The FA’s ‘SSE Wildcats’ programme has been singled out as a major reason for a huge increase in girls’ mini-soccer participation in Essex.
Thanks to the dedicated work of local clubs and leagues, there has been a 46% growth in girls’ mini-soccer teams in Essex compared to last season (38 vs 61) and 49% of affiliated girls’ mini-soccer teams for the 2018/19 campaign are from clubs involved in the SSE Wildcats Programme.
Over 880 SSE Wildcats Centres now provide football opportunities for 5-11-year-olds across the country. The initiative offers organised sessions in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls. They take place on a weekly basis, either after school or at weekends, and provide a safe environment where girls can try football for the first time.
Essex has fully embraced the programme and Development Officer, Emma Burden, has been overwhelmed with the response, explaining: “I think the number of SSE Wildcats sessions we have in the county, being delivered by really passionate believers in female football, has meant a natural growth in our mini-soccer figures.”
“The transition to play within a team has mostly been really easy. Many clubs within the programme have been delivering girls’ football for many years, and the new Wildcats have found themselves in a really comfortable environment where they want to play more and more.”
“Clubs are also realising that some girls might not want to play within a team, but still want to continue to attend Wildcats sessions. Hopefully, when that player is ready to play within a team again, that’ll be an easy step for a new young female player to make.”
‘Hotspots’ are places with high levels of girls’ football, and the Essex County FA have offered an overall service level agreement as a pilot to the clubs in the hotspot area of Group 2 (Brentwood, Chelmsford, Epping Forest, Harlow, Uttlesford). Those clubs have delivered a Bi-Monthly Festival, affiliated a younger age group team and attended hotspot meetings.
County FA Development Officers supported many clubs with advice and feedback on their Football Foundation ‘Grow the Game’ and Wildcats applications. Each Group Area delivered a number of festivals targeting girls aged seven to ten who might not be playing within affiliated teams. Emma said: “Chelmsford and the central areas of Essex have seen a considerable growth.”
“Clubs were keen to attend meetings and form partnerships with neighbours to enable localised fixtures to take place. Many of the coaches have been friends for a good few seasons and this networking certainly assisted growth as they shared opportunities and talked about schools they were working with, as well as marketing ideas which worked, or didn’t work, for them.”
But Emma was keen to express that SSE Wildcats is one piece of a wider girls’ football network in Essex, adding: “We have to thank all the partners within the county who have been driving football specifically for these age groups. Our youth leagues are keen to embrace this growth area. The Essex County Girls’ League have, this season, introduced an Under 9s Girls Division.”
“The Brentwood Community Football Alliance Youth League are in their second season of an FA pilot which allows girls to play an age group down and they’ve seen a 50% growth in the number of girls’ teams playing within their league. Both the South-East Primary Mini-Soccer and Echo Junior Leagues were also successful in applying to be a part of the same pilot.”
The County FA are currently inviting ‘Expressions of Interest’ from clubs and groups who’d like to find out more about becoming an SSE Wildcats Centre, and Emma continued: “The benefits for the players are that they’re involved in a product which puts the player experience first. It enables them to attend a fun practice which is all about fun, friendship and fitness.”
“That means they don’t have to commit immediately to a league fixture programme. For clubs signing into the SSE Wildcats brand it’s a great opportunity to tap into an FA ‘blue chip’ programme. Yes, there are benefits such as equipment and training, and some funding. But it’s also a sign that you’re committed to developing young female players at a pace they are happy with.”
Want to get more girls involved in football? We're running some SSE Wildcats 'Expression of Interest' Workshops around the county, and you can sign-up at by clicking here. Further information can also be found in the menus above, by following @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and by searching for 'EssexFootball' on Facebook.
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