Women in football: tackling the dual career challenge
Female footballers across the UK are digesting the newly published Football Association guides on Dual Careers — developed alongside TASS. We spoke to two key figures in the women’s game to find out why the groundbreaking guides can point the way to a better future for the next generation.
England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton could barely suppress her delight as she talked about this week’s news that women’s football has found a new free-to-air home on the BBC.
In another landmark week for the women’s game it was revealed that, from next season, Women’s Super League games will be screened across the BBC and Sky in a deal worth £7m-£8m per season.
The headline story followed hot on the heels of the publication of new Football Association guides aimed at helping emerging players navigate their way through education and into full-time careers.
For teenage girls everywhere there have never been so many opportunities available in and around football. But following in the footsteps of trailblazing Houghton and her peers can be a daunting prospect for young women keen to combine the game they love with a full-time education.
TASS was instrumental in helping the FA to develop its Dual Career guides and we turned to Houghton’s North East home — a hotbed of women’s football talent — to canvass opinion on a series of potentially game-changing documents.
“I’ve been involved in women’s football for more than 16 years now,” explained Durham WFC’s General Manager, Lee Sanders. “In the early noughties there wasn’t much in the way of dual career advice for the best young players in the region.
“There was a chance to play university sport and study for a degree but even those opportunities weren’t as widespread or structured as they are today.
“I think it would have been difficult for a teenage girl to find out everything she needed to know about the various routes into football, higher education and employment.
“That’s why the new FA Dual Career guides are so important. As far as women’s football is concerned, the landscape has changed dramatically during the last few years.
“At Durham WFC we’ve been offering dual career support since 2013 and it’s important that women and girls across the country recognise how they can progress on and off the pitch.”
The guides are divided into three separate age groups (14-16, 16-18 and 18-plus) and focus on football, education, and potential work activities.
Further advice is available on how to balance football aspirations alongside education and work.
And the guides outline key stakeholders that can offer support for players within each specific age group — providing information on transitions and potential challenges that players may face.
“I’m a classic example of someone who would have benefitted from a more focused approach to my football and education at a young age,” explained former Newcastle United WFC favourite Hannah Marshall.
“I wasn’t aware of the options available to me as a 16-year-old and never really thought about my football and my education in tandem.
“I went to the sixth form college that was within walking distance of my home rather than consider somewhere that may have been better for my football development.
“By the time I went to university I was aware of the better places to go from a football and sporting standpoint and my decision to study at Northumbria University in 2010 reflected that.
“But what I like about the new FA Dual Career guides is the fact that they lay out the key information for every age group clearly and concisely.
“One glance at the relevant page and you can see exactly where you need to be in terms of your football and your education.”
Hannah joined Tyne Metropolitan College, now part of the Tyne Coast group, in 2017 as a Sport Development Officer and part of her role is to advise young athletes on the dual career routes available across a number of disciplines.
And having passed the TASS Taste (Talented Athlete Support in Transition and Education) course, she is delighted to see the FA placing a firm focus on helping emerging female footballers achieve their goals on and off the pitch.
“I think it’s easy to consider these guides in terms of football first,” she added. “But I know many talented female footballers who are focused on the academic side.
“They might want to study for A-Levels or go on to become a doctor. That might be their priority. But is it possible to play football at the same time?
“That’s the whole point of the dual career approach. It allows an athlete to keep their options open and progress on two fronts.
“But it can be very overwhelming for young women who are in a position to play football at a higher level and who are also keen to maintain their studies and pursue a career outside of the game.
“There’s so much information out there and so to be able to get a handle on that information — in an independent guide— is a huge step forward.
“There are so many things to consider at 14,16 and 18. The FA’s Dual Career guides go some way towards making those decisions easier.”
Lee agrees and one of the most familiar faces on the North East football scene feels the guides can encourage more women to stay involved in football…even if they choose to hang up their boots.
“Dual Career doesn’t necessarily mean a student athlete will focus on earning a living playing sport,” he added. “And for many female footballers that simply won’t be possible in spite of the giant strides the sport is making right now.
“What may be possible is staying involved in the game as a coach, as a medical professional or in the media. There are so many diverse and rewarding job opportunities in and around sport.
“The guides reinforce the message that there are various roads to go down if you’re a young woman who loves her football. That has to be a positive thing.
“Working in tandem, the FA, TASS, universities and colleges have created a pathway that really does give the next generation something exciting to consider.”
Houghton may have been responding to this week’s bumper TV deal when she admitted: “The way this sport has developed in this country over the last few years has been unbelievable.”
But that development is gathering pace across the board and the FA’s new guides represent another vital piece in the jigsaw as women’s football seeks to establish strong foundations for years to come.
You can download the guides here:
Click here to read more about the launch of the guides here: