Earlier this month we hosted an FA Female Friendly Club Workshop for clubs who already have female teams and those looking to start female football at their club.
At the event Charter Standard club Mole Valley Girls FC took part in a press conference style Q&A session to explain how they became a thriving and successful football club for girls from U9s through to adult teams for women.
As part of our #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign, we spoke to Will Letts, Louise Cooper and Kerry Knott who all coach Mole Valley’s adult first team to ask them about their journey to become a successful girls football club, the barriers they have faced and the top tips for recruiting and retaining players.
Tell us more about the club?
Will Letts [WL]: “I set up Mole Valley Girls ten years ago with the then Sports Development Officer at Mole Valley District Council and [Surrey County Coach Developer] Peter Augustine helped as well.
We had seven players at that stage and now we have about 185 players with 15 teams from U9s through to women’s teams.
When we first set up, I was Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer - virtually everything. And as we’ve increased teams, we’ve had more volunteering from parents who have helped us. I don’t really have a defined role within Mole Valley Girls FC but if anybody has a problem, they come to me and I help them with it.
I’m there as that point of call if anyone has any problems.
This summer just gone, Louise and Kerry came on board to manage the first team with me. They also do goalkeeping coaching on a Friday and will hopefully do more coaching next season with the other age groups.”
What was your motivation in setting up the club initially?
[WL] “I used to do the Surrey Youth Games with the Sports Development Officer at Mole Valley District Council [and ran] the Youth Games in the district for girls’ football and [back] then there was no pathway for them once they finished.
Ten years ago, you didn’t have Wildcats, you didn’t have the opportunities that girls have today - which is hopefully increasing year by year. We set up the club to give them that pathway through football.
It was just an idea that me and the Sports Development Officer came up with to try and increase participation in girls’ football within the district because there were no girls-only football clubs at that time. The main reason was that girls can play mixed football but then they get to that age when they don’t want to anymore and have nowhere to go.”
Throughout the ten years have there been any barriers or challenges you’ve come across?
[WL] “We have barriers now. The club is very different now to how it was then. When you’ve got fifteen teams and you are in a district like Mole Valley with scarce training facilities and playing facilities, you’re constantly trying to find grounds to train on and suitable training hours.
Luckily, we have Meadowbank Football Ground which we train at on a Friday. [It] is historic that we train on Fridays because we couldn’t get any other slots during the week because boys and men’s teams would train then. The women’s team train on a Wednesday. Because of the level they play at, we don’t want them training too close to matchday on a Sunday because of injuries. That’s one massive barrier.
Our most recent barrier [has been the] lack of coaching staff to help with our group. I read a report recently that said one of the real constrictions with doubling participation in female football is the lack of qualified coaches available. It’s a worry because you can get good coaching staff but it’s that commitment to girls’ football and interest in what the girls actually need or want at sessions [which is lacking].”
Louise Cooper [LC]: “I think we’ve been quite fortunate where we’ve coached because we’ve always had good facilities. If you get good facilities [it’s a big advantage] especially in the women’s game, we know when we played, especially in our younger years, we were playing on five-a-side pitches and sometimes not even 3G pitches. Now it’s progressed which is amazing!
If you have the facilities, players will come. Having Meadowbank for games on Sundays and good facilities on a Wednesday evening - a full size pitch when we train with the development as well as the first team.
It’s so good to have players that come and say, “these are great facilities”. And we have the opportunity to have the development team and first team training at the same time which allows players to learn off each other.”
What does success look like at the end of next season?
Kerry Knott [KK]: “I think sponsorship is key. We had sponsorship this year when we originally had one team. We then decided to get a development team and the money started to run out. So we wanted to make sure both teams had exactly the same equipment.
We’re already looking now and saying we need to get sponsorship for next year because if we are going to start another team, we need to make sure we have the money for all teams.”
LC: “We wanted to make sure both adults groups felt as important as each other. Eventually we will be looking for the development team players to come up to the first team so it’s really important as much as we can to make sure we are one club.
KK: “Sponsorship is a big thing for us and I’m already trying to get the sponsor to carry on for next season because you have to, you have to start getting it sorted now.
WL: “In terms of success for me, it’s player retention at the younger age groups so we are not just trying to get one team at each age group, we try and get two teams per age group.
The second one for me is about how many players we can get in the first team and we will see what happens with that.”
KK: “I think coaches as well. I remember we discussed when me and Lou first came over that we want to get more female coaches at the club by getting more players to try coach the younger age groups. I think that’s quite important as well.”
If you’d like to find out more about developing the female game at your club or starting your journey in coaching female football, contact Emma Barnes at: Emma.Barnes@SurreyFA.com