On the opening day of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, here are some thoughts from former international footballer and Women’s Sport Alliance founder, Jordan Guard. She discusses what a win for the Lionesses could do for women’s football in the UK, the primary barriers females are facing when breaking into elite sport, why companies are more reluctant to invest in the women’s game than they are the men’s, and more.
During my football career, there was no media hype around the Women’s World Cup. However, it still meant a tremendous amount to the players back then and in the years leading up to tournaments everyone was really motivated to be at their peak. From a personal point of view, as Wales never qualified, I'd watch the tournaments with my analytical hat on and with a little bit of envy, a viewpoint which has helped me realise just how far these national tournaments have come.
Following their Euros triumph, the Lionesses head into the tournaments as one of the favourites and there’s no denying a World Cup win will be a huge step in the right direction for the professionalism of women’s football in the UK. I’m also confident a win for the Lionesses would drive the sport in other countries, as the likes of USA, Germany, France, China and Brazil would all do their utmost to avoid a period of English dominance.
Regardless of whether England take home the trophy, it’s vital we build a legacy around this World Cup. Millions of people will be watching the tournament and we need to convert those numbers into domestic game fans for the new season. After the Euros last year, we did see a rise in WSL attendance numbers, but I don’t think we did a good enough job at making fans feel connected with one specific team. Sport ultimately is about competition and at the moment fans seem to be attending matches to ‘support women’s sport’. We need fans to attend Chelsea matches because they feel a deep connection with the values of the team, and because they want the team to win at all costs’. I think we lacked that level of marketing after the EUROS, and I’d like to see it enter the industry after the World Cup.
In my opinion, we also need to be building deep rooted rivalries between domestic teams. The passion associated with a ‘derby’ match will only enhance the spectacle as it builds unprecedented excitement.
Above I’ve mentioned how we need to capitalise on the tournament from an ‘off the pitch’ perspective but it’s also as important we continue the momentum on it and utilise the World Cup to remove some of the primary barriers for breaking into elite sport here in the UK. Currently, elite athletes face a number of obstacles when accessing elite sports, such as;
Not having the knowledge around nutrition, psychology, training with the menstrual cycle in mind and other performance areas that aren’t necessarily sport specific.
Lack of sponsorship to enable an athlete to focus purely on their performance.
Female athletes not knowing how to build their brand effectively through story-telling and social media.
I founded the Women’s Sports Alliance to support athletes in all three of those areas. Our Advancement Zone exists to bring expert insights to athletes around a range of topics to support them with advancing their career. In regards to a lack of sponsorship and brand building knowledge, our Athlete Advancement Series events ensure female athletes are accessing the tools they need to grow their personal brand and drive their commercial value.
Despite an incredible surge in women’s sport over the past couple of years, there’s no denying there’s still a lot of work to be done to get level, or even close, to both the appetite and the investment in the men’s game.
Achieving a level playing field between women's football and men's football requires addressing various factors and making significant efforts. Some areas that need attention are:
Investment and Resources: Providing equal financial support, infrastructure and resources to women's football is crucial. This includes funding for youth development, coaching programmes, training facilities and marketing efforts.
Media Coverage, Visibility and Exposure: Increasing media coverage and exposure for women's football can help grow its popularity and generate interest among fans, sponsors and broadcasters. This entails broadcasting more matches, highlighting women's football in sports news and promoting women's players and teams, as we do at the Women’s Sports Alliance.
Participation and Access: Encouraging greater participation of girls and women in football at all levels is essential. This involves promoting grassroots programmes, school initiatives and community engagement to create opportunities for women to play and fall in love with the game.
Development Pathways: Establishing robust development pathways for women's football is vital. This includes structured youth academies, talent identification programmes, and professional leagues that provide opportunities for skill development and progression.
Equality in Governance and Administration: Ensuring equal representation and decision-making power for women in football governance bodies and administration is crucial. This includes promoting diversity in leadership positions, implementing policies to address gender disparities and combating discrimination.
With all that being said, the future of women’s football is looking bright. I’m tremendously looking forward to the tournament down under and here are my predictions:
World Cup Winners - Australia
Dark Horses - New Zealand
Top Goal Scorer – Sam Kerr
Player of the Tournament – Sam Kerr
For more information about the Women’s Sports Alliance and the support and resources it provides to both current and aspiring elite female athletes, please visit the website.
Jordan has also shared her thoughts on the steps a female athlete should take to break into the elite level:
Develop a strong foundation: As simple as it may sound, focus on developing the fundamental basics. Work on receiving the ball on the back foot, checking your shoulder, playing the ball to the correct foot of your teammate and using both feet. Form good habits right from the start and they’ll stick with you. Regular practice and dedication to honing these skills will lay a strong foundation for your career.
Find quality coaching: Find experienced and qualified coaches who see your potential. Good coaches can significantly accelerate your progress and confidence, and help you turn weaknesses into strengths. Look for coaches who have a track record of developing players and fostering a positive learning environment.
Practice being heard: Communication on field is key to success. Don’t be afraid to be the loudest person on the pitch. The information you give to your teammates will ultimately support them in making an effective decision under severe time pressures. Make sure everything you’re saying though, adds value to your team – you don’t want to be talking for the sake of talking.
Set goals: Set both short-term and long-term goals for yourself. These goals could include improving specific skills, moving up a league, or representing your country in international competitions. Focus on maintaining a high level of fitness through regular workouts and conditioning exercises. Football requires endurance, agility, strength, and speed, so prioritize your physical development. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did a study on goal setting with 267 participants. She found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down...
Get fit: Never underestimate the importance of being fit. Speed endurance is key, as is agility, general speed and power. Work with your strength and conditioning coach and developing a programme specific for your body and your training schedule. If you can’t find the motivation to put in the hard work, this sport isn’t for you.
Learn to love criticism: Be open to receiving negative feedback from coaches. Embrace constructive criticism and use it to improve your game. Additionally, study professional women's football matches and players who play in your position. Analyse their techniques, movements, decision-making, and positioning. Learning from the best can inspire you and provide valuable insights to incorporate into your own game.
Strive to Win the ‘Most Improved’ award: Everyone seems to dread winning the ‘Most Improved Player’ award at the end of the season, but this should be the most celebrated. We always have things to learn and being a quick learner will stand you in good stead to making it to the elite level. Visible improvement is what all players should strive for. Be better than you were yesterday.
Master one position: It’s beneficial to be versatile as a player. But it’s much better to be a master of one position. Choose your strongest position and give everything to mastering that.
Stay dedicated and committed: Elite women's football requires hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. Stay dedicated to your training, maintain a positive attitude even in the hard times, and be willing to put in the extra effort to be better every day. Surround yourself with a support network of family, friends, teammates and coaches who believe in your potential.
Don’t get too low on the lows or too high on the highs: Try to stay consistent with your attitude towards playing. Never throw a tantrum after making mistakes and try not to get carried away when you are doing well. Stay grounded and level-headed. Keep your eyes on the bigger picture.