Over the next six weeks, The FA will review the impact of The Gameplan for Growth strategy on the women’s and girls’ game.
Launched in March 2017, the strategy pledged to tackle ambitious targets to double participation [by doubling the number of affiliated teams], double the game’s fanbase and create a high-performance system and world-class talent pipeline for England teams to achieve consistent success on the world stage. After four seasons the strategy is now concluding, and The FA will outline its continued support for the sport with the launch of the women and girls’ strategy in the coming months.

Over the next six weeks you will hear from individuals who have been integral to the strategy’s success as we review the strategy’s impact across participation, fanbase, coaching, refereeing, England teams and the professional game.

This week’s focus is on The FA’s journey to double participation, growing from 6,000 affiliated teams to over 12,500 affiliated teams, mini-soccer groups and adult recreational groups over the breadth of the country in 2020.

The Stats:
• 3.4m women and girls playing football
• 9,251 affiliated teams, 54% increase from 2016
• 1,621 Wildcats centres established across the country an increase of 715% from 2017
• 2,000 Shooting Stars inspired by Disney programmes attended by 18,000 girls in Primary Schools
• Over 100 Girls’ Football Schools Partnerships - supported by Barclays created and reaching over 6,000 schools
• 147 Just Play centres for adults introduced in 2019/20
• 88 Community Club Organisations providing opportunities for 55,800 women and girls

Louise Gear, Head of Women’s Football Development

“After 17 years at the Youth Sport Trust, I joined The FA in November 2017 with the exciting but slightly daunting ‘double participation of the women’s and girls’ game’ by doubling the number of affiliated teams by 2020 in my job description.
Being sports mad, still playing netball (having played internationally for England) and having children with a relentless thirst for sport, I know the importance of participation across different age groups and the benefits that formal or informal play can bring. If it is being part of a team or an informal run-around with friends, sport is a fundamental way to enrich life.
Change had to be sustainable, breaking down barriers to encourage new women and girls to play football, whilst retaining and valuing the thousands of existing participants. The plan we built was based around four pillars – places, programmes, people and profile.

If more women and girls are playing the game, then they need places to play. Easy to say but much harder to execute and providing more places to experience football has been our top priority. Crucially that has been achieved by building an infrastructure of Wildcats centres for 5 to 11 year old girls and Just Play centres for adults. That infrastructure has been integral to the growth of competitive female teams, from 6,000 [the strategy’s baseline] to 9,251. With the inclusion of Wildcats and Just Play centres that’s over 12,500 affiliated teams, mini-soccer groups and adult recreational groups playing across the breadth of the country, fulfilling our 2020 target to ‘double participation’. The impact that they are all having on physical and mental health and wellbeing and the joy they are bringing to their communities is probably one of our proudest achievements.
Creating innovative programmes that match women and girl's motivations to play has been a gamechanger, ensuring we have got the flexibility for football to be played for competition, fun, excellence or to learn. Wildcats has given nearly 34,000 young girls in 1,621 locations across the country the confidence to give football a go for the first time, allowing them to learn new life skills and form new friendships groups in the process. 18,000 primary school girls have enjoyed The FA Shooting Stars inspired by Disney programme over the past two years. Football with a Guardians of the Galaxy or Aladdin theme has given our sport a unique Disney twist and proved popular in the primary school playground.

These achievements are not possible without people, so building a diverse workforce of enablers to grow the game and create female friendly environments has been vital. This year we launched the first Women and Girls Officer Programme, providing professional development to a collective of 78 specialists from CFAs, Club Community Trusts and national organisations. Over 143 community clubs have received ‘female-friendly’ club training, to help build a genuinely inclusive club environment for women to enjoy. The future of women’s football development is also encouraging, with 37 women’s football apprentices trained over the course of The Gameplan for Growth.
Our plan has needed us to not only build an infrastructure but to increase the profile, changing the perceptions and breaking down the historical barriers that have been detrimental to the women and girls’ game. Avoiding clumsy stereotypes, we have presented the game in a way that it appeals to the female audience. We have worked to encourage the ‘see it, play it’ mantra across all age groups and formats of the game. This was best demonstrated during the Lionesses’ run to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Semi-Finals, where women of all ages and abilities were inspired to follow in our Lionesses’ footsteps and get outside and play.

Most pleasingly to me, football for all has been a key mantra for the last three years. Using football as a tool for community integration, we have formed new partnerships with Cerebral Palsy Sport, The Wheelchair Football Association and Amnesty International UK. Alongside a unique partnership with Football Beyond Borders, which has seen BAME young role models encouraging new girls to the game.

Attention now turns to the future, and we’ll be increasing our influence in schools, colleges and universities with national partners, Youth Sport Trust, Association of Colleges and BUCS. More details will be in the newly formed women’s football strategy, which will be launched at the start of the season.
Finally, a big thank you. Thank you to the hundreds and thousands of new participants, whether you have experienced the joys of football in a weekly kickabout with friends in the park, a Saturday morning Wildcats session or with a new team. You are now on a journey which will hopefully see football become a crucial part of your life. For the thousands of participants who have remained with us, thank you for your ongoing enthusiasm and dedication. Thank you to our partners Disney, Barclays, Snickers, Nike and BT who have supported us. I reserve my biggest thank you to the women’s football workforce and thousands of volunteers, without you we would be staring at empty pitches and unused kit – none of this would be possible.”