It was a fall day fit for soccer as women across a wide range of ages and abilities celebrated the Beautiful Game with Female Soccer Day 2017 in Saanich Sunday.
“The sport [soccer] is such a positive outlet for girls and women,” said Julie Ainsworth, a coach with Saanich’s Prospect Lake Soccer Club, who organized the event. “It has been such a huge part all throughout my life, and it has been very important to both encourage my daughters, and other females in the community to take part.”
About 70 youth aged four to 17, and up to six adults participated in the various parts of the event, which consisted out of skills clinics for players and coaching skills for the adults. Members of the University of Victoria Vikes women’s soccer team, the Vancouver Island Wave soccer club, and Ashley Cathro, a former Prospect Lake Soccer club member, with a bright future for Canada’s senior women’s national team, joined as guest coaches. B.C. Soccer provided financial support.
Sunday’s event happened against a complex backdrop. Soccer — the most played sport among Canadian children aged five to 14, according to a federal government report — ranks among the most popular sport for girls. In 2010, 42 per cent of girls played the game. Not surprisingly, Canada ranks among the global elite on the women’s side of the world’s most popular sport. But interest in the sport among girls— as with all sports — drops in the later teenage years, with female drop-out rates larger than male drop-out rates.
Ainsworth said Sunday’s event represent a response to this phenomenon.
“It’s a big part of it actually,” she said. “Something just outside this day, we’re trying to encourage that mentorship and that leadership within our girls.”
Soccer, she said, does not just inspire camaraderie. “It is a really positive way to improve your confidence, to improve self-esteem, and other I think other women are other women’s best champions,” she said. “We have a wonderful way of supporting each other, and encouraging each other, and that is what this day is about.”
One important aspect of Sunday’s event was the clinic for aspiring female coaches. While Ainsworth could not give specific figures, her own experience suggests women make up a small part of the coaching fraternity, a considerable disconnect if you consider the number of girls and women playing the sport.
“I do know from the coaching courses that I have taken over the years, usually in a room full of coaches, say 30 coaches, there may be two female [coaches],” she said. “So it is unique and special to see programs that encourage female-only coaching clinics. For whatever reasons, the numbers are lower for female coaches. But I think female coaches can play a very important role in the development of youth players, and understand female players in a different way than may be a male coach might.”
Ainsworth for her part is not entirely sure why so few women go into coaching. “Women by nature wear lots of different hats, and lots of different roles in their lives,” she said. “A lot of them are quite busy, and may be don’t feel they have the time to devote to it. May be it’s a confidence thing, not knowing that it is something they can actually do, and take on that leadership role.”
Sunday’s event in turn tries to instill the belief that they can do it, said Ainsworth.
Role-models, whether they play professionally or for national programs, can also be influential and Sunday’s event gave local youth female players an up-close look at how far they can go in the game. Cathro, a former Prospect Lake product, was 15 years old, when she debuted for the Canadian youth program in 2015. In 2016, she played for Canada at the FIFA U-17 women’s world cup in Jordan, and promises to feature prominently with senior women’s national team, after having receiving her first-call up this year.