Nurturing the talent of any child in sport is a true lifelong mission. For most sport educators, giving children a space where they can thrive at any age is their bread and butter. The Women’s Euro 2022, which is taking place in England throughout July presents a rare opportunity to create tangible and exploratory opportunities for girls to enjoy the beautiful game beyond the tournament.
At the GDST, supporting football talent has always been a top priority. Our schools have built programmes that not only give our girls the chance to experience football but also opportunities to strategise, surpass expectations and compete on a very high stage.
Enthusiasm is key
This year, we hosted our first ‘Select Football’ trials and tour weekend in collaboration with Oxford United Football Club. Students from GDST schools across the country attended an open trial held at the club’s training ground to demonstrate their flair and love for the game. The girls all play for their local Under 15 sides, so were inspired to be playing at the same ground where Oxford United’s Women’s team trains with the First Team coaches.
The event was organised by two proactive PE teachers who have second roles within football; Liam Gilbert from Oxford High School, and Louise Hayes from South Hampstead High School, former Queens Park Rangers player in the Women’s Premier League South Division. Both teachers have the utmost enthusiasm, which they confirm makes it easy to promote their sport and nurture talent, as children thrive on enthusiasm and having role models they can relate to.
The training sessions also offered the girls a new experience of being in a professional football environment and a glimpse into what a career in the game would entail. And to top it all off, the GDST Select team were victorious against Oxford Ignite and Oxford City Ladies (U15).
This is only one example of how we create opportunities for our young footballers. But how do we instil a life-long passion for football both in school and beyond?
Actively promoting equality and No Barriers in football
One thing that we are proud of at the GDST is our track record of partnering with new initiatives to promote equality in all aspects of education. Football and sport are no different. Ahead of the Women’s Euro, several of our schools participated in ‘No Barriers 2022’, an initiative to promote equality within football. It aims to harnesses the energy and power of women’s football to change the way young people view women, promoting respect, gender equality and anti-harassment for the football pitch, the classroom, the playground, and on social media. A nationwide Zoom call involved 10-year-olds learning and engaging in the topics surrounding harassment in school and sport. Our girls also took part in creating a charter for their schools which will help to cultivate positive gender attitudes in football.
Taking part in initiatives like this is crucial to avoid shielding girls from the gender inequalities which persist in football, whether this is around pay, harassment or lower levels of mainstream support. By making them aware of some of the barriers from an early age, they will be motivated and better equipped to challenge the status quo.
Sharing and collaborating on and off the pitch
The power of teacher collaboration across our family of 25 schools benefits our students in all areas of their learning. Through collaboration on schemes of work, programmes of study and an open-door policy to ask questions about HOW to improve football in our schools, we have created conditions for any student to become engaged and to thrive. Regular questions that are often asked are ‘What age should we start football in our schools?’ and ‘How do we deliver football to our students without any experience?’ The simple answer to this is at any age and by sharing best practice. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom provide spaces to build supportive communities of practice and share resources.
We currently host U11, U14 and now U16 football tournaments where our 25 schools compete for an annual trophy. Our two Liverpool schools (The Belvedere Academy and Birkenhead High School Academy), have strong roots in football and took home the trophy this year alongside Oxford High School. But as the strength and depth of our football grows the competition will too. We are also working with our neighbouring school communities to open up more spaces for girls to participate in football. In Howell’s School, Llandaff Cardiff, we offer our football pitch to local community teams and schools to ensure the area is benefiting from our facilities.
Most importantly, the Women’s Euro being in England has given us a wonderful opportunity to harness the power of girls seeing role models such as Beth Mead – who scored a hattrick in the record-breaking match against Norway – in action. Seeing the confidence, skill and accomplishments of their international heroines who have realised their footballing dreams will undoubtedly inspire many girls across the country to envision themselves in the same position in future.
This article was first published by Independent Education Today.