The First Kicks Soccer Academy run by the Irish Football Association (IFA) in association with lead sponsor Dale Farm has been described as a "fantastic opportunity for young girls to be introduced to football" by national women's coach Alfie Wylie.
The academy, now in its third year, aims to promote basic football skills among girls aged between six and 11. Overseen by a team of fully qualified female coaches, it provides a non-competitive playing environment for participants, with the chief emphasis on fun.
IFA women's football assistant Jackie Blyth said of the scheme: "The academy has been very successful and continues to grow every year. I coordinate and coach at the local academies in Belfast. Each centre has two female coaches, but we also have a host of volunteers that we mentor. This allows them to do their coaching hours towards their level one coaching badge."
The IFA Dale Farm First Kicks Soccer Academy operates during the school term, giving girls the opportunity to work on and develop their skills. Wylie praised the programme, saying: "The academy gives girls a taste of football for life. Introducing them to the game early on means they establish all the good habits from a healthy sporting lifestyle as well as learning new skills.
"Although the stress is on fun and new friendships, it also provides the path for these girls to progress to domestic and international football." The academy is another example of the growth of the women's game in Northern Ireland as the IFA encourages more girls to get involved.