Professionals help girls kick against sport stereotypes

A pioneering scheme is proving that, given the right chances and role models, they can hold their own with the boys

The accusation "You throw like a girl" remains among the most stinging of insults male competitors sling at each other. Why remains a mystery as all the evidence at the Hertfordshire Sports Village is that girls can indeed throw – and catch, kick and score goals.

Under the expert eye of top coaches and players from Arsenal Ladies Football Club, Saracens Women's Rugby Club and Hertfordshire Mavericks Netball Club, girls as young as a seven experienced first hand what it is like to play elite sport.

The pioneering "Girls Get Sporty" scheme aims to celebrate women's sporting achievements and increase female participation, in line with The Independent on Sunday's campaign to increase awareness of women's sport. Girls aged up to 15 are given the chance to try out new sports and receive training and advice from professional sportswomen.

One of them is event organiser Karen Atkinson, the former England netball captain and head coach of Hertfordshire Mavericks, who is convinced that positive role models will inspire others to participate and succeed. Ms Atkinson, who took up netball as a child, progressed through the ranks to represent her county and region, which brought her into contact with other successful women in sport.

"Having positive role models and getting to meet them made me want to achieve what they had," says Ms Atkinson, who went on to play for England, winning bronze medals in three Commonwealth Games. "Once you get into being active, it's addictive," she adds.

Although women in sport are receiving more recognition, Ms Atkinson believes it is still considered by too many to be a man's world. "Events like the Olympics might celebrate female achievements and bring women to the forefront, but only momentarily," she says. She adds that only by encouraging girls to participate in a variety of sports from a young age can gender equality be achieved.

Hannah Gallagher, a flanker for England and Saracens Women's Rugby Club, says that events like Girls Get Sporty will help make sports more accessible.

"My dad used to coach at the local rugby club and my brother trained there, so I was playing from a very young age," says Ms Gallagher. "However, there were no opportunities at school to play, and I would have really liked to. I was the only girl in the rugby team until I was 12 years old, when I found a girls' team to join.

"The two teams were very different: the girls were far less skilled, but that was because they were only just learning how to play, aged 12, whereas the boys had been living and breathing rugby for years. Events like this are great for teaching girls that, actually, sports like rugby aren't just for boys."

The England and Arsenal Ladies forward Kelly Smith says she wished a similar initiative had existed when she was young. "I joined a boys' team and I was a better player than any of them. I got kicked off, though, because some of the parents of boys in the opposition teams complained at there being a girl on the field. My dad had to sit me down and tell me I wasn't allowed to play any more."

Although Ms Smith believes that women's football is in a very strong position now, many of the children at Girls Get Sporty echoed the stories of the professionals.

Sophie, Beth, Lea and Ruby, who play for Stevenage Borough Juniors Football Club, all have older brothers who enjoy football, which piqued the girls' interest. They joined the club after petitioning their parents to let them play as well. They realise, though, that, had they not had male siblings, they may not have had the chance.

"I wish I'd had the confidence to ask to play football when I was younger," says Beth, aged nine. "My brother started much earlier than me. If I had begun at the age he was, I think I would have been even better than I am now."

Ruby, also nine, says: "Some people think girls don't play sport and boys are better – maybe because they don't ever see girls doing it. I'd like to see more women's football on TV as it would encourage girls."

Ms Gallagher agrees: "When I hear people say things like, 'Women aren't as good at sport as men because they're not as strong,' I find it frustrating; we're just as skilled. People should come and watch us play and then they can make up their own minds."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment