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Being active is a natural and important part of childhood. Participating in sports has a far-reaching, long-term positive impact on child development. It’s not just the physical benefits, but also helps to develop key social skills and confidence and boost mental health.
So, what’s going on? Why are girls, in particular, struggling to connect with P.E. in schools?
A study recently released by Youth Sports Trust and Women in Sport shows there's a worrying disconnect with teenage girls and sports.
The findings show that:
Although 80% teenagers understood the importance of exercise,only 56% of girls said that physical activity was an important part of their life - far less than the 72% of boys who agreed.
Confidence is a key issue: 24% of Girls, compared to 12% of boys said feeling unconfident is something that stops them taking part in physical activity.
Competitive P.E. lessons appeal to 70% cent of boys but only 50% of girls.
The study highlights that boys factor physical activity higher in their priorities than girls. How do we start to close the gap? One key priority is to have more visible role models for girls to connect with. Thankfully we’re seeing more prominent female sports teams and competitors on our screens and in the news, but it’s certainly not a level playing field yet. We need more airtime and exposure for female athletes. Getting girls involved in formulating a P.E. programme in schools could also help to increase their engagement in physical activities. The Girls Active programme has begun this process in 200 schools in the U.K. They’ve reached 500,000 girls so far, using leadership and peer marketing to empower girls to influence P.E., sport and physical activity in their schools.
One of the main barriers to girls getting active is fear of judgement. This Girl Can is a great initiative set up to encourage more activity in women in the UK. Their campaign focuses on showing the reality of sports - in all its sweaty, jiggly and red-faced glory - and celebrating this. Challenging traditional ideas of beauty is one important piece of the puzzle. This will be a long burn though. An easy win is to reduce the embarrassment levels in P.E. lessons. One school involved in the Youth Sports Trust Girls Active campaign has changed its P.E. kit for girls - from tight and short ‘skorts’ to simple leggings. This simple and easy to implement change has had an immediate impact.
It's not just about the winning!
We’re not suggesting that girls should not continue to be encouraged to participate in competitive sports. In fact one of the things we could do to get more girls active is to normalise their participation at an early age. In an ideal world, especially in early development years, sports would be gender neutral. However, the report does suggest that one of the barriers to girls enjoying sports at school is the focus on competitive team activities. We need to put more emphasis on and invest in alternative activities that will appeal more to girls such as dance and aerobics. There’s nothing to say that boys wouldn’t benefit from these classes too. And as an added bonus, it's likely that these activities will continue well into adult life.
Ultimately we need a long-term approach to getting more girls engaged with sports. We need to see more female athletes providing great role models, change the way we organise P.E. in schools and tackle the wider issue of body image and self-confidence in young people. It’s great to see that this issue’s been identified and steps being taken to improve the situation. At Barracudas, we’re committed to delivering a varied and fun programme of activities to get all our kids enjoying getting active. We’re glad to see this is being taken seriously elsewhere too.