Despite the growing support for women’s teams in many of today’s major sporting events, female participation in sports remains at a rather low rate.
According to a presentation by Eileen Shaler hosted on Table Tennis England, the involvement of boys and girls in sports is virtually identical in their early childhood, but the participation of girls in sporting activities experiences a sharp decline towards adolescence.
The reasons behind this vary. Brooke de Lench MomsTeam explains that some of these reasons actually rely on how society views sports in general. Many girls grow up thinking that sports are unfeminine, and that engaging in sports will make them less acceptable to their peers. Girls also have very limited access to information about other females participating in sports, and this severely hampers their potential.
However, a growing social media trend may soon see this mindset changing. The #ActiveGirls trend on Twitter has been in the making for years, seeking not just to bring more exposure to girls who participate in sports that have long been deemed as “only for boys”, but also provide girls with more choices for participating in sports. It also encourages many of the millions of active girls on the internet to use their social media presence to help promote healthy physical activity to others their age who may be discouraged by their peers and the media.
The most important part of the #ActiveGirls campaign, however, is that it reminds parents to let their children be children. Oftentimes, many girls drop out of sports because they do not receive the support they need from their families. As Brooke de Lench writes, “the primary place where girls learn about gender roles is the family. Families still tend to engage, perhaps unconsciously, in gender stereotyping, conveying to girls the message that girls are inherently less athletic than boys, and that sports are less important for girls than they are for boys.” Lisa Dwyer Hogg of Tootsa MacGinty echoes the sentiment, saying, “As the adults in the equation, it is important for us to remember just how much influence our decisions have. So, next time we are buying a toy, or suggesting an activity for the girls in our lives, lets be sure we are not unconsciously limiting their options.”
Parents often don’t realize that their opinions of sports can have such a large effect on the psyche of a child. Consider the question, “Should Girls Play Boys’ Sports?”, which has been on Debate.org for years. While it reveals a whopping 76% of participants in favor of allowing girls to play “boys’ sports”, the fact that the notion of “boys’ sports” even exists is discouraging. Many of the respondents against the idea of allowing girls to play boys’ sports are parents who are simply concerned for their children’s safety. Unfortunately, this concern can serve to limit the potential of their kids significantly.
It’s not just about limiting potential, either. Stopping little girls from engaging in sports has also had dire consequences on their health, with one in three girls in America being overweight or obese. Thankfully, many campaigns such as the Play Like a Girl foundation’s efforts to introduce light sporting activities to little girls have given parents the option to slowly reintroduce sports to their lifestyles. The solutions they propose are much more real and easy to accomplish: “How about girl-friendly nutrition education and regular, structured physical activity right at a school or local church? What about walking and bike clubs right in girls’ backyards or local parks? And, how about tennis lessons at the nearby recreation center?”
With social media campaigns like the #ActiveGirls trend and organizations like Play Like a Girl, the way we view sports may soon be changing. The simplicity of the campaigns and their accessibility mean that not just girls, but their parents can sooner realize the benefits of engaging in sports, even as adolescents. Hopefully, as the campaigns continue to grow, we’ll see the notion of “boys’ sports” and “unfeminine sports” begin to fade.
Written by The Kid at Heart and Soul