NSW Women’s Week

By March 3, 2020 WNPL
First Grade Grade Captain Rio Darlaston. U17s Captain Jess Strati. First Grade Player and former U17s coach Hayley Marshall.

In 2020 UNSW FC are getting right behind and really driving the female side of our Football Club.

With five teams competing in WNPL2 (U14s, 15s, 17s, Reserve and First Grades) and teams currently being put together to compete in the local Eastern Suburbs competition, there will be well over 150 females playing the beautiful game under the UNSW FC banner in 2020 — not to mention the social and small-sided competitions UNSW FC runs throughout the year.

For too long there have been barriers and stigma attached to Women’s football

Women’s participation in sport and physical activity is influenced in a multitude of ways. What motivates girls and women to participate will also change over time and factors influencing participation have individual, cultural and social origins.

Focusing on Football, or ‘Soccer’ as it’s more commonly known in Australia, there’s long been barriers and stigma attached to Females and the game. Over 30 million girls and women play football worldwide, but in some countries, they’re also questioned, are accused of being “manly” and banned from the pitch.

Whilst this isn’t the case here in Australia now, back in 1922 it was deemed medically inappropriate for girls to play soccer. It wasn’t until the 1970s, 80s and 90s that Women’s soccer saw expansion.

Currently, according to research, soccer is fifth on the Top 10 activities for Girls, but worryingly it doesn’t feature at all on the Women’s list.

Barriers which prevent Women participating in Soccer and sport can include:

  • Not enough time and too many competing commitments
  • Cost (childcare, transport, facilities, specific clothing/equipment)
  • Concerns/self-consciousness about appearance, body image, skills
  • Competitive/male dominated sports culture
  • Limited media coverage/role models
  • Social stereotyping (sexuality and ability), harassment
  • Peer pressure (to not participate).

For girls 9-14 years the main barriers are:

  • Lack of confidence (in competence/self) 
  • Don’t like sport
  • Not enough time/too many other commitments
  • Cost of activities/transport

However, UNSW Women’s First Grade Coach Steve Greenwood believes we can overcome these barriers and is seeing positive changes:

“More girls are growing up here saying ‘I like football and I’m going to play it’. If those opportunities to play are then there, why shouldn’t women and girls do anything they want to do. I really believe with football we have the opportunity to shift societal norms.

It’s lovely seeing all the girls and ladies really invested in what they do, committed to learn and striving to be the best possible versions of themselves. Collectively this puts each group in a great place and this season there’s a real commitment to excellence and this starts with the coaches and transcends to the players. I feel great pride but also I get the sense that every player and every parent is quite proud to be involved. That’s something you don’t always get with boys’ football, where there are so many clubs and so boys can and often do switch around. I think the girls feel a bit more loyalty and if we as a Club can embrace that then the skies the limit. I started coaching Women’s’ football in 2013, mainly because I love football, but more so because I believe football is the most powerful tool we have to effect change in society.”

Women’s football is going from strength to strength at UNSW FC

All the UNSW WNPL2 teams train twice a week, with the ESFA teams training once. This year the WNPL games will be at Seymour Shaw in Miranda, a 5,000 capacity stadium with 1,000 seats. In 2021 UNSW will return ‘home’ to the state-of-the-art Village Green at the Kensington Campus, which is currently under development.

First Grade Defender Tahlia Hanslow has been playing Soccer for 14 seasons. She started playing because her siblings all played, and she quotes ‘I was surrounded by the sport’. Tahlia’s commitment is unrivalled, and she is one of a number of current students within the Senior Squad. 2020 will be Tahlia’s third at UNSW.

Tahlia took time out to comment on what the sport means to her:

“Playing Soccer at school kept me focused and gave me a break from my studies as well as something to look forward to. I carried this through to University and whilst I love competing at a high level, the social aspect can’t be overlooked. Meeting new people and creating a team that wins and loses as one. I want to continue to improve as a player and to try to reach my full potential, I love learning more about the game and playing with older and more experienced players. I want to play for as long as I can, obviously competing and wanting to win is my main goal but also for the health and social benefits.
I think it is very important for Women to participate in sport. Not just for the pre-mentioned health and social benefits but also the confidence, resilience and discipline. In sport you are part of a team that builds each other up and experiences highs and lows together. This is the unique positive experience of sport.”

Club Captain Miranda Summersby-Mitchell, like Tahlia is another First Grade player who’s studying at the University. Originally from the nation’s capital, Miranda is very well-respected and takes her football very seriously.

Miranda had this to say:

“I’ve been playing football since I was 7 (14 years) and both my brothers and Dad played. I’ve continued playing for multiple reason. Football is great exercise and keeps me fit and healthy. It’s also a fantastic way to meet new people and be part of an inclusive community. I’ve made so many friends through football and it really helped me settle in Sydney when I moved here from Canberra.
I believe it’s super important for women to play sport, they should be encouraged to try any sport, the athleticism, aggression and dedication that women can bring to sports is often underestimated. There’s been a growing movement to encourage female participation in sports often associated with and dominated by men. Namely Soccer, Rugby and AFL and I think it’s fantastic. I’m also so proud of the FFA for ensuring equal pay for the Matilda’s and the Socceroos.”

Miranda has high hopes this season and wants to improve on 2019’s 8th place finish. She is a terrific role model for the younger players and like Tahlia creates a strong link with the University.

Not just limited to on-field Leaders and Role-Models, UNSW FC has two prominent female figures who both go above and beyond their duties for our players and the Club. Rachelle Hofbauer and Sandra Strati both work tirelessly in volunteer roles, mostly behind the scenes and are both wonderful points of contact and support for every female player at the club. Rachelle’s daughter Jacqueline, currently unable to play due to injury is heavily involved with the U15s squad as Manager, and Jess, Sandra’s daughter is captain of the U17s.

As we celebrate Women’s Week in NSW, and with Female Football Week on the horizon (May 1st – 10th) I think you’ll agree that UNSW and UNSW FC is a big driver and a prominent feature in the championing of Females, empowering them to be all that they can be and most importantly, equality.