

Kelly Smith MBE, who had a 23-year career and won 117 caps with England, writes: This year’s Euro games has ignited a whole new fanbase and raised awareness – if women’s football is visible, audiences will watch, and more girls will play.

There are seven main physical attributes you need: agility, balance and control, power and strength, speed and stamina. Everyone is different and has different needs, but focus on strengthening your core muscles, glutes, hamstrings and quads because the stronger these are, the less impact goes through your knee joints.

‘The exercises you should do are lateral band walks, squats, split squats, bench press, kettle bell swings, and treadmill HIIT.

See Kelly’s tutorial video and find out about football classes at David Lloyd.

You can do it! Faye White MBE, former England and Arsenal captain

‘I loved inspiring young girls during my career and showing women can have as many big dreams in sports as men can,’ says Faye. ‘From a grassroots level, every primary school needs to have girls’ football opportunities, so it becomes second nature for girls to play. It’s not all about winning.

‘It has so many benefits, whether it’s meeting new people or to get fitter. Not everyone enjoys going to the gym. If you ask anyone about what they love most, you’ll always hear that the greatest satisfaction comes from the friendships they make. It doesn’t have to be a seriously competitive game.

‘You can play anywhere if you have two jumpers for goalposts and a ball. Start local. Check if there’s a nearby 11-a-side, or five or seven, available for anyone to join and have fun.’

Sky Mobile is working with Faye to encourage Brits to cheer on the home nations. To find out how you can stay connected and catch all the unmissable sporting action visit their website.

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