Female player pathway widened

Arsenal v Sunderland RTC FA Girls' Youth Cup
Photo: Colin Lock

The FA have unveiled plans to more than double their existing talent programme talent pool for the women’s professional game.

The number of players is set to rise from the current 1,722, to 4,200 by the end of the 2023-24 season, in work is being supported by the Premier League.

The plans will see a wider national network of what will be called Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres for girls aged eight to 16, with funding provided by the Premier League. Over a two-year transition period, these will replace the FA Girls’ Advanced Coaching Centres forming a wide base at the entry point of the pathway.

There are currently 29 regional talent clubs and ten advanced coaches centres. The plans will see up to 70 Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres across the country, allowing more players to be identified and supported, in addition to the professional game academies that will be launched in 2023-24.

Kay Cossington, the FA’s head of women’s technical, said: “We’ve undertaken a lengthy and comprehensive review of the current pathway structure, and this has provided a clear future direction, based around five key areas of improvement, which all our new Emerging Talent Centres will embody.

“We’re also delighted to be working with the Premier League to support the delivery of the new Emerging Talent Centres.”

These five areas of improvement that have been identified are as follows:

1. Better accessibility
2. More inclusivity
3. Reducing the impact of early selection
4. More focused investment
5. Providing more appropriate challenges

Premier League director of football Neil Saunders added: “Premier League clubs are doing more than ever to support the growth of women’s and girls’ football and we’re pleased to be working alongside the FA to provide funding for the new Emerging Talent Centres.

“The centres will provide more opportunities for girls to access enhanced coaching and will develop pathways within the professional and grassroots game, benefitting young players and clubs alike.”

Overall, the enhancements through these five key areas will fulfil one of the central aims of the FA’s overall strategy for women’s and girls’ football in England, Inspiring Positive Change, launched in 2020.

This aim outlined a need to provide a well-signposted, inclusive and accessible club player pathway that supports the talented girls and young women who aspire to play in the FA Women’s National League, the FA Women’s Championship and the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers RTC
Photo: Colin Lock

This aim was further underpinned by the Women’s Professional Game Strategy, launched in 2021, which stated the FA wanted:

• A system that produces club and England success, where the FA and clubs collaborate to produce world-class players and playing opportunities that lead to on-pitch success for club and country.
• All clubs to have a long-term playing philosophy for performance and player development.
• The player pathway to be diverse and consistently producing first-team players for clubs.

Cossington added: “We’re currently communicating with existing regional talent clubs and advanced coaches centres to support them with their plans during the transition period.

“In addition, we are opening application for organisations to become a Girls’ Emerging Talent Centre, based on strict criteria being met before an FA licence is granted.”

Organisations who will run the Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres include:

• Affiliated women’s football clubs in Tiers 1-4 of the Women’s Football Pyramid.
• The Club Community Organisations (CCOs) linked to Premier League, EFL and National League clubs.
• County FAs and FA Women’s High-Performance Football Centre.

The new centres will operate for at least 30 weeks per season. Players aged eight to 16 can attend, depending on which age groups the specific centre decides to attract.

Cossington concluded: “The overall philosophy behind our plans is that every girl should have the opportunity to access our talent system.

“The new pathway will place fewer demands on players at an early age and create a more holistic playing experience. It will also have practical benefits, such as reducing the travel costs for players and parents/carers.

“It’s the next important stage in the evolution of the women’s game in England, which has already grown at an incredibly fast rate. We need to ensure there’s a solid framework to its growth which will see the game – and those who play it – flourish long into the future.”

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