The balancing act of football and motherhood

Casey Stoney walks out for Liverpool FC with her three children. (Getty Images)

In 2017, a FIFPRO study showed that only 1% of footballers in the Women’s Super League had children. An odd amount to digest after England international Siobhan Chamberlain’s recent maternity news.

The number of parents in elite women’s football compared to the men’s game is a ratio surrounded by a lot of questions. Out of the 23-man England squad that travelled to France for the 2018 World Cup, over 60% were fathers.

However, none of their female counterparts at the Women’s World Cup a year later have children. Gareth Southgate’s team had an average age of 27, with Phil Neville’s Lionesses averaging at 28-years-old.

That lack of parents is a stark contrast to the general public. A recent study showed that the average age of UK women to become pregnant is 28.9. In 2017, 45.4% of British women had given birth between the ages of 20 and 29.

No member of the 23-player squad for the Women's World Cup has children. (Getty Images)

“As a player, you think that your career is over once you have a child but that’s not the case,” Southampton FC Women’s Shelly Provan told Yahoo Sport.

Provan currently plays in the National League Division One South West and has two children, four-year-old Austin and two-year-old Evie.

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A balancing act

Parenthood comes with its share of obstacles and challenges and raising children while working a full-time job can make it even harder to manage. So how do the footballers we love to watch manage to balance their job, their football career and family life all at once? 

Provan’s daily routine starts with the school run before going to work her day job as a PE teacher. She heads home to walk the dogs and cook dinner for her children before football training in the evening. 

“My aim is to still be playing until they [the children] are old enough to remember coming to watch their mum play,” Provan says. “I remember going to watch my dad play football and I want that for my kids.” 

Liverpool captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland recently shared an insight into her own daily routine. Working as a carer, the skipper makes balancing a challenging job, captaining her club and being a mum to two-year-old Macie look effortless. 

Elsewhere, Manchester United and England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain announced she was expecting her first child in July last year. As a result, she has taken time away from her first-team role to focus on starting her family. 

But what lies ahead for Chamberlain when she returns to top-tier football? Mary Earps has looked solid between the sticks for both United and the Lionesses since she stepped in, meaning mum-to-be Chamberlain could face a battle to regain the shirt when she returns.

Goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain announced her pregnancy earlier this year. (Getty Images)

Her manager, Casey Stoney, has three children of her own. Retiring from playing football just last year, Stoney got straight into coaching and took up the role as United’s head coach. 

Salary and club care

Provan is currently recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury which she admits was extremely hard on her and her family. “I wasn’t able to look after my children which was heartbreaking,” she said.

The Southampton captain explained her husband had to do the majority of the parenting while she was unable to move her leg. However, as she started to recover, she laughed about how Austin and Evie would join in with her rehab exercises.

“I’ve been so lucky until now with injuries but I’m in amazing hands with Southampton.”

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When asked about her maternity, Provan explained how she didn’t receive any paid leave while with former club Reading. The Berkshire club is just one of many that couldn’t offer paid leave for their expecting players.

The Royals were instead very encouraging of Provan’s return and had to settle for supporting her in the best way they could with hands tied.

After Reading were promoted, Provan found herself having to work her way back into a squad that had evolved without her.

The 35-year-old spoke about the current care in place for her at Southampton, praising their support system and the nutrition and exercise programs.

A FIFPRO study showed that in 2017, only 3% of top division clubs worldwide offered creche facilities for players and staff. Chelsea manager Emma Hayes hit out at this statistic, branding it an “absolute disgrace.”

“Just because they are an athlete does not mean they shouldn’t be supported,” said Hayes. “The funny thing about footballers is that they come back better players [after having children] because they produce more oxygen in their blood and they can run further. I have found it’s improved them.”

Hayes’ argument stands with a lot of body. Professor David James of the University of Gloucestershire confirmed that female athletes do benefit from “a more efficient circulatory system” for sometimes more than 14 months post-birth.

Emma Hayes says more clubs need to provide support for players with children. (Getty Images)

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Following the impact of the World Cup last year, domestic women’s football is also growing in popularity. As a result, bigger salaries are starting to become the norm, as well as transfer fees for top players.

However, although the game is growing financially, there are certain aspects of player care that are not meeting the players’ needs.

Provan however, is realistic about the situation: “It isn’t as easy as that. I’m sure in the future when there’s a higher percentage [of mothers] there will be, but with women’s football only just evolving, it just isn’t realistic financially.

“It’s not viable for teams with less financial backing in leagues lower than the WSL.”

Maintaining fitness

As the women’s game constantly grows in stature, it’s becoming easier for female players to continue their careers while starting a family. World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist Sydney Leroux returned to the pitch just 93 days after giving birth to her second child.

In a touching Instagram post, Leroux said: “I love this game. This past year was filled with so many ups and downs but I made a promise to myself that I would come back. No matter how hard it would be. It’s been a long road but I did it. Three months and one day after I gave birth to my baby girl.”

The Orlando Pride forward trained during the NWSL preseason last year whilst five months pregnant with her daughter Roux.

Pride teammate and Ballon d’Or runner up Alex Morgan also recently announced she was expecting her first child with husband Servando Carrasco and fully intends to be at the Olympics playing later in the year.

Leroux came under some backlash about risking the health of her baby while still playing football. However, Provan debunked these comments and admitted she remained physically active until she was 36 weeks pregnant.

“I kept active with running, weights and resistance training. I actually had a funny look from an elderly lady in the gym when I was on the treadmill!

“You don’t have to bedrest in order to keep you and your baby healthy. It’s amazing what your baby can do!”

As more high profile players announce that they are starting a family, it can only encourage younger players to see there is a way to return to football after having a baby.

“These women are highly motivated and unique individuals,” said Provan. “You can’t do it [start a family] without a great support group, but being a mother in football is easily done.”

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