Why football girls are still losing out
Sports psychologist spotlights continuing gender bias
A Perthshire woman has published a research paper analysing gender stereotypes in sport, covering areas such as coaching, media representation and PE education.
Elanor Cormack’s findings are part of her DPsych sport and exercise psychology programme at Glasgow Caledonian University.
Now in the final year of her three-year long professional doctorate, Murthly-based Elanor is on her way to becoming a chartered sports psychologist and runs her own practice, Cormack Psychology.
Football fan Elanor’s interest in the topic started after she joined a local club as a child. However, she was told she could only train with the boys and not play with them in matches.
After collating research and study papers for over six months, Elanor explored how girls are still being held back and put off sport, and how the term “stereotype threat” can affect girls from an early age.
“Partly I think the research was from my experience growing up in a maledominated sporting world,” Elanor said.
“But also with being an auntie to several small children, they have the opportunity I and others didn’t have 30 years ago.
“There is more research looking at adults but I wanted to look at it within youth sports.
“I did a systematic review which is looking at all the available research out there and pulling it in on a specific topic to see what you can learn.
“I looked at the stereotype threat effect, which shows what causes somebody’s performance to drop when they feel they are part of a negative stereotype group.
“So it may be as simple as saying a pass requires masculine qualities, like strength.
“Something as simple as that can lead to a women’s or girl’s performance dropping, and you can see how that spirals into individuals dropping out.
“If somebody underperforms because there is that threat there, you then enjoy it less, you are then less motivated to engage with it, then you will continue to underperform and then you will drop out.
“Coaches and teachers sometimes simply throw out phrases, though most people are not doing it deliberately, they are just not aware.
“It can be something as subtle as a teacher always using a boy to demonstrate a skill.
“Something like that is enough to introduce that stereotype that girls aren’t good enough or that it is not for them.
“The evidence shows children aged six and seven can become aware of those stereotypes and picking up those messages.”
Elanor’s research also found there is still “a huge discrepancy” in gender representation in sports media.
“People are constantly seeing men doing sport and when women are doing it there is significantly lower coverage or the other aspects refer to how they look rather than how they perform,” she added.
“For example, people still see football as a male sport here, but in America that sport is classed as much a female sport – showing it is culturally motivated.
“Even with parents there is tendency to look at their boys that they are going to be good at football but not with girls.
“For me a lot of it is helping people understand the impact around what someone might say.
“My research is to try and understand what is happening so that people can then make changes to that, so that any child can play whatever sport appeals to them.”