How female footballers can balance their careers and parental responsibilities

How female footballers can balance their careers and parental responsibilities

Women’s football has come on leaps and bounds over the past decade. Nearly 90,000 supporters watched England as they beat Germany in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 final in July last year.

With the immense success and growth of the women’s game, it does also bring up some interesting debates as to how to continue the progress in making it equal with the men’s competition.

One such area is parental responsibility. While many male players have children, their careers remain largely uninterrupted – though men being granted time off on a matchday to be with their partner during childbirth is a common occurrence, most are able to return to playing within a week.

Female players, on the other hand, face an entirely different playing field. Not only does pregnancy often place immense strain and pressure on the body, but female players also have to make difficult decisions about balancing career and family, and many are unsure of what will happen after they’ve given birth.

While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to these issues, women involved in football have plenty of options available to manage them. So, read on to find out how female footballers can manage their parental responsibilities and their careers.

Choosing when to start a family

The decision of when the right time to start a family will be affects women in almost every occupation. But for sporting professionals, this decision comes with the additional difficulty that you could lose valuable months during your career to take time out and have a child.

Certainly, it’s a tricky issue to navigate, and there’s a lot to consider before you make a decision. A good place to start could be to ask yourself a few important questions first:

  • Have you spoken to your club or manager about your thoughts? It may help you to feel better about pressing pause on your career if you know that your club will support you in getting back to playing.
  • Are you willing to take the time out now when you’re at your peak? It could interrupt your career progress to take time out, especially if you feel that you’re reaching the top of your game.
  • Can you wait until the end of your career to start your family? If you want to start a family but feel that you can wait until you’re finished playing professionally, you always have the option to do so at the end of your career.

Asking yourself these questions could help you decide what your priorities are, and ensure you armed with all the information you need to make the choice.

Balancing physical fitness with being a new mother

A key aspect that women need to consider is the effect that having a child can have on your body, especially if you intend to return to playing professionally.

There is certainly precedent for returning to sport after pregnancy, as many female athletes have continued to be incredibly successful in their sports after having children. This includes:

  • Long-distance runner Jo Pavey, winning the European 10,000 metres less than a year after giving birth to her second child
  • Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who won gold at the World Athletics Championships, 13 months after giving birth
  • Tennis champion Serena Williams, taking three years after giving birth to win the ATP Auckland Open.

As these women will attest, while it’s certainly difficult and demanding, it’s absolutely possible to return to the top of your game after childbirth.

Interestingly, you might initially see a boost to your performance while pregnant, as your body adapts to provide for both you and your growing baby.

As one physiotherapist who works with elite athletes explained to the Telegraph in 2018, pregnancy can:

  • Increase blood volume and red blood cell mass
  • Increase cardiac output from week five by between 20 and 50%
  • Enlarge all four chambers of the heart – in particular, the left ventricle can be as much as 50% bigger in the third trimester.

That said, you still need to be careful with your body, both during pregnancy and after. For example, the body produces a hormone called “relaxin” when pregnant, which helps relax muscles and tendons to prepare for childbirth.

Relaxin can remain in the body for up to a year, meaning it’s important to be careful with muscles and tendons when returning to activities such as lifting weights.

Birth itself is also massively demanding, and could affect your ability to play sport – indeed, it’s well-known that Serena Williams almost died when having her daughter in 2017, and was bed-bound for nearly six weeks afterwards.

With this all in mind, it’s clearly key to take your time as you return to sport. Listen to your body and the advice of your club’s medical team, and try to resist the urge to push yourself to get back to full fitness as soon as possible.

You’ll need a plan for your finances when taking time out to have a child

Another area that may need careful consideration is how pregnancy could affect you financially.

Although it seems unthinkable now, it was previously not compulsory for English clubs to offer maternity leave to players, even as late as at the start of 2022.

Fortunately, the FA changed these rules with the agreement of clubs in February 2022. Now, players in the Women’s Super League and Championship will be entitled to full wages for the first 14 weeks of maternity leave, and then move to the statutory rate.

There’s no minimum amount of time you must be at a club before you become entitled to leave, either.

Everton winger Toni Duggan became the first England player in the Women’s Super League to take maternity leave, the Independent reported in November.

While maternity leave will certainly help provide you with an income, you still need to make sure you’re prepared for the financial burden that comes with parenthood.

As of 2023/24, Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks, and offers you:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £172.48 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

This might represent a significant fall in your earnings, meaning it’s crucial to plan for having a child and being off work for a period.

Whether that means setting money aside before you start your family that you’ll live on during maternity leave, or planning to return to training within a year, remember to factor in the financial impact that pregnancy and childbirth can have.

Get in touch

Whether you’re thinking about starting a family or simply looking to organise your wealth for the future, we can help.

At ProSport, we’re experts in helping professional footballers like you to make the most of your money.

Email or call 01204 602909 to find out more.

Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.