Loss of Teen Girls from Sport
It is of real concern, the hemorrhaging that we are seeing, of teen girls being lost from sport, at a point when they probably need it the most, from a discipline, structure and belonging perspective.
In the recent report, 'Adolescent Girls Get Active' by Sports Ireland, evidence suggest participation plummets during adolescence with just 7% of girls aged 14-15 years are meeting the recommended physical activity levels. It also states that girls who are active in their teenage years and develop a love of sport are much more likely to establish a life-long relationship with sport and exercise in adulthood. As we know and supported by the research, adolescence is a critical life-stage and these formative years are when attitudes and behaviours are established that shape the women they will become. However, I would argue that this is too narrow a perspective and would argue that the fallout from sport for teen girls is much more complex than this. I am a mother to two girls, one a teen, I am a basketball and athletics coach, so have a front row seat to the complexities of our attrition rate. I see the repetitive adjusting of clothing while playing sport, that becomes less as an older teen. The self-consciousness is almost painful to watch as all you want to do is tell them 'you are amazing, please don't be embarrassed by anything about yourself.'
Looking at similar research from the UK, where it delved more into these facts, shows that 1/3 of girls aged 14-16 are unhappy with their body image. Only 18% of girls aged 11-16 said that they were very happy compared to 38% in 2011. So it is progressing, it isn't improving, why? I would argue that these finding have being made all the worse by the effects of lockdown. We now have not only lost girls for all the reasons prior to the pandemic, we now have probably lost many teens to sport forever, never to return and the negative impacts that this will bring for these teens in adulthood unless we can entice them back into sport. The research from the UK shows that 62% of girls report having the lowest wellbeing compared to boys aged 14 years. the same research shows that 7/10 girls who don't feel god about the way they look will stop themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk and 44% of girls aged 13-15 are overweight/obese compared to 36% of boys. All very concerning statistics.
The Adolescent Girls Get Active Report findings show that teenage girls in Ireland have a narrow, and often negative experience of a small number of traditional and dominant team sports in Ireland, and think that this is all sport. Girls associate 'sportiness' with team and contact sports, so girls who are interested in exercise do not feel targeted with sporting initiatives.
The research established 8 Principles for Success for sporting organisations to engage and connect with teenage girls and to support them to embrace sport and physical activity into their lives.
- No judgment
- Invoke Excitement
- Clear Emotional Reward
- Open eyes to what is there
- Build on existing habits
- Give girls a voice and choice
- Champion what's in it for them
- Expand image of what 'sporty' look like
However, i really feel I need to expand on this. We really need to deal with the elephant in the room, body image, and I am afraid, it isn't a positive body image that I am seeing. Of course, a degree of self-consciousness comes with the early teenage years and puberty. But what I am seeing is almost a paralysis of self-consciousness. It is a healthy dash thrown in, it is much more concerning than that. It is that our teens have had more access to their phones during lockdown? Is it less mixing of teens in those early fundamental years, where you learn maybe how you feel about your body is normal and that you aren't the only one, not totally happy with this body that has taken on a life of its own!
I would add point 9 to the above of promotion of a positive body image, addressing the issues that we can control and help our teens with. I set up Nickeze motivated entirely by both my own experiences with puberty and in particular the onset and early years of my period, dealing with it in a household of 4 boys and no sisters. I was very sporty and for me tampons were a long way off, they were way too scary and not really something that young teens wore in my time. I think we were probably funnily enough, a lot more tuned into the fear of Toxic Shock Syndrome too. And the second motivation being the fact that I was raising girls. Nickeze is all about choice in sanitary protection and never suggest one product over another. But I can't let sport pass without singing the praises of period underwear for sport. For my teen and her friends, I see the confidence and swagger they bring. It gets them over the fear of leaks. As young teens, they tend to overkill with the pad and the period underwear on for good measure on r their heavy days, such is the fear of leaking at school or at sport but they work and if this is the reason for not playing sport, then this is definitely the way to go.
So what do we do to keep our daughters in sport?
Encourage sport, try to be active yourself, get involved, stay on as a spectator, don't let them give us too easily, if they want to give up their sport and they put up a good argument for the reasons why, then say fine, but it has to be replaced by another physical activity. And my final comment would be stop writing those notes to get them off PE unless there is a very good reason why they shouldn't do it that day, maybe they are injured, sick etc., but outside of that, let them do it, they will thank you one day.....
Ellie nickeze.com xx