David Coleman

Girls who play sports have a more pos­i­tive body im­age, an in­creased abil­ity to man­age stress and en­joy a bet­ter mood over­all — but if it’s so ben­e­fi­cial, why do so many girls drop out, asks

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - PSYCHOLOGY -

WHEN we look at pri­mary school chil­dren, we can see that there are equal num­bers of girls and boys play­ing sports. There are many oc­ca­sions within or­gan­i­sa­tions, like the GAA or the FAI, where pri­mary school girls and boys play to­gether on mixed teams.

How­ever, by the time girls reach the age of 14, re­search done by the Women’s Sports Foun­da­tion in the US shows that girls are drop­ping out of sports at twice the rate that boys are drop­ping out. Fur­ther­more, by age 17, over half of all girls will have given up sports.

Re­search car­ried out jointly by the Ir­ish Sports Coun­cil and the ESRI, re­ported on in 2013, showed the same pat­tern of greater dropout by girls, and showed that school sports are more likely to be given up than ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar sports. Girls give up on team sports sooner than they might give up in­di­vid­ual sports like swim­ming or cy­cling.

In­deed, there seems to be a strong gen­der di­vide show­ing that girls are more likely, in the first place, to have been in­volved in in­di­vid­ual sports than in team sports.

We know that par­tic­i­pa­tion in sport is re­ally ben­e­fi­cial for all chil­dren. The 2013 study, re­ferred to above, shows peaks in the dropoff from sports, for girls, in exam years dur­ing se­condary school. Iron­i­cally, though, gen­eral re­search shows that girls who play sports do bet­ter in school. This is prob­a­bly be­cause ex­er­cise im­proves me­mory, con­cen­tra­tion and learn­ing.

We take for granted that play­ing sports is a healthy thing to do, be­cause it im­proves fit­ness and helps to main­tain a healthy weight. But there are hid­den health ben­e­fits too. Girls who play sports are less likely to smoke, for ex­am­ple. Girls who con­tinue to play sports have a re­duced chance of get­ting breast can­cer later in life.

Sports are also a great way to learn about team­work. We know that girls’ groups, or “cliques”, can be dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ments for many young­sters. The skills of team­work that sports pro­vides can cut across some of the more neg­a­tive as­pects of this, as girls learn about prob­lem­solv­ing and work­ing with oth­ers.

Play­ing sport com­pet­i­tively gives girls op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn about goal-set­ting, deal­ing with dis­ap­point­ment and en­joy­ing suc­cess and the feel­ing of achieve­ment.

In this way, it is very linked to an in­crease in self-con­fi­dence in girls. The di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of achieve­ment, al­lied with feel­ing fit, mak­ing friends and be­ing part of a nat­u­ral so­cial group, leave girls who play sport feel­ing bet­ter about them­selves in terms of their self-es­teem. Teenage girls who play sport have a more pos­i­tive body im­age than those who don’t.

A fi­nal ben­e­fit of sport is it’s abil­ity to help girls to deal with pres­sure and stress. Ex­er­cise has long been linked to a more pos­i­tive mood over­all and is a known way to re­lieve stress and help com­bat things like de­pres­sion.

So, if sport is so ben­e­fi­cial then why do so many girls drop out? The Women’s Sports Foun­da­tion has put for­ward sev­eral sug­ges­tions.

Girls have less ac­cess to play sports than boys. If we look at the sports fa­cil­i­ties that are avail­able, they are of­ten pri­ori­tised for boys’ sports, with girls sports hav­ing less time al­lo­cated and at less favourable times of the day.

Linked to this is­sue of ac­ces­si­bil­ity is the phys­i­cal travel in­volved. In the States, where things are more ur­banised, there are con­cerns for many girls that get­ting to the places where their sports are held might in­volve trav­el­ling though un­safe neigh­bour­hoods. This may be less of an is­sue in Ire­land, but lack of pub­lic trans­port, out­side of cities, might be more of a bar­rier here.

So­cial stigma is still a big bar­rier to con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports for girls. There is a per­cep­tion that an ath­letic build is less fem­i­nine. Dis­crim­i­na­tion on the real, or per­ceived, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion of fe­male ath­letes per­sists. The fear of be­ing called “gay” is strong enough to push some girls away from sports.

Girls’ sports are not as well funded as boys’ sports as they get older. This can lead to there be­ing fewer qual­ity, well trained, coaches avail­able. The sta­tus of girls’ sports is lower and, at a gen­eral level, they are not as val­ued in so­ci­ety as boys’ sports. Think in Ire­land of the four main team sports chil­dren play: gaelic foot­ball, rugby, hurl­ing and soc­cer. Then think about the vis­i­bil­ity of the girls’ ver­sions of those sports.

A fi­nal rea­son given for girls drop­ping out of sports is the lack of pos­i­tive role mod­els. Most of the me­dia im­ages of girls and women fo­cus on phys­i­cal beauty, not strong, con­fi­dent, ath­letic women. When there are break­through fe­male ath­letes, like Katie Tay­lor here in Ire­land, it leads to a whole new gen­er­a­tion of girls who can see an al­ter­na­tive sport­ing fu­ture for them­selves.

Keep­ing girls ac­tive in sports then re­quires a com­plex se­ries of tar­geted ini­tia­tives. The role mod­el­ling for play­ing sports can start early and can start at home. There’s no rea­son that girls can’t be en­cour­aged to come out and kick a ball, or play bas­ket­ball, or swing a golf club, with a par­ent join­ing in.

As par­ents, we have to show girls that sports are fun and we have to lead by ex­am­ple, play­ing sports our­selves or hav­ing an in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm for sports, even if only as a spec­ta­tor, coach, or washer of the team kit. We want to give the mes­sage that our daugh­ters play­ing sport is val­ued and sup­ported in this ac­tiv­ity.

While we may have to rely on Govern­ment ini­tia­tives to try to im­prove fa­cil­i­ties for girls’ sports and to in­crease ac­ces­si­bil­ity, we can be­gin to chal­lenge the stereo­types about ath­leti­cism and girls.

If the core mes­sage, which girls re­ceive about sports, is that it is healthy, fun and a great way to make and meet friends, it might counter some of the neg­a­tive views those “cliques” can spread about “girls who play sports”.

We need to in­cor­po­rate pos­i­tive im­ages of fe­male sports stars and to talk about the value of sports, such that our daugh­ters see sports as a nat­u­ral part of their growth and de­vel­op­ment and an op­por­tu­nity to build their self­es­teem and their self-con­fi­dence.

Start­ing next week, I will ad­dress how to achieve some of these goals, and aim to help you un­der­stand and com­mu­ni­cate with your teen daugh­ter in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles. Next week, cliques and their func­tion for teenage girls.

Keep­ing girls in sports re­quires a com­plex se­ries of tar­geted ini­tia­tives

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.