Playing catch-up: Schools have a crucial role in efforts to reignite girls’ interest in sport

A report published by the Women in Sport charity this week suggests that more than half of all teenage girls do not regard themselves as sporty. Another deflating statistic is that only 31% of girls said that their father encourages them to be sporty, compared to 50% of boys (the equivalent for the mother was 48% for both girls and boys). Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport, has spoken of a generation of girls being failed by “early years stereotyping, inadequate opportunities and a complete dearth of knowledge about managing female puberty.” What is particularly alarming is that only 25% of those surveyed (boys and girls) said that school encourages and supports them to be active. Schools have a crucial role to play in encouraging participation and in providing frequent and high-quality opportunities for young people to take part in physical activity, including individual, team-based and competitive sports and games.

The Women in Sport report, based on a survey of 4,000 teenagers, indicated that 43% of teenage girls used to be sporty but no longer consider themselves so and that 15% have never been sporty. Only 42% still describe themselves as sporty.

The report suggests a number of reasons why there is such an alarming drop-off in the number of girls participating in and enjoying sport when they enter their teenage years. High up on the list is worry about periods: even 64% of enthusiastic participants said that they avoid sport during their period. For those who have fallen out of love with sport, lack of self-belief and worries about being judged are also key factors: ‘Don’t like being watched’, ‘Feeling judged by others’, ‘Not confident’ and ‘Don’t feel good enough’ are all cited by over half of these girls.

The report offers eight ‘principles of success’ to encourage teenage girls to participate in sport. One of these is ‘No judgement’ — taking the focus and pressure off performance and simply encouraging girls to play.

Following the publication of the report this letter appeared in the Guardian newspaper:

One of the biggest barriers to girls taking part in sport is that so much of it is competitive. If the aim is fitness and good health, then the focus needs to change. Many girls hate getting cold, having to wear revealing or ugly sportswear and not having privacy in changing rooms. Many prefer cooperative rather than competitive activities. So let’s fix that and introduce dancing, yoga, tai chi, long walks, climbing, sailing and group challenges. And let those who want to compete get on with it. I remember on one school journey the girls all succeeding in group challenges while the boys fell out with each other and sulked. “Because,” as one girl said, “they all want to be boss.”

A letter published in the print edition of the Guardian on 8 March 2022

The Youth Sport Trust says that it seeks to find ways to ensure that physical education (PE), sport and physical activity are “relevant, motivating and accessible for girls”. In response to a two-year research project it launched a Girls Active campaign to support schools and address body image issues and negative attitudes to sport and physical activity.

Its six principles include putting the development of self-confidence at the heart of PE, making PE and sport more relevant to girls’ lives, recognising the power of friends to drive progress, developing role models and empowering girls to design and deliver PE and sport.

Meanwhile, This Girl Can — our nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability — was developed by Sport England to promote sport amongst women. The first TV ad was aired in January 2015.

This Girl Can believes that there’s no right way to get active – if it gets your heart rate up, it counts. And we want more women to find what’s right for them.

The campaign celebrates active women who are doing their thing no matter how they look, how well they do it or how sweaty they get. We want to challenge the conventional idea of what exercise looks like and reach out to women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who feel left behind by traditional exercise.

In doing so, we’re aiming to inspire more women and girls to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement, time, money and energy are barriers that can be overcome.

from the This Girl Can page of the Sport England website

Women in Sport Website

Girls Active Webpage

This Girl Can Website

Image at the head of this article by Federico Ghedini from Pixabay.

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