As Australia and New Zealand prepare for the magnitude of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to hit their shores in the coming month, football clubs around both countries are preparing for a spike in participation the tournament is expected to trigger for junior footballers.
Tom Monsigneur is the Head Coach of the Adelaide Comets Women’s team, but his day job sees him even further invested in football.
Monsigneur’s work as a Junior Programs Officer for Football Australia sees him directly involved with grassroots football engagement. He spoke to The Inner Sanctum about the fact that he expects participation levels to rise, but it is up to clubs to keep the young players in the sport for the long term.
“We will see a spike in participation, for women and girls in particular, but it is what we do with that from there,” Monsigneur told The Inner Sanctum.
“In women’s sport, we have a lot of competition, every sporting code is trying to increase participation, but what we have against most is a longer history and a longer sustained success, probably with the exception of cricket everyone is catching up to us. Our big thing is embracing the numbers as they grow and ensuring we can sustain that.”
His Adelaide Comets side may be on top of the WNPL SA competition and playing an exciting brand of football, but the coach has a lot more than the results of his senior team to be proud of. Football Australia and Football South Australia have recently recognised the Adelaide Comets as a “game-changer” club for women and girls football.
The coach also stated that the club has been recognised for putting together an actional plan to make the female side of the game sustainable in the aftermath of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“The Game Changer program is all about sustainability after this World Cup that we’ve got, and the Comets put a huge amount of time and effort into that off-field. John Panagaris leads that as our Football Operations Manager, and we have a couple of people on the board that specifically focus on women’s football, which shows that the club is investing in it and sees value in it.
He described the fact that there is a strength and conditioning program for the Under 15s side once a week which has attributed to the feeling amongst the women’s and girls’ programs.
“There’s a really good feeling around the women’s and girl’s side at the club at the moment,” he said.
“Our numbers are great and they keep growing, but we also want to continue to develop them; all our coaches are doing courses, and there is a strength and conditioning program, so it is not all about our strength in numbers, it is about trying to help and support our girls to be there best.”
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Monsigneur feels the significance of the Comets’ initiatives in the women’s football space can be seen in a picture (displayed at the top of the article) he captured during a MiniRoos event at the Ellis Park where the young footballers were mixing with the Senior Women’s team players.
“I saw something the other day, I can’t remember what I was watching, but what was said was, ‘If you can’t see something, you can’t be something.’ If these young girls can see the older girls and how professional they are, the MiniRoos session is just before our session, it is something they can aspire to,” Monsigneur explained.
“On a Wednesday night, we have a lot of the girls there, and John (Panagaris) once again does a fantastic job and puts things together a girl’s only dinner night. A few weeks ago we had the Adelaide United Women’s coaching staff out and The Crossbar was full of young girls and their parents.
“That mixing is very important, there is that one photo with one of the young girls who is about seven looking up at Emily (Heazlewood) in amazement thinking, ‘Wow, I could potentially be this!’”
The coach elaborated on why he believed representation was of paramount importance. After getting to know the WNPL SA players better, the junior footballers were even keener to get involved with the club, which was evident during the club’s fixture in Female Football Week, where despite the miserable conditions, the girls wanted to help their heroines out.
“It was absolutely chucking down with rain and the girls wanted to be down on the side wanting to be the ball girls, we almost had to drag them off the pitch because it was so cold and wet!”
As much as the junior footballers have benefited from this experience, Monsigneur shared that he believes that some of his senior players are enjoying this connection just as much. He highlighted Chrissy Panagaris and Elena Psaroulis as players that have grown into the mentorship role with their younger counterparts.
“It is fantastic for the [young girls], but I also know for a couple of the senior players, I look at Chrissy and Elena along with a couple of other girls, and their faces when the young girls come up to them; I think the older girls get more out of it than the junior girls a lot of the time!” he said.
“They absolutely love it, they make a big deal about going over and speaking to those girls, and even when they see them around the club they go up to them and greet them with a hug. I think it makes a big difference that it is not something that has been pushed, but it is something that both senior and junior girls have just embraced.”
The South Australian leagues will pause for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup so all its participants can engage with the events in Adelaide, while also giving opportunities for interstate travel, something that Monsigneur and some of his players are taking advantage of to watch the Matildas play.
When they return they will be planning to put the finishing touches on what shapes up to be as the most successful season the Adelaide Comets Women have ever achieved, but for Monsigneur, success comes down to creating something sustainable both in the senior and junior sides of the club, as much as silverware.
The Comets have been recognised for their work and investment in the women’s side of the game, and they expect their ever-growing numbers to continue their upwards trajectory when registrations re-open.
The hard work begins once those girls have walked through the doors of the club, and the Comets are well on the way to guarantee a positive experience for any newcomers, be it just to the club itself or the sport of football as a whole.
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