Kelly Smith, Arsenal Ladies, English lionesses, Women's Football

Do Dads Encourage Their Daughters as Much as Their Sons?

I like to think I’m pretty good at encouraging my daughter to explore the world away from traditional gender stereotypes – but a recent survey about dads & daughters got me thinking. It seemed to indicate that fathers treated daughters significantly differently to sons – when it came to Football.

It found that dads are less likely to play football with their daughters, or even watch it with them compared to sons. Only 1% of fathers surveyed think their daughters would pick a career as a footballer, if given the choice. It also found that “fathers are far more likely to spend time playing computer games or tablets indoors with their daughters than go outside for a kick about”. Sounds familiar…

Dads and Daughters: Kelly and Bernard Smiths story

Women’s football is getting more and more attention, and the story of Kelly Smith and her father Bernard (pictured) is pretty inspirational. In the female game, Kelly is England’s all-time top goal scorer and six-time Women’s FA Cup winner (with Arsenal Ladies).

While her success is immensely impressive, the part of her story that touched me more than that was her relationship with her father.

Kelly cites her dad as the key influence that inspired her career, but they both also speak of the strength of their relationship that emerged during his encouragement that began in her youth.

Whether she had gone on to footballing success or something else, it seems clear that this bond would have been fundamentally important in whatever Kelly opted to achieve in her life.

While any English dad would surely cry like Bernard did at the sight of seeing his daughter in her England kit, singing the national anthem, on her international sporting debut, we would likely be just as teary over their success at anything we had supported them to work towards in their lives.

So, do dads encourage their daughters as much as sons?

There are no simple answers to this. I am not a fervent football supporter, so it is unsurprising that I haven’t been proactive in this respect. But it was the gender split that got me. I only have a daughter, so it’s a tricky one for me to answer myself – so when I see a poll like this, I wonder.

Football is such a big part of British life, that it is pretty inescapable. My daughter has watched a few internationals on TV with me – but it has been more about me watching it while I am looking after her as opposed to me introducing it to her.

And the issue is that while she is already learning football at nursery, she has only seen men playing it as adults – whether her sports teacher or on TV. She has yet to make reference to this, but I’m sure she will have noticed.

This isn’t about pushing her into a career in football. I simply don’t want her to dismiss football – or any other activity – as something that only males do.

I shouldn’t just rely on sharing my passions with her, but encourage her to explore areas outside my broad interests too. As this survey suggests, I AM more likely to do something indoors with her than go outside for a kick-about or similar.

So if I don’t want her to dismiss a career in STEM or other male dominated fields, I should probably introduce her to the Women’s Football game – so she understands that nothing is off limits to her because she’s a girl.


This is a collaborative post with SSE Energy, who are sponsors of The Women’s FA Cup and the FA SSE Girls’ Football Participation Programme. They commissioned the OnePoll survey referenced in this piece.

Find out more about Kelly in the video below, and read more of her story here.


6 thoughts on “Do Dads Encourage Their Daughters as Much as Their Sons?”

  1. Tricky one this. I have two daughters. One is more into football than the other. For me, play is all about getting outside and dirty. I do encourage this kind of thing. There is a bigger issue at play here. I recently wrote about how school uniforms for girls do nothing to encourage outdoors, physical play. I think there is something in this research, but it requires a lot more study and we must take a very good, long hard look why we don’t encourage girls to play hard, physical sports like football or rugby.

    1. I’m sure you do, and my reflection is that I am falling short of other parents in this respect – whether it’s because I have a daughter is another matter. It’s more to do with me being more of a couch potato. I agree it needs to be looked into on a wider scale, as that is where we would see a gender bias if one exists.

  2. Interesting thoughts.
    I have boys and a girl and there is a difference between what we play. My Miss5 isn’t that keen on playing football, it bores her. However throwing and catching she loves (I’m thinking Women’s International Cricket star). The boys love football. Which seems obvious, but they’ve not got it from me, as I care not for Kickyball.
    Engaging Miss5 in outside sports is definately harder, than the boys. She feels the cold more, doesn’t like the rain, just looks at me like I’m idiot when I suggest bad weather play. Whereas the boys are straight out. But I think that is more a failing of me than her.
    Your article has reminded me that I need to put some more effort into outside play with her. I need to find something she does love to do, and do that. Thanks.

  3. Some of these results really surprised me. As a dad who’s pretty open to letting his daughter try anything, it surprised me that some dads are a lot more of the view that “she’s a girl so won’t like ‘boy’ stuff”. I guess it’s not unexpected, but just strange when you see it in figures. I think you’ve got the right approach in how you say you’re going about parenting 🙂

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