By Kirstin D
Girls are less likely to participate in sport/recreation/leisure (SRL) activities than boys. Why are girls not participating and how is it affecting their development? Throughout history females have been pushing to have equal opportunities in SRL as their male peers. In today’s western society women have almost the same opportunities for SRL as males do, yet why are they not participating?
I think that there are many factors to why girls are not participating such as: how programs are set up, sport being seen as masculine, and lacks female role models. Programs might not incorporate the right social aspects for girls to stay interested. Society still believes that girls must act a certain way to be feminine. Unfortunately for girls, sports are seen as masculine and aggressive, some girls do not want to be perceived as the “Tom Boy”. Anderson, Clark, Evans, and Schmalz (2014) support this idea of male dominated activities:
“In both, the all women environment has received attention for providing a positive environment in which women can learn more comfortably and more fully participate, particularly in disciplines and activities traditionally dominated by men.” (p. 10)
Also, through puberty, girls may become less likely to want to participate because they have not become comfortable with their bodies.
How can we make girls more comfortable and continue their participation in SRL activities? I think that having a female coach/leader would help girls continue to participate in SRL. Men are more likely to coach a women’s team than a woman is. If a woman coached the female programs, they could help the girls become more comfortable by being able to relate to them. Having caring adults is important, but it is also important to have someone they can relate to. For example, by giving the female youth a female role model, it could keep them interested.
Having a female role model could help female youth who are going through puberty overcome these barriers. I am not saying males cannot coach female participants, but for those who are experiencing breast development or puberty it might help having a female who can relate and encourage them to participate. Burnett, White, & Scurr found that:
“The breast was reported as a barrier to physical activity participation in 17% of women, and it was identified as the fourth largest barrier to physical activity ahead of previously identified factors such as cost and lack of facilities.” (p. 592)
If we want female youth to keep participating we need to find ways they do not become embarrassed, discouraged, uninterested, and uncomfortable. If having a female leader helps the female youth realize that there is nothing to be embarrassed about and this leads to them continuing to participate, then why not?
For female programs there needs to be a focus on the value of social relationships. Male coaches who are not used to coaching female programs might not be focusing on this idea. The professionals can implement this idea by allowing time either before or after the practice for girls to socialize with their peers. If it is a co-ed program, take note of which girls are friends and place them on the same teams. During my time coaching a co-ed JR basketball team, it was easy to pick out the girls who were friends. They would always be in a close group, they were each other’s support network. These girls were more comfortable together as a unit than separated. Female youth may be more likely to participate when they are with their friends because they feel more comfortable. Anderson et al., (2014) found that:
“In this study, multiple students referenced the camaraderie they experienced in their hunting class and the friendships they formed around their common interest of hunting. Two goals of leisure education are to improve students’ ability to engage in social interaction and to overcome constraints.” (p. 10)
These women who had the chance to develop relationships with the other female participation and had a comfortable learning environment were able to overcome the constraints that led them to not participate.
These are only a couple of ways to increase or keep female youth participating in SRL activities. There are many factors to why female participation is lower than males (media, stereotypes, norms, etc.,). Providing female participants the opportunity to learn the activity freely and comfortably they are given the skills to be able to continue participation. SRL professionals need to know what is important for female youths to keep them participating. Female youth participation in SRL is extremely important because they have the opportunity to access the potential benefits of SRL to develop into fully functioning adults. Programs that value positive peer relationships, make youth feel comfortable, give them a sense of belonging, and have caring adults who can relate to the youth could help increase participation numbers of female youth.
Anderson, D. M., Clark, B. S., Evans, K. E., & Schmalz, D. L. (2014). “I Didn’t Want to Look Stupid”: Exploring the Impact of an All-Women Leisure Education Class. Journal Of Park & Recreation Administration, 32(3), 1-14.
Burnett, E., White, J., & Scurr, J. (2015). The Influence of the Breast on Physical Activity Participation in Females. Journal Of Physical Activity & Health, 12(4), 588-594.