The second annual National Women’s Football Development Conference staged by New Zealand Football has proved to be a huge success.
The two day Development Conference, which was attended by 30 people from around New Zealand, was designed to equip its administrators to grow and develop football around the country.
Growing and developing women’s football is a key strategic priority for New Zealand Football and one of the governing bodies’ key initiatives is the development of club-based football coordinators.
A number of New Zealand Football staff presented at the conference alongside guest speakers Dr Jackie Blue (Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner) and Professor Toni Bruce (Auckland University) to give insight to how they can up-skill and improve their delivery.
Paula Chittenden, the Junior Football Coordinator for Central Football in Taranaki, said the conference was hugely beneficial.
“The biggest thing for me is seeing that there are other people out there in the country who are really interested in women’s football and developing women’s football and that it is important,” said Chittenden who is a Teacher at Auroa Primary School.
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Chittenden said it was great to network and also to learn some new ways to approach getting young women into football.
“It has been fantastic with the networking and getting ideas about what other clubs are doing because I haven’t had that opportunity before, you just stay within your province and it is not often than you get out and see what someone is doing in the South Island for example. The speakers have been fantastic and they have given me a lot of information to take back to my club which we can implement and encourage young women to play football.”
Former Football Fern Sarah Gregorius, who finished her international career last year and is now on the board of the Players Football Association, said she got a lot of value from the conference.
“It has been really cool to not only keep meeting people within the grassroots and football community and New Zealand’s Football’s Federation levels who are involved in the women’s game, but it has been inspiring to hear others from outside of the sport come in and share their knowledge,” said Gregorius who played 82 internationals for New Zealand.
“So it has been good not only from a networking point of view but also from a knowledge sharing and information gathering aspect as well.”
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One of the guest speakers Professor Toni Bruce, a Sports Sociologist and Sports Media researcher at the University of Auckland, said it was a worthwhile session.
“It is vital because it is in the sharing of experiences that people understand what is going on. You get so busy in your own little space that is hard to know if your experience is normal or if others are sharing that. It is a good place to share strategies and hopefully with some of the guest speakers to think about things they don’t normally have time for.”
Bruce has studied the media coverage of women’s sport for the past 25 years and said there was still some significant room for improvement.
“Sport is so strongly tied to masculinity so it is difficult to find a way into that space. Women are always seen as other. What we know from the research is we are very happy for women to play sport but we don’t think what women do is culturally important. The message is go ahead and play but don’t expect us to pay any attention. If we don’t see women in the media then there aren’t role models for girls to know that football is something that they can play. “
She encouraged clubs to invest in media and marketing people to develop player profiles, write press releases and make it as easy as possible for the media to cover women’s football.
Gregorius said that women’s football faces a task in terms of bringing it into the football family, particularly at club level and it is a challenge for everyone going forward.
“I am optimistic. These sorts of conferences are great because they remind everyone to keep being aspirational about where we can go with women’s football and that has been something an event like this reinforces.”
“It is not only about the initiatives. It is about the quality people involved. A lot of the people in the region do so many hours and work so hard for the sport. They can create and foster good relationships so the right people can be doing the right jobs and we can all move forward together.”
Chittenden is looking forward to continuing the relationships she had made at this conference.
“It is times like this that help you not feel so isolated and that we are all a connected group. I will go from this and communicate with all of the people I have met today and keep the ideas flowing. It is not just this is the conference and that is it. It will be an ongoing this which is even more exciting.”