Estonian women's game taking flight

With the number of registered female players up by 92% since 2011/12, Estonia can be hugely proud of the great strides it has taken in nurturing women's football.

©Estonian FA

The Estonian Football Association (EJL) is a shining best-practice example within the European women's game, with figures in a recent UEFA report showing that in 2015/16, the number of registered female players had reached 1,289 – an increase of 92% since 2011/12.

For the current season, that number had increased again to 1,391 – 591 adults and 800 youth players – with football the most popular participation team sport among girls. In a nation of around 1.3m, that is an impressive figure.

"We are working hard towards wider participation and better quality in women's football," said EJL general secretary Anne Rei. "It is a difficult journey, but thanks to the help of UEFA, we have been able to take big steps forward."

Producing good players requires good coaches, and one of the EJL's key objectives – bolstered by financial assistance from UEFA's Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP) – has been to increase the number of qualified female technicians at all levels.

The association initiated a comprehensive programme of coaching courses, with national team assistant coach Aleksandra Ševoldajeva recently becoming the second woman in Estonia to complete the UEFA PRO course and receive the highest coaching license.

Meanwhile, Estonia's women's U19 assistant coach – former international Kaidi Jekimova – has gained her UEFA A licence, and a drive to involve former senior internationals in the national women's team programme as assistant coaches has brought Imbi Hoop and Maria Sootak into the coaching fold.

In total, 14 Estonian women are also now the proud holders of UEFA B licences, and 15 more – all current or former players – have received C licences.

"We have taken steps to encourage former and current women's national team players to take up coaching," said Rei. "Aleksandra Ševoldajeva, Kaidi Jekimova, Eneli Vals and many others have taken on this responsibility, and are becoming leaders both on and off the field."

In addition, grassroots-level courses have given special training to 145 women PE teachers at primary schools. Education material has been made available to schools and teachers to support their continued development of children after the coaching courses. National youth team assistant coaches are also playing a major role in EJL school projects as instructors within a far-reaching girls' football programme that aims to attract even more Estonian girls to play. 

Clubs in Estonia are also beneficiaries of EJL women's football initiatives, and co-operation is better than ever, thanks to regular co-ordination meetings between women's senior national team coaches, technical directors and club coaches.

The association's women's football education programmes will continue via the club licensing system, which will enable clubs to give technical support to women.

The figures in terms of participation are already impressive, but the EJL's dedicated work with women's football promises continued solid progress in the years to come.