Sue Watts has spent the past decade turning The Glennie School in Toowoomba into a football-friendly institution.
The 52-year-old Physical Education teacher, who grew up in England and moved to Australia in 2008, believes futsal has been the key to recruiting new students to the sport.
“When I started coaching here at Glennie, I realised we needed to lift the profile of football,” explained Watts.
“We were a one-team school with an average turnout, getting flogged every week. I thought we could do a lot better, so I introduced a Term 1 Schools Futsal competition.”
What began as a small tournament with a couple of teams is now a 36-team extravaganza with roughly 350 participants from eight schools in the Darling Downs region. The Glennie School fields 14 teams alone.
“I’ve been running the Term 1 comp for about eight years now,” said Watts. “We are at capacity and have been at capacity for the past four years, so there’s a real need for it.
“It became really popular because it appeals to social, intermediate and advanced players. Students can play at whatever level they feel comfortable in.
“It’s been really good for our boarders. Our new boarders – Grade 7s who have never been away from home – can enrol in the futsal comp and they make friends, they get to socialise with boarders from other schools and, more importantly, they end up playing football!”
Watts is adamant that futsal is a terrific entry point for new players to learn the fundamentals of the game before transitioning to 11-a-side football.
“Futsal has definitely facilitated our outdoor program,” said Watts. “Pre-COVID, football was one of our highest participation sports at Glennie. It even trumped netball at one point.
“I use futsal as pre-season fitness for my opens team. It’s skill-based and it’s fun; we crank up the music and it’s just a great vibe.”
Watts is a ball of energy, spending up to ten hours per week organising the futsal and football activities in between her roles as a full-time PE teacher and Head of House.
While the workload can be taxing, Watts says she is motivated to provide her students opportunities that she never had.
“I grew up in the UK where unfortunately, at my particular school, girls were not allowed to play football, so I didn’t get the opportunity to play until I went to university,” she said.
“But I did my coaching courses at university and in the USA where I lived for six years, and I’ve run football programs in all of the schools I’ve taught at in the UK and the States.
“That’s been my journey, really, just promoting football in schools and building numbers.”
The growth of the round ball game has resulted in The Clive Berghofer Sports Centre at The Glennie School built with futsal as a prime tenant.
The three-court Sports Centre also hosts the Girls Term 4 Futsal competition, run by Football Queensland.
“I’d like to say that Glennie has become the school of consultation for everything football for girls in this region,” said Watts, who works closely with the local National Premier Leagues Queensland side, SWQ Thunder.
“We link very well with Thunder, and I think we provide a pathway for girls coming into this region from rural areas.
“They come into Toowoomba to play for Thunder, and I meet with the parents and give them a tour of the school. I’d like to think that Glennie becomes their community away from home.
“I also work closely with Toowoomba Grammar School, our region’s leading Boy’s football school, offering opportunities to sisters of newly enrolled boys.
“We have an excellent relationship and a highlight in our football calendar is our annual Glennie versus Grammar charity football match, which of course our girls always win!”
Watts believes football is forging a family environment within the school, helping girls of all ages create connections with one another.
One of the most rewarding experiences as a teacher was witnessing a student with Down Syndrome progress from learning the basics of the sport in Year 7 to leading her team in Year 12.
“In Grade 8, she said, ‘I’m going to be futsal captain’,” recalled Watts. “And sure enough, before she graduated last year, she was futsal co-captain.”
Creating an inclusive environment is paramount for Watts, who also helps FQ South West organise Term 2 and Term 3 girls’ competitions.
“My football girls are a family; the Year 12s look out for those new Year 7s who gravitate to football,” said Watts.
“My captain last year probably left me with the best quote. She said, ‘we started the year as a team, and we ended the year as a family’.”
To find a futsal club in your area, click here.
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