by Paige H.
Growing up in a small town, there was NOTHING else to do but play sports. All of my friends played sports. My parents had never had the opportunity to participate in organized sport, so they really pushed it on my sister and I as soon as we were old enough to register. We were registered in everything and anything going, and travelling to the nearest city, 45 minutes away for some of our activities. By the time we hit high school, we had settled on three sports each.
My town has a population of about 1,500 people. It seemed like everybody and their dog played summer soccer or elementary school level basketball. Once we hit the local high school, for grade 7, it seemed as if nobody was playing anymore. The same girls that I had always played with throughout elementary school were no longer interested in playing sports. At the time this struck me so odd, like what else are you going to do with your time if you aren’t at practice or a game several nights a week? What do you do with all your free time on the weekends if you’re not traveling away for a tournament or fundraising for your own? I mean don’t get me wrong, we still had lives outside of sport, but the girls that we had always played with were the girls who made our friend group so it was a major change.
As my high school years passed by, even fewer girls were coming to tryouts, so much so that if you showed up for tryouts you basically made the team. In my grade 11 basketball season, there were no returning grade 12 senior players, and only myself and one other girl playing in grade 11. They had to bump up the JV team to varsity level so that she and I had a team to play on. “Playing up” was a popular thing at my high school, as there were never enough girls for a full team, so we always had to bump up the younger girls to fill in the spots. The girls that I played soccer with in the fall were the girls that were on the basketball team and made up the volleyball team as well. There really weren’t any other girls that came into the mix and the core 12 of us made up the girls varsity athletics at my high school.
Youth dropping out of sport isn’t just happening in rural New Brunswick towns, but rather it’s a widespread phenomenon. The rates for youth drop from sport out are higher amongst girls than boys. Why is this happening?
There are a few reasons why, including a combination of lack of opportunity, lack of peer group support and lack of encouragement that causes girls to drop out of sports at a rate that is almost two times greater than boys. That being said, athletic participation benefits girls just as much as it does boys. Some of these benefits include increased self-esteem, developing positive social networks, and competency. Across all ages, boys are more likely to participate in sports than girls, and girls’ participation rates decrease at a far more rapid rate than boys do. But why is this happening? Young people tend to discontinue their involvement in sports for one of two major reasons (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). The first is interest in and conflicts with other activities. There is only so much time in a day for these kids, and they may be broadening their horizons and contributing to their leisure repertoire by participating in other activities. The other major category focuses on the negative and overly professionalized qualities of organized youth sports programs. Some of the reasons include lack of playing time, lack of success, little skill improvement, high pressure to perform or win, dislike of the coach and lack of fun (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). These reasons are not gender specific though; girls specifically stated reasons including losing interest, lack of competence, insufficient time, crossing traditional gender boundaries, appearing “butch” or too “masculine”, and how their bodies look in the uniform of that particular sport (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). Out of the reasons mentioned, the one that I found to be most interesting was how their bodies looked in a certain uniform. Keep in mind that the average drop out rate for girls among sport aligns with the typical age of the peak of puberty, where they are undergoing major body changes and may not be comfortable with how their body is.
Coming from a small town, I understand lack of opportunities and how that can become a major barrier for children and adolescents as they potentially further their time in sports. There were no girls hockey teams in my area, although there are/were SO many boys teams, no middle level (grade 7&8) girls rugby teams and etc. The intimidation of having to “play up” could have been a factor for many, and there being very few understanding female coaches or role models to look up to. Not every situation is like the ones I’ve seen or come from, but obviously this is a piece to a much larger puzzle that is affecting youth girls in sport participation today.
Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (January, 2010). “Uncool to do sport”: A focus group study of adolescent girls’ reasons for withdrawing from physical activity. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 11, 6, 619-626.