Female Youth Participation in Recreation, Sport, and Leisure Activities

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.


About Kirstin Duffley

This entry was posted in Gender, Positive Youth Development, Sport and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Female Youth Participation in Recreation, Sport, and Leisure Activities

  1. kaylapainter12 says:

    I think you delivered some interesting information, that definitely relates to female youth participation in sport, recreation and leisure. As you mentioned, there are so many different factors as to why females have a hard time wanting to participate in sport, recreation and leisure and I think that you did a great job pointing those out.

    There are a lot of girls who aren’t comfortable participating in sport, recreation and leisure activities and this made me think back to high school. In high school, I had a few girls in my class who didn’t want to participate in gym class because they were too nervous to be made fun of, because they weren’t the most athletic girls. They would avoid coming to class, instead they would hide out in the bathroom and hope the teacher wouldn’t come looking for them. It’s a shame to see girls having to deal with this because they are afraid to participate due to the reactions they may get from classmates. That year, we ended up dividing the class into two groups and the more athletic group would work together, and the less experienced would work together and in my opinion I think this was a good idea, that way everyone was comfortable participating in any activities.

    Also, you mentioned that girls don’t want to be seen as “tom boys” and this takes away from many females wanting to participate as well because they will get made fun of for being good at something. I believe that if you are good at something you should be comfortable enough to enjoy playing that sport, and others should motivate you to continue to do well.

    Great Post!

    Kayla P.

  2. amurchi1 says:

    Nice Article!!
    I too have felt the pressures of being a female athlete. Growing up in a family that was heavily influenced on swimming. With swimming came broad shoulder, although I focused on synchronized swimming I still had bigger shoulders than my peers. It does come to light when you take a young female athlete shopping and clothes are not fitting her properly due to the fabric of the shirt. It does get discouraging as an athlete to work so hard at a sport then to not fit in at school because you have to wear clothes sizes too big. Yes you can have the relationships with other teammates, but there comes a point where you need the self esteem to back yourself up.

    What kept many of our athletes in this sport is that you have the opportunity to choose what you want to swim, whether you want to swim alone, in a duo, or in a group. This allows athletes the opportunity to grow in different parts of their social skills and grow as an individual.


    Organizations such as the one in the link above focus on women in sport, allowing young athletes to reach out to experienced women on expertise. Growing up in small New Brunswick it is very uncommon to know a successful athlete this would be a great tool to add in our programs? Just something to think about.

  3. danielleunb says:

    This was an interesting read for me. I say that because as an athlete I can’t say I have ever felt pressure in participating in sport, nor have a felt looked down upon, or too masculine. With that being said that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with you. There are many girls, especially girls around the age of puberty, who don’t want to participate in sport, I have seen many examples of that in middle school gym classes. Thankfully, I was not one of those girls. I have been heavily involved in aspects of physical activity and sports that could have a strong male lead in society for as long as I can remember, like hockey and rugby for example. I didn’t ever feel pressure to only show my ‘girly’ side, I grew up digging in the dirt with my brothers as a child so maybe how I grew and the experiences of my childhood as influenced this aspect of my life. It’s interesting to read this post and feel quite the opposite way from my personal experiences. I am glad that I didn’t feel pressure being a female who participated in sport and physical activity. It really is important that as a society we address these issues and help make sport and recreational pursuits as gender inclusive as possible.
    Great post Kirstin

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