Growing the game: Time for parents to start kicking goals

Janakan Seemampillai Roar Rookie

By , Janakan Seemampillai is a Roar Rookie

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    The growth of female football in Geelong has been fantastic, especially at the MiniRoos level for those aged 11 and under.

    However, a more pressing matter at the moment is how do we get so-called ‘soccer mums’ involved in actually playing the game rather than just supporting their kids?

    Mums with children are an often-neglected market when it comes to sport, which partly explains their reluctance to join senior women’s competitions, and maybe that’s the problem: why must it be a ‘competition’? Why can’t we have a social league for fun, where the score doesn’t matter and where everyone has a laugh?

    “I’d consider a sport if it wasn’t too competitive, but that’s just me”, says Crystal Lanham, whose daughters play MiniRoos at Breakwater Eagles.

    The ‘no score’ modified version of football that we have for the kids in the MiniRoos program has been a resounding success, with participation rates soaring, so why can’t we have a ‘MummyRoos’ version for mums? Teams can be modified in size for a game with no offsides, no official referees, no slide tackles, no strict interpretation of the rules and just lots of fun.

    Barwon Soccer Club run a seven-a-side competition at Grovedale Reserve over the summer months, and many of the ladies playing are young adults or teenagers without a care in the world, but there have been a few mums playing, which has been encouraging to see.

    Football Federation Victoria (FFV) needs to make it easier for mums to transition back into the game or even play for the first time.

    The senior FFV women’s competitions are fantastic for those who have the confidence and fitness to play at that level, but a larger number of mums can’t commit to that level of training and, more importantly, wouldn’t have the time to play a full 90-minute game on a Saturday, particularly if they work Monday to Friday and have to take their kids to games on a Sunday.

    Carly Nydam, a soccer mum from Breakwater Eagles, said, “After working all week, running around for the kids’ extracurricular activities during the week and taking them to soccer on Sunday, it just seems too much to be playing on a Saturday as well … I also work every second Saturday”.

    So what can be done to fix this issue? After talking to a few mums, the common theme is they want something that is social, fun, easily accessible and not too serious. This is where schools and soccer clubs come in.

    Mums spend countless hours at their child’s school or soccer club for their kids – so why not take the game to them? Geelong Rangers president Kylie Chapman agrees, saying, “Schools is definitely a great start, and girls and boys MiniRoos mums …”.

    Firstly let’s focus on schools. A lot of mums take their kids to playgroups or extracurricular school activities during or after school. If they’re already there, rather than simply waiting, a few cones and some mini goals would be enough to start us off. There’s no reason we can’t have four or five-a-side games set up where no-one keeps the score and mums can simply have a chance to have a kick around and a laugh. After doing this for a while, some may get the thirst for more and may want to start playing for a proper club.

    FFV should encourage schools to provide this opportunity by providing a bit of structure to it without being too formal. They can facilitate this by helping to supply affordable equipment and even by funding the school to pay an administrator to run the program, which can include basic training.

    The ‘active after school’ program employed by schools in Geelong with government assistance was successful in getting kids to play soccer. The idea wasn’t necessarily to play soccer but rather to create fun games relating to soccer that got kids out and about and kicking a ball. Maybe a similar program for mums should be on the cards in conjunction with FFV.

    While the kids are doing their stuff, why can’t the mums be doing the same in their own space?

    Australia's Sarah Walsh celebrates her goal against New Zealand during their international friendly soccer match in Wollongong, Wednesday, June 27, 2012. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    “The active after school program was great for kids,” agrees Sara Pulman, whose children play for Barwon Soccer Club. “To do it for mums is a good idea, and it is also a way of new prep mums connecting.”

    The emphasis should be on fun and socialising, which is exactly what the active after school program was all about for the kids.

    Melbourne City hosted a beach soccer competition in January at Eastern Beach in Geelong. To the delight of many, a team of soccer mums affectionately known as the ‘Yummy Mummies’ took on all comers, mainly girls half their age who already played soccer at a serious level. They had a ball – despite the odd injury – simply because it was a fun environment where the end result didn’t matter.

    The sad thing is that fun opportunities like this are few and far between, so a regular program is needed to keep these mums engaged with the game.

    Local soccer clubs can do their part as well. Mums often take their kids to training and spend the time standing on the sidelines or sitting in the car to escape the cold. Why can’t we have them playing at the same time as their kids?

    The reality is that clubs have limited resources and space, but only a small patch of grass is needed and there is no need for a qualified coach, just a basic explanation of the rules and the willingness to have a go.

    Come Sunday mornings the hubs around Geelong are packed and there are already constraints with time and space; however, putting those limitations aside for the moment, why can’t we have a hub for mums at the same venue – Five or six per side with smaller goals, no scores, limited rules and plenty of laughs?

    Let’s say Breakwater play Surf Coast in the under sevens – why can’t the mums then play each other afterwards for a game of, say, two ten-minute halves?

    “It’s a good idea, it would be interesting to put it out there and see what interest there is,” says Natasha Matarezzo, who coached the under sevens at Breakwater in 2016 and is lacing up to play for Drysdale in the women’s competition this year.

    As mentioned, the times available at the MiniRoos hubs in Geelong are already stretched due to the massive boom in kids playing the sport. There has been talk of further splitting of the hubs to fit everyone in. This could be the key as there will be more flexibility. If this happens, why not add a MummyRoos hub to the under sevens and nines? The kids will get a massive boost from seeing their mums run around after or before their own game.

    To make this more feasible, every mum who has a child playing should get a free registration. There are no referees to pay and the field has already been set up, so why not make it free? In a nutshell, it’s time we let out soccer mums start kicking their own goals.