Football has the power to unite communities and improve the health of a nation. And more women than ever are reaping the benefits of taking part in the beautiful game.
For the last decade, football has been the top sport for participation of women and girls, with almost three million females actively playing football in the UK. This summer, women’s football will gain unprecedented exposure as the UEFA Women’s EURO comes to England, with Rotherham and Sheffield chosen as host venues.
Admirable achievements to say it’s only fifty years since the ban on women playing on football league grounds was lifted.
In our region, the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA is hoping to double the number of current female players to 10,000 by 2024 by providing equal access to enjoyable, inclusive and flexible playing opportunities for women.
But football doesn’t just mean your typical eleven-a-side competitive matches – not everyone has the time, commitment or desire to join a club or channel their inner Bethany England. Some just want to kick their fitness into shape and recreational football is a great way to get involved away from competitive leagues and be part of the camaraderie that comes with team sports.
Whether it’s been months or years since you last played, or you’ve never kicked a ball in your life, women’s recreational football sessions can improve your fitness, boost your mental health, develop new friendships, and give you the confidence to get back into sport.
Sheffield FA’s Women’s Recreational Football sessions in Rotherham:
Walking Football – with Rotherham United Community Sports Trust
Tuesday 8pm-9pm, Parkgate Astro – FREE session
For women who want to move more but might worry about injuries from contact sports, walking football is a brilliant way to ease yourself safely back into sport and exercise no matter your age.
Walking football is run by RUCST’s Hannah Wright who wanted to encourage women of all ages to join in whether they had kicked a football before or not. You don’t need any special kit and football is played at walking pace with no physical contact, tackling or heading the ball to reduce the risk of pain, injury or discomfort, especially for those new to sport.
A good aerobic activity, walking football not only keeps the women fit but is also good for improving posture, balance, blood pressure and mental wellbeing. Members also find it therapeutic where they can unwind, chat and have a good time with the other ladies in the fresh air. Everyone plays as a team and encourages each other, no matter their ability or previous playing experience.
Women love football as much as men, but they often put it on the backburner while they raise families or juggling working life. For Claire Scrivens, walking football has brought back her love of football after a 31-year break from it. “I’ve always loved football and used to play football when I was younger but finished playing at 15. The walking football sessions help build my confidence to try new skills, meet new people and now I play for a walking football team in Sheffield.”
The slower paced, low contact, non-competitive nature appealed to Leanne Heathcote (42) who had always wanted to have a go at playing football after missing an opportunity in her youth. “I played football as a child with boys at school or with my brother in the garden but haven’t played in a team before. I really look forward to the walking football sessions as you can play at your own speed and within your own ability.”
For Jo Roper (48) she wanted to get back into football from after playing as a child at school, but also get fitter and have fun. “I am a 5k runner who has always enjoyed sport including athletics, basketball and football and I was inspired by my children to get back into football. It’s so much fun and always makes me feel like I have done something to keep fit.”
Others, like Sharon Adams, have always enjoyed watching football but have never played. She joined to learn more about football. “I’m a season ticket holder for Rotherham United but couldn’t kick a ball more than three feet across the field. Now learning to play has really made me enjoy going to the matches and makes watching footy more interesting. Exercise benefits not just my physical health but also my mental health; my head gets a workout too and my confidence has grown by meeting like-minded women.”
Soccercise – Millmoor Warriors with MeMo Fitness
Monday 7.30pm-8.30pm and Friday 6pm-7pm – £5 per session
Winter – St Thomas’ Community Hall, Kimberworth
Summer – Millmoor Ladies FC, Droppingwell, Kimberworth
If you’re bored of your go-to exercise regime, soccercise is a circuit training fitness class with an element of football. It’s a great alternative to traditional fitness classes or gym environments, with many women joining for the variety it offers and the welcoming approach.
The Millmoor Warriors soccercise session was started last year by women’s football coach, Megan Wylde, to bring supporters and parents of Millmoor Juniors FC together in a fitness community but has since attracted women with no previous connections to the club.
The sessions are made up of women of mixed abilities and ages, with some looking to lose weight or others wanting to get fitter. Each week the routine changes, but exercises include toe taps, sit ups, squats and press ups incorporating a football to improve co-ordination and core stability. Activities such as stepovers, side-to-sides, and passing also help improve confidence with the ball. All exercises are adaptable to suit your fitness or flexibility level or any injuries you may have.
With two young children at home and approaching her 40s, Laura O’Neil was looking to get fitter and support her mental well-being with a hobby that had a purpose. “I used to line dance and go to the gym or swimming, but when I had my kids I gave up most things. Having lost a lot of body confidence since having my kids, I was reluctant to go back to a gym and I found the thought of the circuit training or boot camp style sessions quite intimidating as I’ve never been particularly fit or sporty. Meg is a big advocate for mental wellbeing, especially for mums, and the soccercise sessions are very sociable, welcoming and supportive. Meg works in such a way that everyone’s goals and abilities are taken into account. I feel like I’m pushing my limits without feeling pressured to keep up with anyone else.”
For Faye Hood (47) she joined to aid her weight loss goals after seeing the session taking place while dropping her children off at football practice. “Meg has given me so much encouragement that I’ve since lose three stone since I joined 12 months ago. Every session is different and that’s what I like about it – I never get bored. Having been overweight I was a bit worried I’d not fit in but they’re a great bunch of girls. We’re all red faced and out of breath at the end of it, mostly because we have a right laugh; getting fit is just a bonus.”
Stacey Mohammed (32) likes the sessions because everyone encourages each other. “I never felt comfortable going to a gym and would find every excuse under the sun either to not go or just sit on my phone when I got there. I’ve attended boot camps and classes for a few years on and off, but this is the longest I’ve stuck at exercising properly. I always feel like I push myself more and can definitely tell a difference in my fitness level from when I first started.”
While you don’t need to have played sport to join, the soccercise sessions also benefit those who do play competitively, as in the case of Leanne Corns (35) who plays for Millmoor Ladies FC where Meg is the coach. “I was keen to join to improve my fitness as don’t like the gym and our and weekly training sessions with the club are more tactical drills than fitness related. I’ve played in a team since I was 16 and the soccercise has helped improve my strength so I can keep doing what I love. I’ve scored some cracking goals and can shoot a bit further since starting – my teammates give me banter that it’s all those squats we do at Warriors. My physio even said my muscles are stronger.”
Just Play – Re-engage with MeMo Fitness
Monday 6pm-7pm at Team Sport, Fitzwilliam Road, Dalton – £5 per session
Sports you played as a child can sometimes take a back seat when you become an adult. But it’s never too late to fall back in love with the game you loved. The Just Play sessions are a way for women to re-engage with football after having fallen out of football for whatever reason, be it work or family commitments, injury, or lack of confidence.
The sessions are run by Megan Wylde and are a fuss-free kickabout on a casual basis with no pressure to commit to going each week. They are aimed at building fitness and footballing ability, focusing on passing and manoeuvring with the ball, with a five-a-side game to finish. Due to Meg’s connection with women’s football, she hopes the sessions will inspire some women to join leisure league or competitive clubs in the area.
Becky Hague (31) is one of those hoping to get back into more competitive playing after missing an opportunity in her youth. She joined a five-a-side league down at Team Sport and takes part in the Just Play session for extra training. “I played football at school and was good enough to be offered a scholarship with Sheffield Wednesday Ladies. But I followed the wrong crowd and it never happened; I was devastated. The Just Play sessions are great for fitness which helps for the five-a-side league when you’re up against teams who play competitive football. But I’ve also made lots of friends. We can’t play for laughing half of time because it’s that much fun.”
For Jodie Hartley (25) she joined the Just Play session to ease herself back into football after having her son last year. “I’ve played football since I was six, starting off in a boys’ team before playing professionally for Leeds United and Sheffield United women’s teams up until the 2018/19 season. The Just Play session is an easy way to get fit but also enjoy yourself and make new friends.”
As well as improving fitness, the Just Play session is also a great way to improve mental wellbeing, which is what Kate Darby (27) has found since joining. She has played football and rugby since primary school, but quit her local teams after being impacted physically and mentally by Covid.
“Social sport is my go-to for making myself feel better, but my confidence was low due to my poor fitness and social anxiety after being out of sport for a long time due to Covid. I was looking for leisure football where it didn’t involve pressure or strong commitment. The first Just Play session I went to I felt very at ease and comfortable and have rarely missed a session since. It has definitely helped me regain my fitness so that I feel more comfortable attending rugby, but more importantly, I have seen a positive improvement in my mental health.”
Want to play?
Find and book a session near you at: www.englandfootball.com/play
Could you become a women’s recreational football provider?
As well as goals to improve participation, the county FA also wants to encourage women to take up coaching, community, and recreational football facilitator roles. They have funding available specifically to help set up recreational sessions, including promotion, equipment and venues.
For more information, contact Sheffield FA’s women’s recreational football officer, Sara Harnett via email: Sara.Harnett@sheffieldfa.com