For the latest installment of #WildcatsWednesday, we spoke to Lisa Payne at Limehouse Laces about their journey to becoming a Wildcats centre and why more clubs should be doing the same!
What led you to start up a Wildcats centre?
When we first started Limehouse Laces I would take my youngest daughter to watch her sister train and play football matches. There was a lot of standing around in the cold, so we just grabbed a ball and started playing. Some of the other little sisters joined in and Mini Laces was born.
We started with a few girls and focussed on fun, friendship and developing the girl’s skills and confidence. I had no football coaching skills so when Wildcats were formed, we took the opportunity to open a centre and benefitted greatly from the resources and training we were given. All of a sudden, we were not alone anymore and our girls could see other girls playing football across the country and we became part of a huge football family.
Have you faced any hurdles or challenges in the process of running a Wildcats centre?
Our biggest challenge has always been the venue. In inner London, competition for pitches is huge. We also need toilets and handwashing facilities and if these are not available it really creates a barrier for girls playing. When we first started, we played in a park and there were too many distractions and sometimes not enough space so finding a regular slot on a safe secure pitch with toilets made a big difference.
We also wanted to lead by example and give the girls positive female football role models, so we only wanted female coaches, which were hard to find, so we trained our own volunteers and made connections with the local university female football team who supplied us our first coaches. To ensure there were no barriers to playing football all the girls get their own ball, we have boot swaps and free-funded places, so no girl misses out.
What are some of the benefits to running a Wildcats centre?
I never intended to keep running the Wildcats, my youngest is now 14 and plays for Limehouse Laces U15s but I can’t seem to stop! I think I enjoy it as much as the girls do. Not only have they made friends, but I have too with mothers who I have encouraged to join our ladies’ team and get involved in the club as their girls progress.
The greatest benefit has definitely been seeing the girls so happy and progress, every week they run onto the pitch super excited and ready to play, no matter what the weather. We have had some disabled players and girls who lack confidence and were too scared to join in, but now their self-esteem and skills have developed so much you wouldn’t guess who they were.
Another huge plus of the Wildcats is that it has helped grow our girl's grassroots club. I have ex-Wildcats in the U11, U13, U15 and U17s all playing competitive football. Our biggest success at Limehouse Laces is the family of football it has created. We have managed to keep girls playing football from five to eighteen and have many mothers playing too. A testimony of this is that my new coach is an ex-Wildcats who I trained and had now come full circle. She completed her FA Level 1 in Coaching Football and is supporting me every Saturday in helping create future footballers! I couldn’t be prouder.
What would be your advice to a club looking to start a Wildcats centre?
My advice would be to just start and keep going. I remember during the early days one September we only had two girls every week and I thought it would never grow. By January, we were at 25 and needed three extra coaches! Somehow word gets out, we have never needed to do any hard-core marketing for Wildcats as there are so many girls that want to play football and have fun.
You also need to remember that, whether your club has 5 girls or 25 girls, it is making a difference to them. They come because they enjoy it and benefit greatly from the time and effort you invest into it. If your Wildcats gets one more girl playing football, having fun and keeping fit, it is most definitely a success. Just ask the girls, they will tell you!