Football: Auckland programme aims to reverse dwindling number of Kiwi girls playing football

Despite the huge success of the FIFA Football World Cup in New Zealand this year, Kiwi girls are struggling to stay involved in the sport.  

Recent statistics show female participation drops off hugely across the country once girls hit puberty and one organisation - along with a former Football Fern - is working hard to put an end to that trend.

Ten-year-old football enthuasiast Mayan Awrooj enjoys 'The Beautiful Game' for many reasons.

"I love the idea of how you can create chances and create goals," she said.

But during this Youthtown school holiday program in Auckland, she's savouring playing exclusively with other girls. The boys at school can get a bit rough.

"They slide tackle now, so you have to show them what you're made of otherwise they'll push you around," she said.

For many young girls, that's enough to turn them off the sport altogether.  

 In New Zealand last year, 11,834 girls under the age of 12 years gave football up, while another 4818 quit during high school.  

This year, those numbers were even higher, with almost 15,000 U12s and 5220 high-schoolers stopping playing.

Youthtown' hopes they can help turn those numbers around.

 "The girls really feel more confident when they are on their own and they can focus on just the game," said Youthtown chief executive Fay Amaral. 

New Zealand's all-time top goal scorer Amber Hearn got involved with the initiative after her Football Ferns career ended and wishes similar programs were around when she was a youngster.

"I didn't really have these programs when I was growing up," said Hearn. "I would just play with the boys all the time.

The Youthtown programme is designed for both those who have never played football and for those who have always wanted to give it a go but have never had the chance or the confidence at school.  

In fact, after the first few days, numerous girls have already made their parents sign them up at the local football club next door for the coming season.  

But Youthtown is non-profit and relies on donations and grants to fund their programmes.  

"We plug a hole, a really critical hole and if we don't have funding then we can't come here and do this," added Aamaral. 

So, girls can help expand the sport.  

"If we give them a pathway, then it will definitely grow."