We’re in an exciting time for women’s sports right now.
Different leagues around the world are gaining traction and audiences are booming especially in women’s football.
So to find out what parents can do to continue this momentum and support female sport we spoke with Australian women’s football player Ellie Carpenter and New Zealand women’s football player Claudia Bunge.
YEAR13: Obviously you’ve both achieved some amazing things in your careers and have become role models for a lot of people. Did you find that growing up you had a lot of role models you could look up to in the sporting world and in women’s football in particular?
CLAUDIA: Honestly, not really. Not in a sporting sense. I guess growing up I looked up to my parents a lot and my older siblings. But it probably wasn’t until I was maybe 11 or 12, I met Rosie White at a National camp and that was the first time I had seen or met a professional athlete, and she was someone I looked up to. Then from then I started watching the Ferns a bit more and started looking up to Abby Erceg and Ria Percival. But I think as I’ve gotten older and there’s a lot more visibility for women, people like Valerie Adams and Ruby Tui are also people that I look up to now.
ELLIE: Yeah, for me, I was quite young when I chose to go to football professionally or full time. I think I was around 12 or 13 and that’s when you just start high school as well, so a lot can change. But I had a lot of people to look up to. At the high school I was attending, there were older girls playing football as well and I used to look at them and think, “Oh, that’s so cool that they’re playing, I want to be like them.” Then I went to see a Matildas game when I was very young and I saw the national team when I was 12, and obviously that inspired me to keep playing and training and hopefully one day be one of them.
Also the support from my family is probably one of the biggest things to help you keep going in sport and obviously friends as well. In my year there were a lot of girls who played football as well, and even if they didn’t, if one or two of us were playing they would play because we were playing, there’s that social aspect, too. It’s not all about playing professionally. You can also just play to have fun and I think that’s important for high school and young girls, because I know these days a lot of people just drop out of sport or not do anything when they hit high school.
YEAR13: A big part of the Visa PlayOn campaign is to encourage young people, and especially young women, to continue playing sport. What does it mean for you to be a role model and advocate for women’s sport?
ELLIE: Yeah, it’s quite weird to think of myself as a role model and I think I was 12 years old when I went to that game and I’ve seen so many of those girls playing like five metres away from me and I thought, “Oh, that’s what I want to do when I’m older,” and I didn’t know that I could be there three years later. It was quite crazy to me.
CLAUDIA: It’s something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. I just want to do as much as possible through football and through being sponsored by Visa. They’ve given me a great platform to express myself and show that some random girl from Auckland can achieve their dreams and stick at it. Football’s an amazing sport for girls and the game’s growing hugely. And I think with the FIFA Women’s World CupTM coming, people will finally understand the hype of women’s football around the world. And hopefully New Zealand and Australia can catch up to the rest of the world.
ELLIE: I remember when I was young, I got autographs from all the girls and thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So, for me, when I’m playing in Australia or after a game, it’s important for me to go and connect with a young girl wearing my jersey because you never know how far that could go for them. Even if it’s just a simple hello. Because I was on the other side of that, so I know how excited they are and it’s important to be a role model. You can change and help a lot, especially these days. I feel like it’s so different from when I was growing up, maybe even worse with the rate of young people dropping out of sport. My mum’s a teacher. My dad’s a teacher as well, and hearing some of their stories, it’s actually quite sad, you know?
YEAR13: What areas do you think need the biggest changes or improvements when it comes to encouraging participation in sport, particularly for young people?
CLAUDIA: Investment. I think that’s a massive thing. You know, around the world in professional leagues, the clubs that have invested the most are seeing the most return, and those are usually the clubs that are bringing in the biggest crowds. Those are the clubs that are doing the best, but they’re also the clubs that have good grass roots foundations as well.
I just encourage organisations and businesses to invest in women’s football. I think 2 billion people are expected to tune into this FIFA Women’s World CupTM. So, the saying that no one watches women’s football is bollocks. Everyone’s watching it. And I think people are starting to invest more and seeing more value in it. But it’s always been valuable.
YEAR13: For those of us who aren’t young women, what can we do to continue to support women’s sport?
CLAUDIA: Go to a game! Even if you have never been to a game before. A couple of my friends that aren’t involved in football just recently came to a couple of our home games and they loved it. They don’t know a thing about football, but the atmosphere is great, and everyone’s there for the right reasons.
The game’s good, competitive, it’s fast, it’s entertaining. I think women’s football is a bit different to men’s football. It’s a bit more transitional which is exciting to watch, and I enjoy playing it, but I also enjoy watching it. So yeah, I just encourage people to go to a game, especially with the World Cup coming up. If you can get to a Matildas game or a Ferns game or any game for that matter, I’d really encourage that.
ELLIE: Or if you’re a parent, you can turn on the TV and watch women’s football. It’s always on TV now, which is great. Or take your daughter down to a club and put them in a team.
I think it’s changing a lot in Australia and a lot more fans are men and young boys as well. Especially since I’ve been on the team for 9 years or so now, at games we’re seeing young boys wearing our jerseys and you would never see that 5 years ago. Seeing how we’re impacting boys, it’s also really cool. You know, a boy might know my name and they don’t know any of the Socceroos’ names, like that’s kind of cool for us.
I think it’s important just to keep supporting them through everything. Obviously, there are a lot of difficult times, but for me, when I’ve had a difficult time, sport or football has really helped me.
YEAR13: The last thing I want to ask you is something we ask everyone we interview. If you could tell your high school self one thing, what would that be?
ELLIE: Stay in school (laughs). Nah, I’m joking. I think I would just say no matter what you go through, make sure you stick to what you believe in and why you started football in the first place and why you wanted to keep playing and keep following your dreams.
CLAUDIA: Just remember why you play and still have fun. Because it takes up a lot of time and you can get a little bit caught up in it sometimes. If you’re winning, life’s great. If you’re losing, life seems to not be so great. So just remember why you play – I like to be around my mates and I like to be active. So just always remember that to help stay grounded would be my advice.
If you’d like some more tips on how you can encourage your student to get involved in sport, check out the rest of our content in the Visa PlayOn hub.