“It’s the greatest sport in the world!”, said a 5’4”, 159 lb guard, who just happens to be wearing a pink camo dry-fit with her hair pulled back in a headband. Did you hear that crackle? That’s the beginning of the glass ceiling of football falling to the ground.
Over the past two decades Women have blasted their way into American football. Writers and sideline reporters got there first. Next came high level front office administrators. The ultimate crack in the ceiling occurred several years ago when the NFL hired their first female coaches, with Sarah Thomas and Jen Welter. These estrogenic shifts in American football have helped to encourage young women to embrace the sport at the youth level. Though the number of female youth football players is still sparse in the general population, it’s growing every season. Pop Warner estimates that 1% of its quarter million registered players are female. That translates into 2500 girls between the ages of 5 – 14 playing tackle football in the US. When you extrapolate these numbers into the estimated 2.5 million youth and high school football players, the total number of females playing tackle football at any level is pushing the 25K mark. In 2013, the national Federation of State High School Associations reported that 1700 girls were rostered on a high school football team.
It’s obvious why women are attracted to the sport of football! It teaches cohesion. It teaches life skills. It creates lifetime bonds. The issue becomes more complex when we as parents have to decide whether or not to give our daughters the green light to play football with our sons. Football requires teamwork discipline and dedication– qualities the vast majority of young women display. The mental toughness is not the issue either. The bigger question is how we keep our young women safe in a sport that is historically considered one of the most brutal and physically aggressive ever played.
There are no statistics available that point to increased injuries in females verses males in American football. That could be a good thing, but most likely it’s because we aren’t looking. This is an issue that needs additional research as we move forward with women on the gridiron.
In the meantime, it’s important that we allow our young women the opportunity to chase their dreams. As those that are making the most important decisions for our young women, the responsibility lies with understanding whose hands we place our daughters in. Certification of coaches, through organizations such as USA football, is the first step. In addition, education and certification of our strength and conditioning personnel can also go a long way in gaining muscle mass and aerobic conditioning that is specifically required to the female body when playing contact sports. Psychological shifts of traditional player mentality is of paramount importance. For young women to be successful, they need to feel excepted by their male teammates. Fostering this acceptance, by coaches and staff, can go a long way in encouraging female excellence on the football field.
As the number of female youth football players continue to grow, it is our job to encourage their dreams while keeping them safe physically and emotionally. As parents and caretakers of these young women, we need to educate ourselves about the incidences of gender-specific injuries. We need to place our young women in the hands of qualified staff. And most importantly, we need to let them blossom into the strong, independent glass-ceiling-busters they were born to be!