Helping to develop the Wahine Toa of the Waikato and Bay and Plenty

Wahine Toa is a two-day futsal and football programme for kōhine (adolescent girls), run twice a year by WaiBOP Football.

Wahine Toa translates as both Sportswoman, as well as Warrior Woman.

Each cohort for the programme has a maximum of 50 participants, with a general age range of 14-16 years old, nominated by local schools, football and futsal clubs. The main prerequisites are a love of football/futsal, with a great attitude and keenness to learn.

The programme includes players of all levels of playing ability — community, competitive and talent.

The programme was first created and delivered as a pilot in September 2022 in Hamilton by WaiBOP’s Natalie Broadhead and Vicki Lahana [Vicki has since moved to a role with Waikato Hockey].

They set out to create an environment for kōhine to learn, holistically develop themselves and build on their Football and Futsal knowledge together in a fun and safe learning environment all while making new friends from around the rohe (region).

Broadhead says: “We wanted to create a programme where we could get to know the kōhine footballers and futsal players in our region and for them to connect with each other.

“We also wanted to tie in Te Ao Māori, leadership, building self-confidence and nutrition for the female athlete and help to foster a growth mindset in a safe environment, all while getting to experience the different aspects of football and futsal.”

The programme was run twice in 2023, in the April and September school holidays, with one programme in Hamilton and one in Tauranga.

Over 2022-23, the programme has involved 136 kōhine and 22 coaches (18 female and four male).

The benefits of the programme are seen on and off the pitch.

Cath Wheeler (girls and women’s representative at Tauranga Blue Rovers) talks about five kōhine who all met at the Wahine Toa Programme and the impact it has had on them:

“Even though they’re from different schools and clubs they’ve connected through the Wahine Toa Programme, then gone on to do the Referee Academy together with Anna Harris (WaiBOP Youth Referee Coordinator) this year.

“Now they have a Fast 5 team who play at Blue Rovers on Monday nights. Such a great bunch of girls and highlights how girls can come together in different ways.”

Isa Green Camargo, from Taupo AFC, participated in 2023.

She said: “I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to attend the Waibop Wahine Toa programme as I gained confidence, improved my knowledge and skill on the game and got to bond with other girls who were also very passionate about football in a welcoming environment.

“The training sessions were well structured and helped in developing all different aspects of the game. In between, training sessions were just as fun being able to bond with other girls and take part in the activities they set up.

“Overall, the camp was  fun and improved me as a player. I definitely recommend the programme as it’s a great opportunity for girls to develop in this amazing sport.”

How can I get my daughter involved?

The next Wahine Toa will be run in the July 2024 school holidays, and clubs and schools in the rohe will soon be asked for nominations. Talk to your club or school if you are interested in participating.

Players who missed out last year may get a direct invitation before club nominations are asked for.

Natalie Broadhead and her team look to ensure an even spread of playing ability — community, competitive and talent players — as well having representation from a variety of clubs and schools across the region.

Anyone who misses out is added to a database, and are the first ones to be invited to the next programme.

What to expect

Participants can expect to experience the following:

  • Fun and challenging football and futsal sessions.
  • Football and futsal festival games.
  • Goalkeeper station.
  • Referee station.
  • Guest female speakers from NZ Football and other NZ representative sports.
  • Nutrition and the female athlete workshop (which touches on RED-S Syndrome and menstrual cycles).
  • Leadership, self-confidence and Te Whare Tapawha workshops (understanding your holistic health needs).
  • Coaching stations, giving the opportunity to try their hand at designing a football or futsal training station and deliver this to their peers during the programme.

WaiBOP Football are immensely grateful to have received funding from Hine te Hiringa – Empower Women, a fund established by the Department of Internal Affairs as part of the legacy of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This funding has been integral in supporting the delivery of the programme and to make it accessible for participants.

WaiBOP do not want funding to be a reason that kōhine cannot participate, and will discuss, in confidence, any requests for fee reductions that may be required.

 Photo credit: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Why the focus on female only?

Women were banned from playing football for 50 years in New Zealand, with the ban only lifted in 1971 when women started playing football despite the ban.

The ban continues to have an impact today.

In the WaiBOP Football region, despite the number of females playing football and futsal increasing every year, they still make up only 26% of total players.

The good news is that female football is on the rise. In the four years from 2019-2023, the number of women and girls playing football in the WaiBOP region increased by 18%.

To keep fostering this growth, the female game requires a targeted approach to support more women and girls to become involved.

Data shows that the biggest drop in participation comes in the adolescent age.

Recent NZ research shows the main barriers for kōhine are too much pressure, time restraints such as trying to balance study sport and social commitments, poor health from over-training, financial strain, and gender inequity in support and recognition.

The main motivators to increase participation focus on fun, the improvement of skills, fostering friendships, quality coaching experiences, and health benefits.

It is these motivators that form the foundation of the Wahine Toa programme.

This story is adapted from “On a mission to lead and inspire kōhine” by Hannah Duncan and Natalie Broadhead for Soccer Coach Weekly Issue 41 | April 2024, and it has previously been published by WaiBOP Football.

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