Under-17 women inspiring next generation
From Clyde Best, to Shaun Goater, to Nahki Wells, Bermuda has a proud history of punching above its weight in football. And the chances are that the island's next soccer superstar will be female.
The Bermuda Under-17 women's team have qualified for the Concacaf Championship in Nicaragua in April, where they will go against the might of the United States, Costa Rica and Canada.
They have been the inspiration for the Bermuda Football Association's Girls' Football League, and the admiration goes both ways, with Danni Watson, the Bermuda Under-17 captain, describing the programme as “the future of Bermuda women's football”.
Don Vickers, the BFA's assistant technical development director, is helping oversee the league, whose matches take place every Saturday at BFA Field, and says the impact of the under-17s has been ”huge”.
Vickers said: “That's been the stimulus for this, actually. Some of our under-17 girls are actually reffing, so they're a part of this and some of them are helping coach.
“Part of it is building upon [the under-17's success]; we have a platform now. Girls' football has a great upside and a lot of potential. And just think, our national teams are progressing without girls' leagues.
“To some degree, there's been success because girls have played with boys. But now we want to give access to girls who just want to play with girls. A lot of parents say: ‘my girl doesn't want to play with boys', so this is an opportunity for them to play.”
While players such as Watson have had to hone their skills against boys on the island, the advent of the Girls' League, will give even more youngsters a chance to play while providing a foundation for the BFA's end goal of a women's league.
“It's been really excellent,” Vickers said of the league. “Turnout's been good. We started open training sessions in November and we have been in contact with at least 180 girls.
“From there we developed teams. Some teams were already established, but about ten teams have been BFA-generated teams, so it's been better than we expected.”
Vickers explained how all standards of players are being catered for and fundamental skills, as well as match situations, are taught too.
“Right now, there is a lot of basic, foundational skills, just to get their level up, and then we can add more of the tactical pieces,” he said. “But we want to get their level up, and then we can add more of the tactical pieces,” he said.
“But we want to each those in tandem with the technical basic development, particularly for the girls who haven't played yet. We want to [teach them] those tactical elements, as far as knowing the game and knowing what to do in certain moments, so it all works together.
“The matches themselves are more of an opportunity for them to express themselves. Some girls are more developed than others, but we also wanted to make it so that it is an environment about fun and learning, so the other girls don't get discouraged and they can also grow and get better.”
There are no league tables, but that does not mean there is a lack of competition.
“Obviously they're playing to win,” Vickers said. “We don't tell them don't be competitive. They want to be competitive and they want to win, which is part of the game as well, but most importantly, we want to develop the game and develop a league structure for girls, so we can continue to build and have more teams for next year.
“[The end goal is] to develop a structure for girls' league football. Ultimately, what we want to get is lots of school teams out there.
“What we want to do is open invitations out to school teams. We want to connect schools with clubs, they have the resources and the technical knowhow to perhaps build a relationship. So we've got schools teams and clubs building girls' programmes.
“Last year they had an introductory women's coaching course, that was really good. It was about getting women on to the courses.
“We plan on doing another round of coaching courses as well. But it is difficult, because the marquee aspect of the game is male or boys' football. So part of it is drawing at atmosphere towards girls' football, so people want to coach girls' football. Also, inviting parents.
“If you're willing to learn, come out. If you're willing to commit and spend some time, we'll train you up.”
Vickers explained how the global rise of women's football has helped the local game.
“Think about how the women's game is being marketed now by Fifa,” he said. “Fifa has so much interest in getting girls playing. We have received tonnes of equipment just for the girls' game. Most of the gear for most of the clubs who have just started, everything has been provided by Fifa — that's how bad they want this game going.
“And it's a great market. When you think about from a financial standpoint, there's a lot of boys' teams and men's teams, but can you grow the women's game as well? There's an opportunity for financial rewards as well, so there's perhaps more growth in women's football.
“We've grown from having no girls playing organised league football, to having 150 to 180. Within a few months, we had a plan, we're achieving our goal, so the next step is actually women.”
Most of the under-17 side started by playing against boys, but this new initiative is set to increase the pool of players dramatically.
“The girls were training, but not playing in a league, so now they opportunity to play, week-in week out,” Vickers said.
“We created a working group, and that included members from Warwick Academy, B-Pro, BHS and ABC Football Schools, and we sat down and talked about what we could do to enhance the girls' game.
“There wasn't really any girls activity or girls league, so we said let's come together, do open sessions, help girls out, so girls from all programmes came to the open sessions and from there we just developed teams.”
And Vickers is proud of the results. “Though it's still in its infancy, it's very gratifying, but it also shows there's an interest in girls' football,” he said. “There was even a time when we didn't have enough coaches [for one of the early sessions]!
“The market's there; girls want to play. Now, it's a matter of providing the resources and we can see our girls' game grow even further.
“Our under-17s have qualified for the Concacaf Championship, just imagine [what could happen] with more girls coming through from different avenues and different streams. It can only make the product better.
“For the most part, BFA teams are open teams, so if you want to come and try out, we have open training sessions on Tuesday nights from 6 to 7 at BFA Field. A lot of kids came down on Saturdays for the matches and said they wanted to play and we just signed them up.”
• For more information contact Vickers at email@example.com or call 537-4557.