Girls’ Football Week: Bristol captain Grace McCatty gives an in-depth view of female college football
To celebrate The FA’s Girls’ Football Week, AoC Sport is producing a series of articles and features on different aspects of the female game throughout colleges.
We’ve already profiled a wide variety of roles within the women’s game throughout the week, including referee Lucy Oliver, ECFA Activator Holly Hayes, ECFA national team striker Paige Sawyer and the women’s academy at Worthing College.
And today we’re taking a more in-depth look at college football, with Bristol City Women’s captain Grace McCatty, who previously played for SGS College and worked for AoC Sport.
What has your involvement been with college football?
I have been involved with college football through two different capacities, as both a player at SGS College, Bristol (formerly Filton College) and subsequently through my involvement as an employee of AoC Sport (formerly British Colleges Sport). I would say my involvement as a player has been pivotal in helping me reach the level I am today as it provided me with the fantastic opportunity to develop myself as a player and a person, progressing on and off the pitch. I am grateful that I was able to couple my academic studies with playing within the academy as that opportunity – the chance to train every day – has helped me become the football player I am.
How has college football developed over the last few years?
College football has developed greatly over the last few years. When I first joined SGS College, we were one of only a handful of football academies within the country and now there is the opportunity to play at nearly every local college and this is an amazing provision for aspiring footballers. It’s brilliant to see opportunities being provided for all students regardless of their ability or level.
What more can colleges do to progress their female football offer?
There’s no denying that the demand for women’s football is growing phenomenally and you only have to look at the game on a national level to see that. Many colleges are already making a conscious effort to offer and progress their female football offer but I do feel they could do more, and utilising the different programmes the FA have would support this. Sometimes it’s about moving away from tradition and offering a modified version of the game, particularly to engage those who have never played or have stopped playing.
How do you feel college football can help girls progress towards The FA Women’s Super League (WSL)?
I think the key with progression for the more talented players is partnering with a local WSL club or FA Women’s Premier League (WPL) club to ensure that a pathway is visible and reachable for players. Any gifted and talented player within college football who has the potential to compete in the WSL needs to be challenged at the highest level possible to ensure they can develop and college football can support this process by providing additional training and competition opportunities with local clubs.
What else can colleges do to get females involved in football outside of playing?
I believe colleges across the country have a responsibility to ensure every student is provided with the opportunity to be involved in sport whether that is as a participant, coach, official, young leader or volunteer. The challenge for colleges with football is the longstanding stereotype that it is a male dominated sport and for many females this is a put-off and therefore colleges need to promote and present football in such a way that it’s attractive to females. However, colleges need to not only provide these opportunities but put in place the support mechanisms required to keep them involved regularly rather than having them drop-out.
To what extent do you feel it’s important for colleges to have a pathway link with a local club? Has the SGS College link with Bristol City seen higher quality players progress towards the first team?
As mentioned previously, I believe it is crucial for colleges to have a player pathway in place that supports the development of students both inside and outside of college. Whether this pathway leads to a WSL team such as Bristol City or to a local county team, it is important that players have the chance to continue playing outside of college at whatever level suits them. These progression routes and club links will see a higher number of students retained within the sport but will also enable the more talented players the opportunity to progress. My experience at SGS College as a student has highlighted the vital nature of these pathways as without the club link I may not be where I am now as a player. Furthermore, those colleges who can advertise the pathways they provide will also attract more talented players which subsequently strengthens their programme and the quality of their provision. Ultimately, college football should acknowledge the critical role they play in increasing participation in sport as well as supporting retention and therefore should do all possible to contribute towards growing the female game on a national level.