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Let them know you are there! Women on and off the Football pitch

Let them know you are there! Women on and off the Football pitch.

“Let them know you are there”, says Becca Bolton reflecting on life for women on and off the football pitch. Becca, a member of Soroptimist East London, has played football since the age of 4 and today, she plays centre-back for South London Women’s Football Club. In this blog, Becca shares her experience of the stark contrasts between life for women on and off the football pitch and her thoughts about what this means for women today. This is her blog: 

Women on and off the Football pitch

 Before I begin, I’d like to make the point that this is not a blog telling women to play football, or even to play sport. Instead, I want to share how I feel when I play, and how playing football altered the way I have been viewing myself as a female for my entire life. My goal (pun intended) is to encourage women to chase that feeling and to understand that there is a difference between how we feel we should walk through the world and how we can walk through the world. 

Let me kick off (oh she’s on fire) by sharing a few common phrases I hear during training and on the pitch:

“Let them know you are there.”

As a defender, it is important that I make enough contact with my opponent to make sure she knows I am on them and will not back down easily. I have been told to press my hand against my opponent’s back during corner kicks to cause discomfort and throw them off.

“Do not say sorry.”

It is a habit of mine to immediately apologise for shoulder barging another player too hard or accidentally stepping on someone’s foot. It is a knee-jerk reaction. However, to say sorry tells the opposition that I am less prepared to be aggressive and show strength. 

“Be loud. Talk.”

As a centre-back, I am best positioned to see the whole game being played out in front of me. If I do not speak up and warn my team of oncoming danger or highlight options for them, gaps in our play start to appear and the team suffers from a disconnect that could potentially throw a game. Communication scores goals.

“Be competitive.”

Very simple. No drive to win, no win.

Off the pitch…

What I came to notice was that these words of encouragement tended to only come up when I played football. It was rare that I ever received this kind of reinforcement in my day-to-day life. Why is that? 

Here’s what I think: as women, we are generally encouraged to do the exact opposite of the above. We are encouraged to be quiet, submissive and to not take up space. If we are loud and assertive, we are deemed overly aggressive and bossy, if we are competitive, we are cold and unfeeling, if we take up space, we are abrasive to those around us. Women are plagued with self-consciousness. We are constantly aware of ourselves, our bodies and behavior as we have been led to believe that being in control of these qualities and conveying them in the “correct” and “expected” way is what will make or break us as individuals. 

Playing football, for me, offers a temporary respite from this. I get to see what it is like to move through the world as a person without my sex being the first thing that people see and draw conclusions from. I feel liberated. People care about what I can do and how I perform, not what I look like or how I “come across”. I am valued for my capability and potential and this is when I feel seen.

Football offers an experience where being loud, competitive, and assertive is celebrated. I come away with a powerful feeling and a realisation that what has been holding me back is my context, not me.

This is not to say that football is the only way women can experience what I have experienced. Sport does not have to be the only avenue. I am making the broader point that we can go forward with this mindset in everyday life. But we need to pioneer it and force it into existence because no one else is going to do it for us.

Take up space, do not apologise and speak up!

And, because it would be a missed opportunity and just in case you felt inspired, below are a few amazing campaigns about women in sport that should definitely be watched and definitely be shared:  

Becca Bolton

Interested to learn more about Soroptimist East London?

Soroptimist East London is a women’s organisation committed to empowering women for positive change and sustainable development in East London and around the world.  You can find out more about what we do and how we do it by reading our blog “What Does Soroptimist East London Do?” To find out how Soroptimists in India are supporting women on the football pitch check out the blog “Beyond Football”.

If you’d like to find out more or join Soroptimist East London, please get in touch by clicking HERE!  We’re a vibrant and friendly group and new members are welcome.

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