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Houghton FC looking to help girls build confidence

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton FC defenders Eleanor Barnett and Aubrey Hillstrom dribble soccer balls during a practice warmup on Tuesday, June 3, at Michigan Tech University in Houghton

HOUGHTON — Much like things have gone with softball, with the addition of girls soccer at Houghton High School as a varsity sport, there has become a need for young girls to develop the skills necessary to play the game at a higher level if they are interested in competing, and even potentially earn a college scholarship down the road.

That starts at the youth level. Much like the Copper Country has select-level softball through the Copper Country Crush and the Northern Chill in recent years, Houghton Football Club has identified a significant issue for young soccer players.

Coming into this season, the Houghton FC select teams had been co-ed.

“It’s basically boys teams with a couple of girls,” said Houghton FC media director Erin Barnett. “We call them co-ed, but it’s really a male-dominated space, and it stops at U14, so there are young women who want to play high school soccer, and there’s some gap. My daughter would have 22 months without competitive soccer, Kaylee would have 11 months without competitive soccer between the end of this season, their U14 year, and starting high school soccer in the spring.”

That timeframe is simply too long. On top of that, if players aren’t exposed to the skills needed to be successful at the varsity level, it sets back anything the coaches at that level want to implement. This is why the Houghton FC has added girls soccer select teams this summer.

“It’ll be huge in developing those kids skill-wise,” said Houghton Gremlins assistant coach Emily Palosaari. We have a ton of girls who have never played soccer. There’s quite a lot, maybe half, that have had experience before, a couple girls played on the Marquette (United) team.

“Hopefully we can get more in the Houghton area and then develop from there. A lot of those basic skills I would like to see more of, because then they (can) come to me or high school, the varsity program, they already have those basic skills developed.”

Houghton softball coach Melissa Baker shared a similar feeling about the state of softball. Her Gremlins squad won a district championship this season for the first time in school history.

“So, it’s one less step for me or for our program, I should say,” Palosaari said. “Yeah, I think it would be awesome to have an all-girls Houghton FC team.”

For Erin Barnett, whose daughter Eleanor is one of the girls who has stuck with the Houghton FC select programs in recent years, it was important to help drive the push to build all-girls select programs within the club.

“We have to maintain the players for it to be an opportunity for them,” Erin said. “Otherwise, we have attrition, and they’re going to go to other sports, and other activities, and then maybe go back to soccer. Then there’s a deficit in skill and all that, and you’re the only girl on your U12 team.

“I think most of (the girls) have been playing since (they) were very little. Eleanor was three. Again, it’s an important opportunity for them to be able to continue in their sport, and not have a gap in between high school, but also, the reason you don’t see many girls here is because there’s a lot of attrition.”

The biggest issue facing young girls in the Houghton FC is a simple one to identify, but a hard one to improve, self confidence.

“I think it’s adolescence, and being on a soccer field with boys,” Erin Barnett said, “it takes some courage, self confidence. So, there’s a lot of attrition that happens around that time.

“So, we’re hoping with this initiative, we can recruit back some of the young girls that maybe played on co-ed or male-dominance teams, so that they come back to the sport, and we can have a nice funnel for Houghton High School to develop their soccer program.”

When talking with the girls who currently play for Houghton FC, like Eleanor Barnett, Aubrey Hillstrom, Kayleigh and Alivia Baril, Barnett and Hillstrom are both defenders while Kayleigh is a keeper. So, if they are struggling with their self confidence while playing with boys, their games could spiral. All four girls feel that playing on a roster filled with girls will help them build their confidence moving forward.

“I think it’s a lot more positive,” said Eleanor Barnett. “I think girls understand each other better, and playing against girls is very different compared to playing against boys. So, I think that will help us improve in different ways.”

Eleanor Barnett described the differences between playing with boys and girls.

“Boys just try to plow people over, and girls still actually use skills to get past you instead,” she said.

For Kayleigh, playing on a team that builds you up is something she is really excited about.

“I definitely think positivity is a big thing, because as a girl on a boys team, I’ve experienced a lot of talking down to just because you’re a girl playing with a bunch of boys,” she said. “I definitely think it’ll just be better for us, better for down the road, I think. Because, if you have positivity the whole time, then you’ll hopefully have positivity your whole career.”

Baril, who played U10 last season, has also dealt with similar experiences despite being younger than the other girls.

“You get blamed, usually,” she said, “not blaming the boys, but usually the boys blame you.

“Confidence goes a long way, I think. Obviously skills help, but confidence will go a long way.”

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