There are multiple pathways a player may take as she progresses in football. New Zealand Football recently developed its first ever National Player Development Framework, which re-aligns our game into one cohesive structure in order to meet the needs of players across all levels of the game. As part of the overall long-term plan, the Junior Framework is the first step of the staged implementation process, which is the foundation of future participation in our game.
Within the Junior Framework there is a tailor-made pathway for females to participate in football, which offers either girls or mixed football, depending on the wants and needs of the player.
Historically in New Zealand, the female player has progressed through football in a male-dominated environment, in many cases with only one or two females in their team. This pathway has been successful both in New Zealand and around the world in producing players who can compete on the world stage, due to the lack of depth in a girls-only pathway. Physically and technically, it offers our female players an environment which is competitive and allows the most talented females to develop with players of a similar ability.
At 12th grade and above, the current pathway becomes more of a physical challenge for girls due to the onset of puberty and the physical changes in boys. In many countries around the world, there is a compulsory shift to girls-only football around 12-13 years of age. Following this stage we recommend that the most talented females who wish to play mixed football play down an age group in the highest grade possible to ensure technical development is the focus rather than the physical challenge.
A specific pathway for girls in New Zealand is relatively new and has only really been offered in the bigger centres due to participation numbers and depth. This pathway has generally started around the Mini Football stage of 9-12 years, which is where maturational changes generally occur for girls.
However, in a national review it was clear that girls-only football was not being run in a coordinated and consistent manner, with only 12% of affiliated girls playing girls-only football. As part of the review it was also revealed that over half the number of girls playing mixed football would opt to play girls-only football should they have the choice at their local club. This was reflective of their social needs and often related to the experience of girls playing in a male-dominated environment.
It was clear that in order to address the lack of depth in the girls game, girls-only football should be offered around the country across two seasons. Offering a non-threatening environment would not only grow the game; it would also ensure we retain our players and they remain committed to football.
Due to the lack of depth in girls football, the most talented players often need to play up age groups and may play women’s football as young as 12 in some federations. Unfortunately this results in players playing in structures which challenge them physically but compromise them technically. For example it is not uncommon for a talented 10th grade player to be playing 12th grade girls-only football, which could mean jumping from 7v7 to 11v11 football, thereby leaving a large gap in their technical development.
The new tailor-made pathway, which is specific to the reality and needs of New Zealanders, aims to address the issues associated with the development of the female player.