South Africa: Trials reflect growing interest in women’s football

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Although the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on sport at school level, with children missing crucial age-related developmental stages, there has been an increase in the number of girls wanting to play the game.

It is a wet and rainy Saturday in Johannesburg. Bad weather is more suited to a day indoors, but it doesn’t stop dozens of girls from attending the Gauteng Under-15 and Under-17 trials organized by the South African Association football (Safa).

The notice sent to clubs, coaches, players and parents spoke of strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols. He said only players, national team managers and scouts would have access to Panorama Sports Club in Roodepoort. However, dozens of proud parents and club coaches could not be deterred from attending and cheering on the hopefuls.

These are the first regional trials for girls in these age brackets since the start of the pandemic and the excitement is palpable. Belinda Perreira has brought her daughter and is relishing the moment. “With Covid, the girls missed a lot of practice, and getting them back up to speed and in that physical shape was tough,” she says.

Perreira’s daughter played with a boys’ team so as not to fall behind in her development. “When you play with the boys, they’re always bigger and stronger and so there’s always that fear,” admits Perreira. “Maybe that makes them harder, but playing with girls is a different dynamic.”

For Selco Goodman, who brought his daughter, the tryouts are a new and slightly overwhelming experience compared to school tryouts. “I don’t want to say that the skills aren’t as improved in school, but if I compare it to school, I’d say these girls are great and more advanced in terms of their skill development,” Goodman says. .

She suggests it would be better “if schools could line up or collaborate with someone from the outside to teach girls instead of just kicking a ball”, and says the focus should be on ” discipline and take the child to the next level”.

Make up for lost time

The success of player development is closely linked to the quality of the support offered to them. Having already missed the best part of two years of focused training and match pace, many have expressed concern over the lost time.

“How do you fix it, even as a coach?” says Richard Walker, Panorama FC coach and committee member. “How do you correct an under-8 who missed his under-9 and is now under-10? The basics taught to under-9s have been missed. It’s like missing a school year. C “That’s the biggest thing mentally. It was tough, especially for the kids.”

These feelings are shared by Gae Lephalo, coach and coach of Safa. “In women’s football, the two years of the pandemic have cost us dearly,” she said. “We were considered amateurs.”

Despite the scorn, Lephalo’s passion for the development of young girls drives her to persist.

She is one of the many coaches present and clearly knows what she expects from the players. “We are looking at the technique and understanding of the movement on the pitch at the grassroots level.”

Her duties of the day might be scouting for talent, but coaching is instinctive for her and she passionately shouts instructions to the girls on the pitch.

To change the mentalities

A fundamental obstacle to the development of women’s football at all levels has been sexist attitudes. This has resulted in little or no funding, especially at the local level. But the situation is changing according to Greg Green, director of the Rand Central Local Football Association, member of the women’s committee and technical director of women’s football at Panorama.

“People have started to take women’s football much more seriously. A lot of clubs have now picked up that torch and started bringing women’s teams into their club, which is great,” he says.

“At the regional level, Safa gave the mandate many years ago that if you go to the boys under-13 tournament, you must also go to the girls under-13 tournament. local football associations and regions and say we need to develop our women’s structures. There has been progress, so sponsors are now ready to invest their money in women’s football.”

An increase in funding will certainly help alleviate the challenges that organizers face when organizing events for girls, such as arranging transport. “It’s harder for girls to get around than for boys,” says Goodman. “It’s easy for the boys because they walk to the pitch, but not the girls for safety reasons.”

Walker says there has been a significant increase in the number of girls playing soccer at Panorama FC despite the pandemic. “We were worried about parents getting into individual sports, but actually we’ve had such interest. I think everyone wants some fresh air, to come back and feel the grass again.”

And the time spent in solitary confinement also had good results. “It has given a lot of clubs and institutions time to take stock and plan their return to sport in general,” Green said. “For us, we’ve been able to plan and go around, educate and promote the women’s game. As a result, you’re starting to see a lot of things coming into the sport now.”

More girls in attendance means there is a bigger pool of talent for selectors to choose from. And for those who are not selected, Lephalo advises that they “go back to their schools and their teams to learn all those basic skills that they need to be able to improve. They are still young. “Next year when there are selections again, they still have a chance.”

There is a growing interest in women’s football at local level. Offensive stereotypes are slowly being replaced with genuine respect and admiration for women in football. Their time has come, and it starts with investing in young girls.

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