As Wales prepares to host the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, some of the nation’s brightest female prospects have revealed how the game has improved their self-confidence.
Earlier this year, Wales’ under 15 girls stormed to a historic victory in the Bob Docherty Cup in Dublin – Wales has never before been triumphant in the tournament which pits the home nations against other.
The girls’ claims of improved self-confidence proof of a UEFA study released last week that highlighted the positive impact of football on the self-confidence of teenage girls.
The research investigated the impact that football has on self-confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing, feelings of togetherness, motivation and life skills and compared those to other popular sports.
Fifteen-year-old Jasmine Simpson of Rhydyfelin LFC – who has scored in excess of 440 goals for her club in league matches over the last four years – explains: “I was really shy. I didn’t like answering questions at school but now I contribute so much more. Even the teachers have noticed the difference.”
Pontypool’s Ellie Sanford, 15, captained the side in Dublin. She fell in love with the game at the age of five: “It’s helped my confidence massively. A couple of years ago, I didn’t even want to order food in a restaurant. It’s all because it is a team sport and you have to speak to everyone in the team. We are like one big family.”
Grace Godwin, 14, an Aston Villa defender – who hails from Barry – also believes that football has helped her off the pitch: “I was never that confident. But going to the Welsh camps has really helped me. I’ve grown in confidence so much as I have had to meet lots of new people.
“But the best thing about playing football is that you can leave all your other worries at home. Whatever’s happening at school or at home, you leave it all behind when you step on the pitch. It’s a really good escape from the pressures of exams and homework. I feel as I am doing better at school because I relax and don’t get too stressed.”
And now the girls are hoping that hosting top class women’s football in the Welsh capital – will inspire more girls to get involved.
Deanna Lewis, 14, from Swansea is a goalkeeper for Swansea. She says: “Find a local club and go along. You won’t regret it. It’s brilliant to get outside and play as part of a team – you forget about all your other worries.”
And Anna Bebb, 13, who lives in Telford and plays for West Brom, explains: “I’d urge girls to try the game for themselves. It really can be life changing, and is a great way to meet new people, make new friends and experience different things.”
Also keen to encourage more girls to play is Grace Burke, 15, who plays for Manchester United and is originally from Bodelwyddan near Rhyl.
The player – who now lives in Stockport – says: “My advice to girls is to give it a shot – you never know what the outcome might be. You can’t beat the huge rush of pride and sense of gratitude you feel when you represent your club or country. I always get this huge feeling of ‘Wow, I’ve made it here’ and now I am hungry for more.”
Meanwhile Ellen Jones, Bristol City winger – who hails from Swansea but is soon moving to Cardiff – says: “Playing for Wales gives you such an amazing feeling. I’ve made new friendships. And because it’s a team sport, you have to work with people around you. That sort of teamwork really helps – at school and in preparation for future careers. It’s a skilful, fast sport. I just love to score goals and I like winning!”
Fourteen-year-old Grace Godwin, an Aston Villa defender, hails from Barry: “I was hooked from the off. But I wasn’t the best player technically at the start. I’d say it took me a good couple of years to see a big improvement. But I was determined to succeed.”
And her message to girls: “Do it! It’s great to be part of a team, to get fit and make new friends.”
The numbers of girls in Wales pulling on their football boots are certainly increasing with the numbers of clubs across the nation on the rise. In fact, the South Wales Women’s and Girls’ League has grown in numbers by 57% in just the last 12 months.
Neil Ward is the CEO of the FAW Trust – the FAW’s charitable arm that’s responsible for the development of the game in Wales: “It’s fantastic to see our promising players encouraging younger girls onto the pitch. While we are very proud of the work we are doing to increase the number of women and girls playing, we always want to try new approaches.
“For example, we’ve created Beatball which puts football to music. We’ve got to try new things if we want to see a significant improvement in our participation numbers. That’s something Sport Wales have been very supportive of,” added Ward.
If you want to find out more about women and girls’ football, www.welshfootballtrust.org.uk/WomenandGirls