Women in leadership: What’s next following England women’s team Euro’s win?

Today I am joined by three special guests: my daughter, Bethany; her friend, Sophie; and their football coach, Steve. I wanted to ask the next generation what their views are about the part football had played in their lives.

Bethany and Sophie standing with their arms folded, back-to-back, in the goal.  They are wearing their football kits and the backdrop is trees, with the evening sun shining through
Bethany and Sophie on their last training night

Why do you like playing football?
Bethany – I love running free. Also, it has boosted my confidence a lot and I have become a lot fitter than I used to be.
Sophie – Because it’s fun.

What keeps you going when you are tired, it’s raining, you have missed a kick?
Bethany – The thought that my teammates will help me and encourage me to try again.
Sophie – My teammates and the supporters.

Did you watch the tournament and follow the journey of the team and if so what were your best bits?

Bethany – Yes – when Russo missed the shot then tried again and it ‘megs’* the goal keeper and it went in. And at the final when they all started hugging and singing.
Sophie – Yes it was amazing. England did amazing. The best bit was definitely Russo’s goal, but I loved Toone’s goal in the final. I really liked how the whole team seemed to be so together and how supportive they were to each other.

*megs – short for nutmeg, meaning to kick the ball through your opponent’s legs

What do you think should happen next for females in football?
Bethany – I think they should be respected as much as the boys.
Sophie – Definitely be able to go against men’s teams for friendlies as it would be good practice. There should be more teams too, more coaches wanting to train girls and more opportunities in and out of school. Yeah, more opportunities.

Who’s your favourite player?
Bethany – Gabby (on her own football team).
Sophie – Chloe Kelly and Lucy Bronze. But I really love Bolton’s Ricardo Santos too. ❤️

Anything else that you think is of interest on the subject?
Bethany – equal treatment for boys and girls needs to happen.
Sophie – Do you know how women are starting to be refs for men’s games? There should be more opportunities for women coaching in men’s teams.

Thoughts from the coach

I asked Steve, the girls coach, his thoughts on the importance of all young people having access to sport and this is what he had to say:

“I’ve coached grassroots junior football for over ten years and have been fortunate enough to be chairman of our local club for the last five. Initially when I thought about writing this piece I went straight to the Women’s World Cup three years ago. The Lionesses had made everyone sit up and notice, reaching the semi finals in France. Narrowly missing out to the USA still felt successful and clubs locally began to notice a spike in interest around girls wanting to play.

Our club was no different and the committee very quickly formulated a plan to introduce a set up aimed specifically for girls within the club. We would follow the usual path of asking current coaches to take some sessions if there was enough interest and then hope to pass the baton on to an enthusiastic parent. Three years later I turned out to be not just one of the initial helpers but also the enthusiastic parent and proud coach of a fantastic group of girls.

However, I get ahead of myself because as mentioned that’s when I thought it started but if I actually look back to the other team I began to coach 10 years ago . We were fortunate enough to have a fantastic group of young lads training and we formed a team. One of our squad was a girl. Not particularly ground breaking I realise but it opened my eyes to how difficult it was to be female in a male dominated sport. Players, coaches, attending parents were almost all exclusively male and it made me wonder just how tough it was for a young girl at such an early age.  This particular individual was talented, physically able to compete and determined yet I still got the feeling that she felt she had to prove herself every single time she stepped out on the pitch. 

Why? What I mean is why would society have made anyone feel that way? She loved football, I guess she had to really have a passion to stick at it. As a coach I treated her no differently than the rest of the team and very quickly her own team mates respected her for what she could do and not whether she was male or female. I did use to allow myself the odd wry smile or chuckle though every time we played a new team and I heard the opposition comment ‘they’ve got a girl playing for them’ or we brought a new player into the set up and they thought she would be a soft touch. She was never a soft touch and both players and teams alike found that out over and over again.

After around four years with us she was picked up by a professional club to represent their girls team and whilst I was sad to see her go I was also incredibly proud. Each summer though I was always thrilled to have her back training well into her teenage years, still the same young girl with the enthusiasm to just play no matter whether it was with girls or boys. It still struck me though that it was incredibly difficult for girls to follow their football passion unless, like our player, they were fortunate enough to be able to match their skill set with hard work and determination whereas boys were able to just join one of the many teams and play. Ability should never factor in a child’s pathway to playing a sport they enjoy and I felt for girls this could be a hindrance.

Fast forward to 2019 and our first training session. The advert had gone out on social media.  I didn’t know whether anyone would turn up to train and I was also concerned we’d not put an age group on our requests for players. My own daughter, who was nine at the time, had started to watch football locally at our local club but had shown little interest in playing.  She loved street dance, gymnastics and the occasional kick around in the garden with her older brother.  I persuaded her to come down.  She popped her brothers old kit on and a pair of boots he’d long since grown out of and she nervously sat in the car being unusually quiet.

We arrived at the ground and I set up a session which would have been fine if only a few turned up and would also work with more. The girls started to arrive.  I think we had around fifteen that day.  We talked, no one had played any organised football before but they had all been inspired by the England Lionesses journey in the World Cup. The ages ranged from six years old up to around ten. I was shocked to find that schools weren’t pushing football more.  We trained for an hour. A few of the girls knew each other but we had a lot from different schools and different school years. They smiled, they laughed and I wondered why we hadn’t set up something like this before. Was it a bit chicken and egg? Maybe we should have tried harder to introduce girls into the sport we all love previously, maybe there wasn’t enough interest, who knows for sure.  

The following week we lost a couple who maybe decided it wasn’t for them but very quickly settled into a regular group of around ten girls.   Over the next few years, players have left, new players have come in but we still have six of those original members.

Between the start of the team and the present day we’ve had ups and downs in terms of results but the progress they’ve made and the enjoyment factor for all of girls is still amazing to be part of. I think back now to day one and if I’d suggested playing a boys team for instance I don’t think anyone would have turned up the following week!! Now they take challenges very much in their stride. Their confidence levels have increased hugely as they’ve matured but also have benefited from being part of a team. 

That’s the beauty of football, it’s a team game and with that comes an enormous amount of skills and development that I feel for what seems like an eternity isn’t something that girls have been able to tap into as much as boys. Communication, responsibility, reliance on others, forming bonds with people outside of your usual social group are all positives and everyone now and again someone puts a ball in the back of a net too!! What these years in between the World Cup and European Championships have shown girls is that gender doesn’t have to hold them back in life. Can anyone be a footballer? Yes of course but it’s not just about football or sport it can apply to anything in life.

I recently spoke to a member of the ‘Lost Lionesses’, a lady who in her teens unofficially represented us back in the 1970’s despite all of the hurdles and challenges put in front of her and her team mates.  A quick google will allow you a fascinating read about young women playing in front of over 80,000 in Mexico only to be shunned by sporting bodies back in England. Her courage and determination, as well as her team mates, to just play football and represent our country laid the groundwork for the success of the current team and the boom in both girls and women’s football. A true inspiration.

So here we are now in 2022. The Lionesses have captured the nations hearts, winning the Euro’s. Not just lifting a trophy but by also being strong, honest, independent women who’s personalities sparkle in interviews. We were fortunate to be able to take some of the team to the opening match in the group stages and what a wonderful evening it was. The girls who didn’t know each other three years ago now friends, full of expectation and hope, all willing the Lionesses to win and probably wondering if they’ll one day be taking centre stage themselves. The Lionesses truly are role models for our young women and an inspiration for all.

Hopefully the achievements of the England team will encourage more young girls, organisations and schools to jump on board with football and really drive it forward over the coming years. Giving our young women the same opportunities as we do our young men should be ‘a given’ but it’s not always been that way. It’s up to all of us to keep the positivity and momentum and take that into a brighter future. For me personally I’m proud of our team every time we step out onto the pitch whether it’s for a match or training seeing their growth and personalities develop is a joy to be around.

Football can sometimes feel like it’s just about winning and losing. It isn’t. Individual and team achievements can be measured in lots of different ways but there is one thing I know for sure and that is,  it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, playing for a professional club or a child’s grass roots team, in a world cup final or just a friendly against another local school, male or female, when the ball hits the back of the net or the final whistle blows it feels exactly the same for everyone and it’s our responsibility to ensure EVERYONE is able to feel that way.

Oh and if you are wondering, my daughter still loves street dance and gymnastics…she also likes picking out a pass from central midfield to assist one of wingers in scoring, sticking a thunderous tackle in and scoring the odd goal!! 😊”

What can we learn from the Lionesses about inspiring the next generation of female leaders?

As a mum who stands on the touchline watching my teenage son and my daughter Bethany play football, it lights up my heart to hear her thoughts and mature reflection of what football has done for her. Equally seeing her friend Sophie’s as well and knowing how much she loves to go and watch her favourite local premiership team play, which is a true family occasion when the season is on.

I also feel very lucky that my daughter (and my son, as he too has equally inspiring coaches in his sports activities) has this arena in which to go and be herself – the laughter, the achievement of being player of the week and getting to bring the medal home, the hug with the team at the end of the match. 

Football, sport, a team event can bring the best out in people:

  • the teamwork,
  • the sportsmanship,
  • learning and showing respect for the diversity of the team,
  • the importance of fitness and hydration,
  • increasing self-esteem and confidence.

What the England team have done is inspired people – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability – it has inspired people to:

  • continue in their journey,
  • start the journey they may have been putting off,
  • dream, aim high and never give up despite the challenges and setbacks.

Lots of work continues to happen around equality on all fronts and its events like this that shine a spotlight on what can be achieved when people are given an opportunity. 

A big thank you to Bethany, Sophie and Steve for their time to reflect on this and for putting together their thoughts.

A final thought from me, on an employment level – a question for employers. What platforms do you have to inspire and support your staff’s dreams?  A question for employees. What are you aspiring to and what are you doing to make that happen?

Keep it simple – to start, to relaunch, to keep things moving – have the conversation and keep talking.

About the author

Pam Molyneux is a HR Consultant and our new Manchester Branch Membership Engagement Lead. 

Aside from running her own business, Pam loves to support young people find opportunities that will help them in later life and volunteers through the CIPD Enterprise Advisers scheme.

Location Manchester, England E-mail manchester@cipdbranch.co.uk Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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