Not content to leave the change-making to the elite level, the NSFA’s Female Football Plan will ensure the best possible experience for women and girls.
A commitment to build the participation of girls and women and to grow the number of female coaches are just some of the goals of the Northern Suburbs Football Association’s Female Football Plan. Aptly titled What’s Best For Her, the existence of the plan and its bold objectives, is thanks in no small part to NSFA’s ‘in-house champion of the female game’ Eilidh Mackay who also works as the association’s Representative Programs Manager.
Mackay, who grew up in Scotland and started playing football as soon as she could walk, has long felt and seen the inequalities in sport as a player, coach and administrator.
‘I remember when I was a teenager, they were saying it’s the fastest growing sport [but] it still didn’t seem like it was completely changing really fast. I was like, for being the fastest growing, it’s not going very fast!’
Challenges faced by women and girls
Mackay’s experience playing in the NPL in NSW and coaching junior football further exposed her to the challenges faced by women and girls.
‘I was seeing the gap between community football and the rep pathway,’ Mackay told Siren.
‘Our systems and our structures weren’t there to allow a female to enter the game, and then have that positive experience.
‘And so, I was like, well, how can we create a vision and a plan that we’re all striving for that will really transform what it’s like for an eight-year-old to join a club and be part of football, and kind of be a completely different picture to what it looks like now with regards to just being valued, you know, the under 16 girls team getting at least the same as the under 16 boys team in terms of training allocation, equipment, coach allocation, and opportunities.’
We’ve got to do better
In early 2019, Mackay started the Female Football Working Group. The goal of the group was to bring together the champions of the female game across the NSFA, to collaborate and share with a focus on what’s best for the players rather than what’s best for the club. This led Mackay to undertake a research project that looked at the data around player retention.
‘We were losing just as many girls as we were gaining. And that was obviously through their experience with the game and [we thought] we’ve got to do better.’
That’s where What’s Best For Her, the NSFA’s Female Football Plan comes in. And while player retention and experience is a big part of the plan, it’s not the only part.
‘You’ve got to have a holistic viewpoint,’ Mackay explained.
‘Part of retaining players is to have female role models and female coaches and also to have female leaders in football. We’ve got three female presidents… they’re the leaders of their football club. I just think that’s huge.’
Coaching too is an important part of the NSFA’s plan. Mackay developed the NSFA Female Coach Mentoring Program and the plan builds on that.
‘We need to create opportunities to attract more female coaches, for them to believe they can be coaches. And then obviously retain and develop them so they stay as female coaches because they’re such an asset to the game.’
The program has been picked up by other football associations. For Mackay, who is the chair of the Football New South Wales Women’s Standing Committee, this is exactly what should be happening.
‘[It’s] fantastic,’ she told Siren. ‘It’s all about sharing…what we’re doing in our region, you can take what’s going to work [in your region] and implement it. Because we want the whole game across the country to continue to get better.’
Mackay sees this sharing and collaboration as vital and is something she’s working to encourage and support through her work.
‘We’ve got to change how we do things rather than just doing the same thing.’
Media a key to plan
The NSFA’s media strategy also forms a part of the plan with the association committing to ensuring that 50 per cent of their media releases cover the female game. Mackay says this is a key part of the plan.
‘The media one really does just tie it all together.
‘If you’re front of mind and people are seeing it and talking about it. That’s how change is going to happen.
‘If more people are talking about women’s sport then people who aren’t involved they’re like ‘Oh, what’s this about’, [they] get involved. People who are in it already feel valued and continue to be part of it because they feel appreciated. And I just think it’s kind of the key, the glue that brings it all together.’
Numbers don’t match inclusiveness of game
In 2019, 22 percent of the NSFA 16,500 players were female. It’s a number Mackay says doesn’t match the inclusiveness of football. And she believes some of the responsibility for that mismatch lies at the feet of associations and organisations who haven’t done the work.
‘I think that’s maybe been a let down by us as football organisations, that we haven’t, obviously provided an environment where we’ve attracted girls and kept girls. And I think that’s something that’s changing.’
‘When you have the Matildas team doing so well [and] there’re so many girls aspiring to now play football. It should be 50/50.’
Positive about potential for change
Despite the challenges faced in growing the game for women and girls, changing club cultures and pushing back against that unconscious bias that pushes many women out the door, Mackay is positive about the potential for change.
‘What I love about female football, there’s just a lot of passionate people wanting to change it and change it for the future generations. It’s obviously just very rewarding when you get to engage and empower those, I guess, champions within your area. And then to see the impact that has on the community.
‘When I’m mentoring other coaches, I talk a lot about [their] why with regards to why [they] do things. I have lots of good memories as a player. And I also have memories where I wish it was better and I had more opportunity. I kind of just picture that little girl now and be like, well what can I do to ensure that pathway is different for her and if football is something that she, you know, that’s her life and that’s what she wants to do and aspire to, there’s ample opportunity for her to live out her dream.’
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