Game On Girls is a weekly Turn Up and Play initiative set up by Game On Wales which has been up and running for four years. Currently, the scheme has eight active sessions each week; five of these are attached to different primary schools in Coalfield communities. The same rules apply however – Girls only!
The other three Game on Girls sessions are held in USW Sports Park, Brynmawr School and Abertillery Sports Centre in the evenings where girls can ‘Turn Up and Play’ for the small cost of £1 per session.
The ideology behind the Game On Girls programme is that girls can come and play football in a safe and comfortable environment. Under the supervision of a trained coach, girls can learn basic technical skills which Game On Wales hopes can improve the girls’ footballing confidence to a stage where they can progress to a more competitive level, playing for a local club.
Recently, these hopes have become a reality as Emily and Farah, two girls who have regularly attended the Game On Girls sessions at the University of South Wales, have braved into a more competitive footballing world, joining Hopkinstown FC under 10’s.
The local club have visited the Game On Girls sessions, providing taster sessions to promote their girls’ team. The two girls have since played their debut match for the club, showcasing their goal scoring abilities as Farah scored a hat trick which included a free kick, whilst Emily also made it onto the score sheet. The girls joined Hopkinstown to play football in a more competitive environment, “We wanted to move to a team where we could play in tournaments and matches!”. They now train on a Friday night and play matches on a Sunday afternoon, but they haven’t forgotten about Game On Girls and still make regular appearances at the sessions!
Nicola, a parent of Nia, 9, who comes each session praised the facilities at USW, saying that it was a great feature that parents could sit and watch the girls playing from a balcony without interfering. Nia started coming to the weekly sessions after she brought home a Game On Girls leaflet from primary school. Despite playing each week, and loving all things sport, Nicola mentioned that her daughter didn’t like the extra pressure of playing competitively which is why the Game On sessions are perfect for her.
Game On Wales’ Development Manager, Ryan Jones noted the importance of the pressure-free environment which is provided by the girls only sessions. “Some of the girls are only getting into football for the first time so it’s a fun session without the competitiveness and pressure of playing for a team.”
The weekly sessions are all coached by Ceri Hudson, a former USW student and current captain of Abergavenny Town FC. Ceri has worked with Game On Wales since November 2016. Starting as a volunteer during her university studies, she now works as paid coach leading all of the Game On Girls initiatives.
Talking about her love for coaching the girls, Ceri spoke about the importance of female role models within sport to encourage and inspire young girls. Praising the likes Jayne Ludlow, Wales Women’s coach, Ceri recognises that female role models are vital within the engagement of girls in football and are needed to spark confidence and lead by example for young girls. Hudson celebrates the scheme’s all-girl setting, “It’s important because it makes them feel comfortable and under no pressure, sometimes they can feel intimidated by boys.”
The girls who attend the sessions are taught basic technical skills and the formalities of the game, a feature which is boosted by the annual festivals hosted by Game On Wales. These tournaments are a chance for the girls to learn more about the more competitive side of football as the student referees often act as coaches, establishing the rules of the game in a way which benefits the girls.
Game On Girls’ future is looking bright as it acts as a mediator between getting girls into football for the first time, and allowing them to progress into local clubs. A comfortable, pressure-free environment allows the girls to thrive and gain a love for the beautiful game, learning basic skills as they go. Emily and Farah are a success story of the scheme and it is hoped that many of the other Game On Girls’ students can follow in the footsteps.
Thanks to Emily Salley, Cardiff University for this article.