When girls think of a sport they’d like to join, a few things may come to mind. Soccer, martial arts, softball, tennis, basketball, and the like. But one sport notably off the list of many girls’ dream sports? Football. Sure, they might toss around a football with dad in the yard sometimes, but many girls wouldn’t even consider joining a football team, while others simply assume that it’s not an option despite liking the game. But why is this? In this blog, we’ll talk about how girls and women do participate in football and what factors are in place that prevent or discourage girls from joining in the first place.
Lack of availability/visibility
Pop Warner, a youth football organization, estimates that only 1% of its youth players are female. Many girls don’t opt for football simply because female teams aren’t an option in their area, and the teams they do see consist solely of boys or men. There are a few youth-level football leagues that girls play in but even less when you look at high school teams and even fewer still when you get to the college level. And it’s much harder to start a team than it is to join one already in place.
There also exists a lack of visibility when it comes to female football players and teams. Many may hear of a girl or woman who joins an otherwise-male team, but those stories are often sensationalized as a one-off occurrence. And many don’t know of the existence of all-girls or all-women sports teams, as they aren’t given much attention.
A male-dominated sport
Tying in with the lack of visibility of female football teams is the idea that football is a male only sport. Many young girls grow up only experiencing boys and men playing the sport, and so it just becomes a “male sport” in their mind. Even if they had the option and desire to join an otherwise-male team at their school, for example, they may hesitate to do so due to peer pressure or even family pressure that the rough-and-tumble sport of football is a “boys’ game.”
Things are changing
Both of these factors are becoming less of an issue as more girls’ and women’s football leagues and teams open up, and female football players receive more press. Women in football is nothing new; the first woman to play on a professional (and all-male) football team, Patricia Palinkas, did so nearly 50 years ago, in 1970. But females in football are only more recently becoming more common and visible. Some may remember the 2012 story of the 9-year-old girl, Sam Gordon, who played football on an all boys team. Her skill and love for the game set the groundwork for many other female lovers of the sport to join in as well. In 2015, the NFL got its first permanent female coach, Kathryn Smith, for the Buffalo Bills.
As of 2018, statistics showed that only 10.9% of people who report playing tackle football are female. However, although participation in the sport in general is seeing a dip, it’s experiencing a rise when you look at the female demographic, especially in high school football.
Recent years have seen an uptick in female football leagues such as the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, Indiana Girls Tackle Football League, Women’s Football Association, Independent Women’s Football League, Women’s Spring Football League, and more.
And at the same time as stories about girls in football may make it seem like an oddity, they do serve a positive purpose as well, of course. Many girls see these stories and feel encouraged. Something they may have accepted as the norm (that football is “for the boys”) is challenged, and that opens the door to many to consider joining the sport.
Here at Tacklesmart, we have boys and girls of all ages coming through for our Tackle training. Sign up for classes here today!