Grassroots football is the heart and soul of the game. For the hundreds of thousands of participants, it is their opportunity to be involved in a sport they are truly passionate about.

In a new feature series, Kick It Out will speak to figureheads and representatives of the grassroots game as they offer their unique thoughts from the amateur and community level.

This month we speak to Paula Wyatt, Women’s and Girls’ Referee Coordinator at Hampshire FA. In the second part of our interview, Paula discusses her hopes for the future of women officials and the importance of role models in refereeing.

Despite the current dearth in women officials in the sport, Paula believes this will soon change for the better thanks to plans that will stretch from the national level all the way down to grassroots.

“I think it’s an exciting time for women’s football with the way the game is growing at the moment. I think things will change with The Football Association in the process of recruiting a Senior Referee Manager for women.

“As soon as that is done and the strategy for the women’s game is launched I think we will see a positive move in the right direction. We’re waiting to see what that looks like and how we can then move forwards as a county and support that.

“At Hampshire FA, we are really trying hard to create inclusive environments for all. It’s not about just doing events for women only – it’s how we can make events 50:50 and have a diverse representation of people within our football environments."

Paula’s county held an event in February that was aimed at encouraging women to consider a career in refereeing. Paula shared her experiences at the event and she hopes the words of wisdom she offered generate interest amongst the attendees.

“The event held last month was an opportunity for me to share my experiences as a senior woman referee in the county and to show people what they can achieve," she explained.

“I think it’s important for women to have role models in football because it gives them something to aspire to and they can see someone who has achieved great things.

“Some of the concerns of the women during the event were around confidence and also the fact that some of them had never played football before, but I was able to be there to tell them and say that I never played football and when I started refereeing. I had no confidence, however, officiating gave me that confidence.

“It’s not only given me belief in football but in the workplace environment as well. I was able to go to them and say your concerns were mine 11 years ago but I’ve come through it and achieved so much.

“Just to see some of their faces brighten up after hearing that it was like they were thinking ‘ok yeah I can do this.’”

Like in all aspects of life, it is essential for people to hear from individuals who they can relate to and Paula reiterated this for women officials.

“There is no better thing for up and coming referees than to learn from women who have been officiating in the game for a long while. We need to share those experiences and share those difficulties that we have faced.

“They will go through the challenges I encountered like the lack of women changing facilities and getting changed in the toilet whilst the men have the dressing room. There are others things as well such as sexist comments and how you deal with that.

“I’ve been there so I can share those experiences. Male colleagues cannot provide those aspects because they can’t relate to it."

Paula believes that sharing experiences and opportunities is crucial to developing the next cohort of women referees.

“I believe it is just about providing opportunities for women and keeping them in the public domain so everyone can see what is happening; because the more women see it, the more interest there will be for people to be involved.

“It’s why I have tried to share quite a bit of my time to share my experiences - so that women can make an informed decision to become a referee, whether your aspirations are at the local level or even to officiate in the Champions League.”

To find out more about Paula's work at the grassroots level, visit Hampshire FA's website.