UEFA's women's football development programme (WFDP) is inspiring national associations, with Slovakia one of a number of countries that are overseeing a boom in girls' and women's football.
Once upon a time, football in Slovakia was a men's stronghold, with the game lagging behind volleyball, handball and basketball in terms of women's participation. However, UEFA's support has helped create a massive upswing in women's football's popularity, thanks also to the progressive leadership of the Slovak Football Association (SFZ) and a proactive women's football committee – with experienced international Natália Mackovičová tasked with taking the female game forward as SFZ women's football coordinator.
"The project for the development of women's football is one of 50 projects within the scope of the SFZ strategy plan for the 2011–14 period, which aims especially to increase the number of registered players," SFZ general secretary Jozef Kliment told UEFA.com
"We would like to reach this aim by organising school tournaments and by reorganising the competition format in all categories, but in order to succeed we had to start from the top. We completely modified the composition of the SFZ women's football committee, and appointed Natália Mackovičová to the position of women's football coordinator as a full staff member responsible for coordinating all stakeholders and implementing the project.
"I am confident these strategic decisions will help us reach our goal," Kliment added. "And, of course, this project would never have started without the great support given by UEFA."
The drive to give every girl in Slovakia an opportunity to play football is paying dividends, with a marked increase in the number of registered players, and a whole host of competitions, tournaments and regional camps being staged throughout the country. The SFZ is also working tirelessly to take women's football to schools, with the SFZ Schools Cup involving no fewer than 460 girls' teams.
Following guidelines set by UEFA as part of the overall women's development programme in Europe, the SFZ is striving to keep former players in the sport as coaches, referees or club officials, making use of their experience to nurture the next generation of budding female talents.
The SFZ has also reorganised its national competitions for women and girls, increasing the number of participating sides from 33 to 47. This season, ten teams are taking part in the top division, and the same number are competing in a national women's Under-16 league. Regional second divisions operate at senior and WU16 levels.
Further changes are planned for 2013/14, with the introduction of a national WU19 top flight. In addition to the regional second division, a regional WU15 league comprising up to four groups is in the pipeline. This means that even more youngsters will be experiencing competitive action.
More players and more teams have also had a crucial effect on Slovakian women's football as far as the national teams are concerned. In 2009, the association had a senior women's squad and a WU19 side. By 2012, the senior and WU19 squads had been joined by a WU17 team and WU15 regional selections. The objective is gradual progress in international competitions.
A nice story illustrates the boom in girls' football in Slovakia. In a village of 2,000 inhabitants, a group of girls went to the local school football ground and asked if they could train. A coach responsible for men's and youth teams invited the girls to come back the following Monday, fully expecting the invitation to come to nothing. The next Monday, to his surprise, no fewer than 30 girls ran onto the pitch, ready for training. Those girls are now competing as a regional league side – glowing proof that Slovakia is getting it right in nurturing its female talent.
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