Australia’s premier women’s football competition, the W-League, kicked off at the weekend as it continues to gather momentum across the nation.
Gippsland has been doing its part for the grass roots growth the league relies upon with a 22.32 per cent representation of girls (624 total) in soccer across the region in 2012, according to the Gippsland Soccer League
With girls’ participation jumping up by 105 participants since 2010 in the target under 18 age group, the GSL is focusing on an increase next season.
“We are going to have a concerted effort in the new year to really ramp up our girls participation,” GSL football manager Paul Crowe said.
“We really want to capitalise on the growth we have experienced and continue to promote girls football as fun, great for fitness and a great social environment.
“We are about to re-employ a zone development officer and their role will be to greatly assist with participation and encouraging the girls.”
The GSL, along with Football Federation Victoria, were proactively developing strategies to increase girls’ participation, with FFV targeting a state wide 25 per cent female soccer population by 2015.
This would encompass 22,000 players, double the current number, 235 female referees and 1300 accredited female coaches.
“We understand that while football has no constraints on gender, there are barriers preventing female participation and we are working to break these down,” FFV chief executive Mark Rendell said.
“While FFV has seen considerable growth in female participation over the past few years, we need to keep working on ways to engage with girls and women in order to keep this number growing.
“Initiatives include mentoring for female referees, a clearer talented player path, female change rooms at more grounds and helping to create a welcoming environment which encourages female involvement.”
Gippsland is above the state average in the 12 to 18 year age bracket with a 24.92 per cent female representation and 26.73 per cent in adults, but has only 14.42 per cent in the five to 11 age group.
Crowe said one of the keys to retaining junior players was ensuring they have access to girls’ only competition, an issue which was highlighted by a new GSL working party dedicated to bolstering female participation.
“My theory is that if we can get them engaged from grade prep playing girls soccer there is a very good chance they might come back the next year and the year after and some of those girls may never play against boys which is desirable,” he said.
Crowe was hopeful the GSL would be able to create small-sided girls only competitions in the junior divisions to achieve this goal instead of injecting girls into mixed competition.
The GSL may have some help in achieving their aims with initiatives such as the FFV Indigenous Football Development program making a contribution to the playing pool.
Recently an under 13 indigenous girls’ side, comprised entirely of new soccer players, finished second in the State Youth Indigenous Football Tournament in an encouraging step toward improved participation levels in local leagues.
“We might get some interest form the local community about girls wanting to play soccer (after this),” Sport and Recreation Victoria indigenous sport development officer Peter Mongta said.
The team was mostly made up of netball players, who were chosen from a Koorie soccer gala day, and Crowe said finding a way to accommodate girls who wish to play both sports could help the GSL.
The GSL also hope to develop clearer pathways for girls to reach the higher echelons, such as the W-League, to add to the existing platforms such as state representation, Gippsland Academy of Sport and the non-GSL Gippsland Knights side.
Hazelwood’s Steph Tanti and Traralgon’s Jacqueline Vogt have made their way into the Melbourne Victory system in recent years, and improved GSL pathways could see more Gippslanders follow in their footsteps.
With six Gippslanders selected in state squads in 2012, and the addition of two new sides in senior women’s leagues, Crowe said the standard of football had increased dramatically in the Central and South Gippsland competitions’ fourth year.
“We had a successful season with our women’s competition (in both leagues); we were delighted with it actually,” he said.
“It has grown in leaps and bounds; if there is one thing we are really proud of is the quality of football.
“The standard has improved by all accounts.”
The GSL has several initiatives in the works for next season, including a series of come and try days for girls and an adjustment to club cultures, and more information can be found at the GSL website