Should Dads Encourage Daughters To Play Football?

I’m a pretty big football fan. So much so that I actually pursued a career in football when I decided to leave my business consulting job in 2012. To clarify, I don’t mean as a footballer, more working within the football world – any ambitions I harboured about making it as a pro disappeared as a 14-year old when I suffered a serious injury known as lack of talent.

In a whirlwind two years, I worked for a football stats company, lost my job when they went bust, became the sidekick for a professional football bettor, worked at a YouTube football channel with Ian Wright and became a freelance football writer. I then became a stay-at-home dad who spends a lot of time watching footy on the TV.

It’s hardly surprising then that people have asked me whether I’m going to encourage – or push – Toddler L into the sport. In fact, one of my first ever blog posts – The Next Rachel Yankey? – briefly gave my thoughts on the ridiculous question I’d been asked about whether I was disapointed we were having a girl, not a boy, due to my interest in football.

For me, I don’t mind what her interests and hobbies are as she grows up. If she wants to play an instrument, then fine. If she wants to take up karate, then I’m cool with that. If she wants to join a cult, I’ll probably have something to say, but ultimately it’s her decision. All I can do as a dad is create opportunities for her to explore these different extra-curricular activities, break down any gender stereotypes surrounding certain hobbies and support her choices.

dads daughters football Toddler L Little Kickers

This is an approach I’ve taken since Baby L became Toddler L. In an attempt to keep her active and experience different things, she’s done Water Babies swimming lessons, Tumble Tots gymnastic sessions, Sounds Tastic music classes, Little Kickers football lessons and is shortly due to start Tappy Toes dance classes. So, as you can see, a pretty varied mix of things…including football!

It would seem that I’m in the minority here though as a recent dad and daughter survey uncovered some surprising results. To kick off their latest women’s football campaign, SSE – sponsors of the Women’s FA Cup – commissioned a survey with OnePoll to highlight some of the challenges that exist in football for young girls. I’m not going to share all of the results, but some of the ones that jumped out at me include:

  • Nearly a third of UK fathers say they feel there is still a stigma around girls pursuing certain sports or hobbies
  • Only a third of fathers currently play football with their daughters, while just two per cent believe she would be interested in the sport anyway
  • Dads have suggested that their daughters are eight times more likely to pick a career in dance, theatre or hairdressing over football
  • Only one per cent of fathers think their daughters would pick a career as a footballer, if given the choice
  • 20 per cent of fathers actively encourage their sons to take an interest in football, whereas that figure drops to just seven per cent for girls

As a dad who’s pretty open to letting his daughter try out anything and everything, some of these results baffle me. Particularly those referring to the perception that girls won’t like football because they don’t have a penis. In my opinion, just because she’s a girl, it doesn’t make Toddler L any more or less likely to enjoy certain things over others.

Yes, I get that when she’s older there may be external factors such as peer pressure or the media’s influence, but as a 22-month old kid, she doesn’t have any preconceptions or presumptions about what she should or shouldn’t like. In my opinion, this is the age to let her try different things and then focus on the ones she enjoys and wants to do as she gets older. If you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it is bound to stick.

To help encourage more dads to have a kick about with their daughters, SSE spoke to Kelly Smith MBE – England’s all-time top goalscorer and six-time women’s FA Cup winner – and her dad, Bernard, about how they built a lasting bond through football. Despite setbacks and challenges throughout her career, Bernard has always been there for her – offering support, encouragement and advice. Reflecting on her glittering career, Kelly says “if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have reached those levels at all”.

With women’s football currently enjoying it’s highest ever profile – helped by England’s bronze medal at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup – now is surely the time to get more girls involved in the sport. Scrap those stereotypical views about what girls should and shouldn’t do – stick on Sky Sports Super Sunday, show them how to kick a ball and take them to a game.

dads daughters football baby L berlin

They may like it. They may not. At least they’ve had the opportunity, which is something the survey suggests a lot of young girls aren’t getting. I’m not saying that your daughter will definitely be the next Kelly Smith. But she could be, if given a chance.

Personally, I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing when it comes to the sprog – namely providing opportunities and different experiences for her to figure out what she likes. If she enjoys playing and watching football, then that’s great because so do I. If she prefers other stuff – dancing, rugby, martial arts, gymnastics etc – then I’m just going to have to make these my new hobbies too. I’m happy to suck it up for her benefit.

What are your views on the survey results – surprising or expected? Have you encouraged your daughter(s) to play / watch football? What do you think would help to get more girls playing the sport? Let me know below!

You can find out more about Kelly’s story in the video below and on the SSE website.

N.B. This is a collaborative post written with SSE, sponsors of the Women’s FA Cup.

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  • Flipper73

    This reflects everything my husband and I are doing with our 2yr old daughter… “create opportunities for her to explore these different extra-curricular activities, break down any gender stereotypes surrounding certain hobbies and support her choices.” so far she’s showing definite leanings toward cricket, art and being an elephant. The findings of the survey are disturbing, particularly in the way the parents’ own unconscious bias reflects on the opportunities offered to their children.

    • Yeah exactly – I kind of think that parents would be 100% open for their kid experiencing different things, but it appears that some still view things as boy vs girl which is a shame. Haha, an elephant 🙂

  • Dad up North

    I also got asked if I was disappointed Effy wasn’t a boy……I was actually quite offended. Football and sport is a big part of my family, my dad works in football and I still play a few times a week (although at 30, I’ve now accepted I might not make it). So football will be a part of her life…..No pressure but if she does end up playing for England my £20 bet @ 1000/1 will be a nice little earner.

    • Mate, don’t give up yet. You’ve still got a couple of years to make it. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself at 31. Sounds a decent little bet – although with our showing against Iceland last night, maybe a lad is more likely to make the England team with the current crop of shit?

  • Man vs Pink

    As the dad of a daughter (who’s less footy mad than you) I found the story of Kelly and her dad really inspirational. I’ve been pretty good with encouraging my kid in many stereotypically male interests, but I am of the mind that football should also now be one of them too.

    • That’s good to hear – why can’t she be a footballer, scientist, dancer and superhero at the same time?

  • RachelSwirl

    I think any game should be encouraged whether it be gender stereotyped or not.

    • Agreed – boys and girls should be able to do whatever they want 🙂

  • I used to get that questions a lot with little geek, she loved to have a kick about in the street with me and soon was begging to come and watch Spurs (she might regret that one!) but we encouraged her if she showed and interest, she still plays football at school but admits she isn’t that good but enjoys playing in goal!

    As you have said in the post offering them variety is all you can do!

  • citygirl101

    I really don’t understand the stigma, it’s football!

    I was on the school football team and my sister played county rugby, my dad supported us both even though he himself hated both games. The idea that any parent would dissuade any child from playing a sport due to their gender is ridiculous.

  • Providing opportunities is defo the key. Both mine love everything sporty and if they want to take up football then that would be fab. x