Girls start playing football at age six or they don’t start at all

Women’s football is still overshadowed by men’s football.  Photo: Pete Saloutos © iStockphotoWomen’s football is still overshadowed by men’s football.  Photo: Pete Saloutos © iStockphotoWhat is the best way to foster young talent in women’s football? The problem is as challenging for Sportverein HSC, a small club in Hanover, as it is for VfL Wolfsburg, a club with a Bundesliga team. Both are pushing hard to recruit interested youth. Next year’s World Cup 2011 may bring a welcome surge.

Under the floodlights at Hanover Sports Club 1893 (HSC), 12- and 13-year-old girls are running up and down the artificial turf. These warm-ups in the evening fog may not be ideal, but Jörg Werfelmann, coach of the under-14 team at HSC, is happy they are able to use the facility at night. “We have it better here than at a lot of other small clubs,” he says.

Young talent woes

HSC actively recruits female players for its teams, the best of which plays in the county or district league (Bezirksliga). Up to 70 young women currently train at the club. “For the men’s teams we have to turn kids away because we can’t register that many sides, but we’re short on talented women,” says the Werfelmann. The football division of HSC boasts 527 male and 121 female members. For Werfelmann, whose son and daughter both play, the differences between the games are obvious. “Girls typically start with six or seven here or they don’t start at all,” he says. “Very rarely do girls come to us at 12 or 13 years of age to start playing.”

Girls typically start playing football with six or seven.  Photo: Joshua Hodge Photography © iStockphotoGirls often have a variety of interests, he’s noticed. They play piano, go horseback riding or go to confirmation class. “Every part of the schedule is a strong commitment,” observes Werfelmann. “Football is more of a hobby for them. With the boys it is very different. Most of them would prefer to play football and nothing else.” Another observation: There are not many girls who want to play goalkeeper. “They are scared of getting hit by the ball and are difficult to convince of the position.”

A 45-minute ride to training

Shooting practice is starting. The girls take turns pelting the goal with their best strikes. It’s the 1996/1997 age group on the pitch at the moment. Some of them have to travel 45 minutes to get here two times a week for training. Franziska says it’s worth it. “I want to be a professional some day.”

In order to increase the number of professionals in women’s football, head trainer at Turbine Potsdam, Bernd Schröder, came up with “Team 2011”. It is the club’s youth team with the goal of having as many players as possible by the time the Women’s World Cup 2011 begins. Mathias Morack, coordinator for youth recruiting at Turbine Potsdam, feels the club has good prospects for professional football players. The gymnastics division of the club has about 70 members ages 9 to 18. In addition to classic training, football is on the schedule every day. Soon the club will be forming 1st and 2nd Bundesliga teams.

The German Football Association (DFB) supports women’s football fervently.  Photo: Colleen Butler © iStockphotoThe German Football Association (DFB) also supports women’s football fervently. President Theo Zwanziger even sees the future of the game as female. He advised the sponsors of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim that the club would get into the Bundesliga faster with a women’s team. In the end the men’s team made it first, but a women’s team full of aspirations uses the same facilities and they managed to get promoted to the 2nd Bundesliga this season. Despite the fact that the women’s national team won the World Cup in 2003 in the USA, 2007 in China, and have been European Champions seven times, there still seems to be no consistent wave of female fans to accompany the increasing number of women’s football teams.

Wolfsburg is counting on smart recruiting

At VfL Wolfsburg it’s no different. The women’s team plays in the Bundesliga and players come from the USA, Norway, Finland, Hungary and all over Germany. But VfL Wolfsburg has had only one professional player from its own junior ranks who made it into the national team: Carolin Degethoff.

Born in 1992 in Wolfsburg, the defender came to VfL in 2006 and has since secured a place in the starting eleven. Nurturing young talent is very important for the club. “We have had our second recruiting day,” says director Ralf Kellermann. About 50 girls came from as far as 60 km away to take part. Below the Bundesliga team, Wolfsburg also has a C (13-14 years) and a B team (15-16 years) as well as two women’s teams. Training sessions take place here as many as four times a week.

The future of football is female  Photo: YinYang © iStockphotoLike every team in the top flight, Kellermann is hoping for a surge in interest among fans next year, but more importantly he is hoping for a spike in interest among talented young girls. “But we aren’t relying solely on potential impetus from the World Cup next year,” states the enthusiastic trainer of the Bundesliga team. “We will continue to build a professional structure at this club and generate new sponsorship deals and financing.” Wolfsburg is one of the locations for the Women’s World Cup 2011, which will run from June 26 – July 17. Three preliminary round games and one quarterfinal match will be played at Wolfsburg Arena.

In the shadow of men’s football

Women’s football in Germany has developed dramatically in recent years. “Of course it is vastly overshadowed by men’s football,” says Kellermann from VfL Wolfsburg, “because it has deeper roots and has produced ‘idols and heroes’. But if you look at it more closely, all other sports are overshadowed by men’s football,” concludes the director, “So we should look at women’s football as a separate entity. In track and field events we don’t compare the men’s times with the women’s times, do we?”


Rainer Hennies/Daniel Meuren:
Frauenfußball: Der lange Weg zur Anerkennung (Verlag Die Werkstatt, 2009)

Gregor Gdawietz/Ulrike Kraus:
Die Zukunft des Fußballs ist weiblich (Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2007)

Kathrin Peter et al:
Mädchenfußball: Mädchen- und Frauenfußball weltmeisterlich spielen (Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2010)

Klaus Bischops/Heinz-Will Gerards:
Trainingsbuch Mädchenfußball (Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2000)

Knut Diers
studied geography and political economy in Gießen, was a writer for the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung and is now a freelancer with his own agency Buenos Diers Media. He enjoys taking his son Paul (16), goalkeeper, to watch football games.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2010

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