Last month, Rebecca Moore, Football Development Officer (Women & Girls), caught up with Kathryn Derby and Natalie Whyte from Rising Stars Squad Football to learn more about their Squad Girls provision. Find out how she got on.
Why did Rising Stars Youth FC decide to become a Squad provider?
"We identified that there was a need to give girls the opportunity to play football outside of competitive teams. The club had two U13s girls' teams last season, but unfortunately, we lost a few players to JPL and other clubs. Sadly, a few stopped playing altogether. So we wanted to 'catch' some who may be at risk of dropping out and offer something for teenage girls who hadn't wanted to try football when they were younger but do now. Being able to provide sessions on a drop-in basis (as some families can't commit to league football, with all it involves), at low cost, through Squad was perfect!
"Some of the girls who have come along are really capable. It amazes me that some girls are coming to sessions aged 14 and are of league 1 standard but have never played for a grassroots club, only a school team!"
What days/times do you train?
"Saturday mornings 11:30-12:30. We didn't want a slot too early as we knew that might limit numbers. As things stand, some girls roll in 5 or 10 mins after the start, but we plan the activities so that it doesn't matter. The whole point is that no one feels stressed or pressured by any of it (girls or parents/carers)."
How long has your Squad sessions been running?
"We started in early October 2022. We were keen to get going as soon as possible after doing the three online training workshops, as we wanted to catch girls early in the school year. We've run seven sessions so far."
How many girls train at your sessions?
"We average around 7 or 8, but we're getting the odd new one each week, and they come back! We're hoping to get more as we go on! There will probably be a few more coming early in the new year.
"We haven't had as many as we'd hoped for early on, which is frustrating – having advertised the sessions through all local secondary schools, on Facebook groups and on other social media, and reaching all of our 400+ members through our own club-wide app. But what matters is that all those who have come have had fun and keep coming back!"
What would you say to young girls and their parents/ carers considering taking up football?
"Come and give it a go! There are girls of all ability levels, from complete beginners to more experienced girls who play league football. It's a really relaxed, welcoming and friendly space. The girls can choose what they do, or if they don't want to make suggestions, we plan activities. We let them know that if they're not enjoying anything, say so, and we'll switch to something different. We have lots of space, so if some girls want to do one thing and others want to do something different, we can cater for that.
"It's a great place to have fun, run around with a ball, and make new friends with girls from different schools who share a similar interest, who they may otherwise not meet. And if they can't make it one week or feel like staying in bed instead, that's fine. Just come the week after, and bring a friend or two!"
How would your players describe your Squad sessions?
"The girls have got to know each other, even just over 7 weeks, and they keep coming back week after week. They love having the freedom to choose what activities they do and to play football and express themselves without any pressure. They are just having fun with a ball at their feet."
What happens if the Girls want to move on from Squad and play football matches?
"We can signpost them to our teams and get them to a training session to see how they like it. Or, if we don't have a team the right age, I WhatsApp a couple of contacts at other local clubs (as we have good relationships with local coaches who've been supporting girls' football for some years). One player has already registered with our U15s KGLFL Division 1 team, having turned up to a Squad session wondering if she'd like it!"
What aspects of girls' football do you get most excited about?
"We started out the girls' section at Rising Stars about 7 years ago and now regularly run Wildcats (and now Squad) sessions, from which we usually get a new team. We now have teams from U9s to U15s, with the odd gap. Seeing the increase in opportunities for girls in our local area – at different levels of football, from beginners to elite – is exciting! Local schools are now beginning to offer more footballing opportunities for girls, which is much needed and long overdue!
"It's also great to see the girls develop as football players and young people. Seeing girls come along to sessions who have never played football before or have never had the confidence to come to a session now having a safe space to be able to play, and do what they want to do, with huge smiles on their faces, is the best feeling.
"We also do the 'mood board' at the end of each session (as recommended in the training manual). It's great because it's a quick way to check in with how the girls felt about the session we just put on. Feedback is so invaluable as a coach."