To celebrate International Women’s Day STEVEN DOWNES has spoken to some of the successful and inspirational women in Huddersfield’s sporting communities. A survey by the charity Women in Sport found that more than a million girls fell ‘out of love’ with sport after primary school which led to a lifetime of missed opportunity.
One woman definitely in love with sport is Huddersfield Town Women FC footballer Kate Mallin. The 32-year-old has played 499 games for the Terriers scoring over 200 goals. She is the longest-serving player at the club having joined at the age of 10.
Kate is also a tennis coach at the Huddersfield Lawn Tennis and Squash Club and has been coaching the sport there for a number of years.
On how she got into women’s football Kate said: “When I was 10 I used to play in a boys’ team but then they told me I couldn’t play with the boys anymore so I had to go and play with the women’s side.
“There weren’t many teams back then when I joined the Town Women. There are a lot more now which is great. I can’t believe I have made it to 499 appearances!
“I think women’s sport has grown so much since I was a kid. You can now be a pro footballer and make a living from it.”
The survey by Women In Sport found that from 4,000 girls and boys, around 43% of women who once considered themselves ‘sporty’, disengage from sport following primary school.
A fear of feeling judged by others (68%), lack of confidence (61%), pressures of schoolwork (47%) and not feeling safe outside (43%) were some of the reasons given for not wanting to participate anymore.
That 43% is startling when you compare it to just 24% of boys who disengage with sport after they leave primary school.
Two other factors found in the research is that body image and puberty are also significant barriers. Some 78% of girls say they avoid sport when they have their period while 73% don’t like others watching them take part in an activity.
Kate herself has seen girls drop off from taking part in sport.
She said: “When I had to leave the boys’ team a number of other girls did too. I went on to play for a girls’ team but a few of them decided to stop playing all together which is sad because there were some great players.
“I suppose the difference now is that if you are a young girl you don’t have to go and play for a boys’ team, you can go and play for a girls’ team right away. If I’d had that option I would have gone straight in to play for a girls’ team when I was a kid.”
Huddersfield Town Women chairwoman Alison Bamforth says that Kate is a great example for young girls who want to have a career in sport.
She said: “Kate is a fantastic person and a great player. For her to play so many games is a real achievement and not many get to that amount in the men’s game. Her work ethic and commitment is brilliant and she is a great role model to the younger girls.
“As a club we try and have a mixed coaching staff to give the girls as much as possible in terms of being guided by people with different experiences. We as a women’s team embrace International Women’s Day and I certainly think it’s something that needs to continue.”
Alison said that when she introduces herself as the chairwoman of a football club she’s sometimes met with raised eyebrows, even today.
“When I have been in meetings and meeting new people, I always say I’m the chairwoman of a football club. I do get the odd remark as in they don’t expect women to be in the boardroom of football clubs.
“I take it on the chin, though. Some people still think women need football explaining to them with condiments on a table. Thankfully, it’s starting to turn now with more women being in boardrooms and so if we can keep that going it would be great.”
Switching sports and another inspiring woman in our sporting community is Jess Bunyard. She is the head coach of the Huddersfield Rugby Union women’s team. Jess has set up a plan to develop women’s rugby in the area through fun training sessions.
Jess said: “One of the best things about coaching women’s rugby is seeing the confidence rise of each player. I feel privileged that I get to see the journey of someone who has never picked up a rugby ball before and develop a belief in themselves as they learn.
“There’s never a dull moment in the sessions as the players always make it full of laughter. Everyone gets to support each other.
“This year’s theme of International Women’s Day is to break the bias. Any coach has a powerful role in ensuring that women and girls feel that rugby is a sport for them.
“We have an ethos that anyone is welcome, whether they want to join in for social fitness, touch rugby or full contact. There is no pressure to play full contact. Every level of rugby is valid, fun and empowering.”
Another woman who takes pride in playing for her team is Huddersfield Amateur Ladies football team captain Amy Hemblys.
Amy said: “International Women’s Day is a great way to showcase women, not only for who they are but for things they choose to do.
“Being a woman in football myself, it is amazing to see so many women being involved in sports they love. It should be empowering and helping to encourage more women to take part in sport.”
The charity Women in Sport want to encourage girls to stick with sport through their teenage years and take it into adulthood.
Stephanie Hilborne, the charity’s chief executive officer, said: “It’s an absolute travesty that teenage girls are being pushed out of sport at such a scale. Losing sport from their lives during these formative years equates to a loss of joy as well as good lifelong health.
“It is well documented that taking part in physical activity can have a profound and positive effect on mental wellbeing as well as providing many pivotal life skills such as resilience, teamwork and communication.
“We must bust the myth that teenage girls drop out of sport simply because their priorities change. Our research has found that 59% of teenage girls who used to be sporty like competitive sport, but they’re being failed due to early years stereotyping, inadequate opportunities and a complete dearth of knowledge about managing female puberty.
“The transition from childhood to adulthood should be filled with happiness, opportunity and optimism for the future. Teenage girls are not voluntarily leaving sport, they are being pushed out as a consequence of deep-rooted gender stereotypes.
“We must all do more to reverse this trend and not continue to accept this as inevitable. No-one should be excluded from the joy, fulfilment and lifelong benefits of sport and exercise.”