Before they were Matildas stars, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, Alanna Kennedy and Amy Harrison were just one of many kids kicking the ball around in their local school yard.
In recent years, football’s rise as Australia’s biggest participation sport has been in lock step with the rise of participation at the school sports level.
Last year more than 550,000 primary and high school students took part in either school programs or in school competitions. Those competitions include, among many, the Bill Turner Cup and the School Sports National Championships whose primary school championships commence this week in Canberra.
As Head of Physical Education at St Andrews Christian College in Wantima South, SE Melbourne, Andrew Farmer has witnessed not only the growth of football in the education sector but also the increase involvement of female students.
“I have seen many more girls desiring to play for their school teams, and wanting to join school football clubs and programs,” he said.
“Our statistics have shown a spike in female participation rates in football after World Cup years. So, a World Cup would help Australia to fully embrace an international game and help in growing the game in school yards.”
Since coming out from the UK almost 13 years ago, the self-confessed West Ham tragic has been passionate about introducing and fostering the development of football in school environments.
Not only because the game runs in Farmer’s blood but also for the side benefits that involvement has on students’ physical and psychological wellbeing. A 2018 Women’s Sport Foundation research paper found that kids who participated in sports were more likely to have:
- a better diet and sleep patterns
- a more positive attitude toward schoolwork
- improved academic performance and higher grades
- better markers of psychological health, including high self-esteem
- stronger social connections and higher levels of social support
“We have seen the building up of the self-esteem of girls – showing the boys that girls can not only play, but sometimes play better.”
“Providing an environment that has allowed girls to feel empowered to take up the sport and succeed has been beneficial.”
Farmer believes that the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in his backyard is not only a great chance for Australian classrooms to feel the positive impact but also to showcase the nation.
“We have been a brilliant organiser of world standard competitions in the past,” Farmer remarked.
“The Women’s World Cup would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the sport in a modern multicultural society, with new improved facilities.”
“Bringing the game to the Asia-Pacific region would open up women’s football to many more new markets for the game!”
While a potential tournament in Australia is still years away, Farmer is focused on educating and coaching the next generation of players with the aim of creating limitless opportunities for the next Kennedy, Foord or Steph Catley to thrive through the school sports system.
“Steph is a magnificent example of the work of many teachers, coaches and her own family in helping her to realise a World Cup dream.
“But not every player will reach the elite level, so we want to cultivate a life-long love of football and the opportunity to go as far as possible within it - whether that is in coaching, refereeing or playing the game.”