By Callum Ellis
The Huddle programme will assist in reaching the FAW Trust’s target of 20,000 female footballers in Wales by 2024, says former Wales captain Professor Laura McAllister.
Prof McAllister - who won 24 caps for her country during her playing days - believes the initiative encourages more girls to get involved in the women’s game.
Huddle launched in May this year and is aimed at girls aged between 5-12 years-old, with the focus being on building confidence and friendships.FIND YOUR NEAREST HUDDLE SESSION
“The Huddle programme is an excellent initiative, mainly because it extends the appeal of the game to the youngest girls,” says McAllister.
“Football is for all girls and boys and men and women, whatever their standard. It doesn't matter really because you can still have the same enjoyment and fun from playing.
“This sets girls on the right pathway and they get to enjoy the fun aspects of the game, without the pressure of necessarily playing in a club team. We want to signpost them out of Huddle and into clubs at some point but there's no harm in seeing it for its own sake as well.
“If girls want to play in a Huddle project for a considerable length of time and they're enjoying it then why not? It's got to be about enjoyment first and foremost if we're going to reach our target of 20,000 girls playing football in Wales.
“I think we can do that with the right initiative, thinking imaginatively and listening to girls themselves, which is the critical thing.”
Players from Jayne Ludlow’s senior team have also been present at sessions, inspiring potential stars of the future with their experiences of playing at the elite level.
Prof McAllister's daughter Annie recently took part in one of the Huddle session's in Thornhill, and featured in the video by the BBC below:
'It's made me feel so proud of myself' pic.twitter.com/0dP8N7af9y— BBC Wales News (@BBCWalesNews) November 13, 2019
Prof McAllister has experienced firsthand the Huddle environment, as her daughter, Annie, participates in the programme in Thornhill, Cardiff.
“Playing less competitive games is key at this age,” she adds. “They will want to play football and I've witnessed that with my own daughter.
“It's designed in a different way and less competitive, with much less pressure on actually playing a game of football. It's more about having fun with the ball and learning basic technical skills.
“The fun and friendship angle is important because I think we know from research, especially the Sport Wales School Sports Survey, that girls put much more emphasis on doing sport with their friends.”
There are 22 Huddle centres scattered across Wales and Prof McAllister feels the programme reaches out to parents who wouldn’t necessarily encourage their children to participate in the sport.
“We've got to extend the appeal of the game to girls who might not be attracted in the same way that boys are to football. Their parents may not be naturally inclined to take their daughters to football, as they would their sons. This is a really good initiative marketed in the right way that's cheap, easy and fun.
“I would have loved to have had this kind of thing when I was a young girl growing up in Bridgend. But I don't think it's designed for someone like me because I was football mad and I played with boys, my cousins and friends in school.
“It was easier for me because I was a decent player and I think the whole point about Huddle is that it's designed for everybody.”