'Strengthening girls is strengthening sport' agree experts as UEFA ups its commitment to women's football

UEFA's new study: Playing football boost the self-confidence of teenage girls

UEFA is set to launch its ‘Together #WePlayStrong’ strategic plan to encourage girls to take-up and continue playing football in June 2017.

As a part of this commitment, a new study titled ‘The Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Playing Football on Girls and Women in Europe’ has been launched, setting the scene for the campaign.

The study involved more than 4,000 girls and confirms that teenage girls who play football report higher levels of self-confidence, and that football can have a greater positive impact on the self-confidence of teenage girls than other popular sports.

Women's football is growing ten fold and the FIFA 2.0 roadmap seeks to double the number of female football players worldwide to more than 60 million by 2026. The market is already taking interest in sponsoring women's teams, seen recently by Avon becoming the first female-focused brand to sponsor Liverpool FC's ladies team.

The Drum spoke to Aditi Chauhan, a professional footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for West Ham United Ladies and is also part of the India women's national football team. She said: "First of all, I laud UEFA’s initiative of conducting a study to investigate the effect of football on the psyche of young women. I completely concur with the findings of the study as I feel it is both timely and relevant. Football gave me a unique identity. My on-field experiences gave me a lot of confidence, something which helped my personality evolve off field as well. For a girl to follow her passion in India requires a lot of dedication and hard work. We all simply want to be doing something that we love and I feel lucky to have been able to do so."

She further added: "Once you start valuing yourself as a sportswoman, you expect others to give you the respect that you deserve. Nothing can shake the spirit of a sportswoman who is determined to make it big, especially when she has all the weapons in her armory to excel at the highest level."

The survey, which was led by a team from the University of Birmingham, found that girls who play football are more confident than girls who do not play sport, and even than girls who play other sports.

David Edmondson, a former head of women's football with the Football Federation South Australia, agrees with the findings of the study. He said: “The relationships built through team sports can positively impact social well being and the activity from playing sport can impact on physical well being. As women's football gains greater acceptance and understanding in daily life, I'm sure football can further positively impact self esteem and confidence.”

Vignesh Jayanth, under 16-18s coach at Leeds city ladies, UEFA B license, believes that from a psycho-social perspective, performers at that stage of development find appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with the macro and micro social influences they're exposed to.

He said: “Many a times you see girls play with boys, to have that competitive edge, and perhaps that makes them stronger and gives them the confidence to cope with pressure. Or it maybe it is down to the positive impact that comes from the neglect showed to women in sport - to rise above.”

UEFA's initiative will surely prove to be a boost as it will provide a framework of what participants are exposed to. From a tactical perspective, football promotes a lot of variability because it's simple to understand but complex to play and that thus improves decision making in performers to simplify this complexity. From a psychosocial perspective, players are being exposed to different cultural and social environments because of mass participation.

Varun Chopra, CEO of The Sports Company Asia shared an example of one of the trainees at his academy. He said, “Simrat Dhaliwal, captain of the Shiv Nadar School has been one of the most confident student of her batch. She went for a two week football training camp to the UK with me, and that too without her parents when she was just 15, which proves how confident and independent she is due to football being a part of her life."

Meanwhile, Dr. Danielle Mincey White, managing director of Athletic Mindset Consulting, a sports consultancy, applauded UEFA's commitment to enhancing the life experiences of young women via football. According to Mincey White, the research teams across Europe did a great job of compiling qualitative and quantitative data to support UEFA's efforts to build a culture of football for young girls and women.

She said: "This effort will do much to strengthen the infrastructure of football in Europe by including girls and young women into its plans for sustainability. Strengthening girls and women is strengthening sport."

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