Just for girls: The Great Goals experience
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girls playing football
A girls-only sports program in India found that pre-teen and teenage girls respond better to girls-only sport programming, become more confident and competent sportspersons.

Should sports training be gender specific? Do young girls need differentiated programs from boys their age, to thrive in a sports environment? In this article, we share the experience of Great Goals Just for Girls program, within our academy, in school programs and in villages in Tamil Nadu.

Why do we need a Just for Girls program?

We started Great Goals in 2013 as football coaching for boys and girls. While we had girls in every batch, we noticed they played for 2 terms, but dropped out after. We asked them why, and got many reasons. We found that between the ages of 9 and 14 years, most girls need a different kind of sports environment than boys. They don’t want pressure – they want to compete at their own pace, and they want to be confident. So we tried an experiment – we created a separate class for girls and we called it Just for Girls. Our first batch in 2015 was a roaring success, and thus we launched the program in schools and our centres.

What was our aim?

Every girl should have an opportunity to play sport in a positive and safe environment. We want every girl who wants to play sports to have the opportunity to play sports. We didn’t do anything other than just create a separate class. We prioritized excellent skills training in a professionally run and safe environment.

What did we do?

We created Just for Girls Great Goals as a sports program only for girls. The Just for Girls program is for girls aged 9-14 and revolves around structured football coaching in a fun, challenging and safe environment.

We started a Just for Girls programs in schools. At the Seva Samajam, Lady Nye school, a school and home for underprivileged children, we started the Just for Girls class in 2016. When it started off, the girls had their training with our coaches, with the boys being disparaging to the girls or trying to disrupt their class. And as girls became comfortable with the ball at their feet, the boys learnt that sport is also for girls. It built a mutual respect of the play space and playing opportunities, and paved the way for a mixed program to start in the school. As a bonus, the school reported increased attendance on football days, because children did not want to miss the training. 

At the Muslim Women’s Association Girls’ School, we offered classes twice a week to 28 girls under the age of 11. We worked with the school to create procedures that would work with cultural and religious beliefs of the schools. The program showed girls within the school, especially the younger girls, that sport was for all and that anyone could learn and play a sport like football, when it was taught within a culture of respect and within a safe space.

We recently started a Just for Girls program with girls from several villages around Ranipet in Vellore District, Tamil Nadu. We started this program in partnership with the Thirumalai Charity Trust, as part of their community health initiative. The program started after 2 years of COVID-19, when the opportunity for rural girls to engage in a physical activity, which was meagre to begin with, shrank even further. We spoke to the girls and their mothers, and the interest was immense. We started a pilot with 45 girls from 4 villages. The response has been overwhelming – excellent attendance, eagerness to learn and consistent progress in their ball skills. 5 months into the pilot, we are expanding that program to add one more center, with 74 more girls.

“We are proud to have partnered with GGT in getting their JFG programme to the rural communities around Ranipet and Vellore. Enabling access to skilled coaches, structured-yet-engaging curriculum and other such opportunities typically associated with urban sports settings is indeed a great service that GGT has embarked on. This is best experienced by seeing the joy in the eyes of the village girls when they take to the field,” says Anand Rangachary, CEO of the Thirumala Charity Trust Hospital which spearheads the community initiative.

What kinds of results are we seeing?

Our coaching approach is learner-centric – it ensures that more and more girls want to play the sport. This, in turn, builds positive role models for the younger girls who watch as the girls prepare for class, get ready with their uniform and boots, and go for training. The younger ones cannot wait for their turn to be included in the program. And while girls revel in the Just for Girls program, we notice that once they feel confident, they also want to participate in mixed matches and leagues.

We see results in increased and consistent attendance to classes, in performance, in feedback from the girls and their parents. We also see the feedback from how boys respond to girls on the field. So the program is certainly breaking some stereotypes.  Girls who have been through the program report increased confidence, improved body image, and improved ability to cope with mental stress. They also learn all the life skills that sports, especially team sports, teaches – team work, collaboration, problem solving, decision-making and leadership. We’ve also seen results in creating a culture of respect and in building positive role models among girls. Last year we hosted a girls-only tournament, a webinar on Girls in Sport and rebooted Just for Girls in its new avatar – many of these observations were echoed by the webinar speakers and the players.

 “I don’t know how to describe it. I enjoyed so much. Lots of new friends. We speak in English and in Tamil. We have learnt how to make good passes when we play. It's a totally new experience and it’s a big confidence booster to me to be able to coach my friends. Earlier I didn't know I could do it, and now I know I can.” - Keerthi, Great Goals Just for Girls player from our partner club HUC FC

So, we ask again - Should sport be gender specific? Do young girls need differentiated programs from boys their age to thrive in a sports environment? Our answer is a resounding YES! And every day we renew our commitment to ensure that every girl in the program enjoys the process of learning to make sport part of her life.


Priya Gopalen is the co-founder of Great Goals and Trustee of the Great Goals Trust.

Great Goals is a football academy and offers coaching programs that are fun and safe for children, and reliable and accountable to parents. Founded on these principles in 2013, we have evolved into an professionally-run academy, constantly learning from experiences on the ground. We are accredited as a 2 star academy by the All India Football Federation. Our programs are designed for children in the age group 4 to 16. 

Great Goals Trust, a non-profit entity in sports, was established in 2018. It is a sister organization to Great Goals. With a vision to engage, inspire and empower young boys and girls through sport to reach for the stars, we strive to level the playing field by lowering barriers for all young individuals, irrespective of gender, background or economic constraints.

For more information contact: [email protected]


Football (Soccer)
Sustainable Development Goals
3 – Good health and well-being
5 - Gender equality
Target Group
Girls and women

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