Supporting girls’ participation in sport

Girls' participation in sport

‘We need to get girls on the pitch, but we need to get girls to stay on the pitch.’ That’s the message behind the Kick On football initiative promoted by Starling Bank and its ambassador Jill Scott MBE, the former England footballer. Though nearly half of girls aged 11–16 play football, they are three times more likely than boys to give up the sport, according to research done by the bank. Issues such as bullying, body confidence and school work all hinder girls’ participation and commitment, it says. Meanwhile, a high-profile public campaign – including a petition signed by 150,000 people – was needed to persuade the Nike sportswear brand to make Mary Earps replica goalkeeper shirts available to buy following England’s success in the recent Women’s World Cup. The number of children currently meeting official guidelines on daily physical activity is less than 50%. We need a broad and ambitious long-term public health strategy enabling everyone – young, old and in between – to take part in sport and physical activity and have access to high-quality, inspirational facilities. Schools have a vital role to play.

Starling Bank has launched the second phase of its Kick On football initiative which distributes free kit to girls’ teams to promote participation and equality. The bank says that it is giving away £200,000 worth of kit, equipment and coaching vouchers to grassroots football clubs with girls’ or women’s teams through its partner Gift of Kit.

A survey of 2,000 young people in the UK aged 11–16 commissioned by the bank in July–August 2023 found that:

  • 30% of girls who play football stop playing by the time they reach their late teens (compared to 10% of boys who play)
  • 27% stop due to pressures to do well at school
  • 14% stop because of body image insecurities
  • 8% stop because of bullying
  • 18% stop because they say they do not see a clear career pathway into the sport

The survey also found that almost half (48%) of under-16 girls who have quit the sport say they would keep playing if they could overcome the barriers they face. The bank says that this amounts to an estimated 200,000 girls in the UK. These findings mirror those of a 2022 report from the Women in Sport charity, which stated that nearly half of all girls may be disengaging from sport when they enter their teenage years. The charity referred to them as ‘the lost 43%’.

Rachel Kerrone, brand and marketing director at Starling Bank said: “Our commitment to women’s football at Starling doesn’t stop at getting girls on the pitch, we want to help them stay there. The reality is that the glass ceiling still exists for women and girls in sport and Kick On with Starling Bank is chipping away at the barriers bit by bit.”

For the first time, the kit giveaway will include sports bras, following requests from previous kit recipients. Jill Scott talks about the importance of “seemingly small changes” such as the availability of matching and correctly fitting kit.

Hundreds of thousands of girls have had to give up football, despite wanting to carry on. Any one of them could have been a future Lioness. The surge in girls wanting to play the game is really encouraging, but if we can’t make girls feel welcome on the pitch and keep them playing, it’s game over for the Lionesses’ legacy.

Jill Scott MBE, former Lioness and Starling Bank ambassador

In our recent blog Supporting PE in schools we discussed the need to use high-profile events like the recent women’s football world cup to promote participation in sport and physical activity, in and out of school, as part of a coordinated, ambitious and long-term public-health strategy.

We need to ensure that all children understand the importance of participating in sports and have regular opportunities to take part in physical activity. Not only is it good for them here and now, it will also help them learn habits that will serve them well throughout their lives. This means tackling whatever obstacles, attitudes and biases are directly causing or contributing to a reduction in participation levels.

The image at the head of this article is taken from Starling Bank’s website.

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