Rachel Yankey Hopes To Inspire Next Generation Of Women’s Footballers

Ahead of England’s Women’s World Cup semi-final against hosts Australia today, former Lioness Rachel Yankey has been sharing her personal experiences with Nuffield Health, the Official Health and Wellbeing Partner of the England Teams, of the barriers she experienced when starting her football career, to inspire the next generation to be more engaged with physical activity.


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Rachel’s earliest memories of playing football were met with restrictions, which forced her to take drastic measures to take part. 


“For me it started in school, playing in the playground and being with the boys because it was the boys who played. In primary school I don’t think there was any other girl who played football,” she said.


“After this, I wanted to join a team, so I followed my two friends that lived across the road to a local team in South Kilburn Estate, where I cut my hair off and called myself Ray.” 


Although accessibility to sport and physical activity has increased for young girls, participation rates are still lower compared to young boys. Recent findings unveiled by the healthcare charity revealed that almost one in five (17%) young girls say they don’t like PE in school and a further 44% of parents have also admitted to making an excuse to get their daughters out of PE lessons.


This has highlighted additional barriers facing women and young girls when it comes to physical activity, including enjoyment, confidence, safety and variation. Rachel firmly believes enjoyment plays a huge role in terms of engagement for sport, stating: “I think that sport, whichever sport you play, if you haven’t got a smile on your face when you’re doing it, then there’s a problem.


“I think you want to get out there, you want to just have fun. It doesn’t matter whether you kick the ball and you do it wrong. If you keep practising, and practising, at some point, you’ll find the right ways to do things.” 


Alongside this, the former England representative shared how sport helped her to develop a wealth of fundamental life skills, further cementing the mental and physical health benefits involvement with sport can bring.


“Personally, I’ve learned so much about me through the skills that I’ve learned through football. So, if you took away actually playing football, you have this confidence to go and speak to people, to be able to problem solve really quickly, to go and actually try and do different things, to work within a group of people that you may not know. All those things come through playing football.”


With the next generation of England currently in the spotlight due to the summer of sport, Rachel firmly believes that these statistics can be changed, and that the current team of women’s footballers are providing a positive role model to help shift the dial. 


“I don’t think I really understood the role that you play as a footballer, in terms of how much you can impact people outside, and the amount of people that have told me that I was one of the first footballers that they related to, people saying that they loved the way that I play football, the fact that I was a woman playing football, the fact that the colour of my skin, the way I wore my hair, all these different things that resonated with different people that I just didn’t know, for me, I was just playing football. 


“I think now when I look at this England team, and these players that are here now, they understand their power. They understand what they can give to the next generation, what they can give to anybody actually watching and they’re trying to push and break barriers, and that, I think, is really something to be proud of.” 


To help combat the barriers young girls are facing, Rachel has showed support for Nuffield Health’s new Move Together initiative – a programme designed to get more 11–16-year-old girls moving and engaged with physical activity.


Move Together is hosted in local parks and community venues and run by Nuffield Health fitness instructors in the local community. The specially designed free classes will build girls’ strength, confidence and get them moving in a safe and secure environment.


Nuffield Health’s partnership with The Football Association is founded in their shared ambition to improve the health and wellbeing of the nation. Nuffield Health’s Move Together initiative further cements its dedication to improving physical and mental health and encouraging healthy habits from a young age.


In partnership with The FA, Nuffield Health has also co-created a grassroots initiative as part of The FA’s “The Greater Game” programme.


For more information, visit





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