10 facts about girls and sport
Women's sports are finally being taken more seriously in Ireland - but there are still numerous barriers to participation. Our reporter looks at new research that investigates the experiences of women, teenage girls and their parents in the field of sport
Playing organised sports can help girls do better off the field as well as on. Katie Byrne looks at 10 facts - from barriers to benefits - concerning women in sport.
1 STRONG BODY, STRONG MIND
Women and girls who play sport are significantly more likely to report a higher score for mental well-being. According to the report, 63pc of girls who play sport say they rarely feel depressed, compared to 40pc of girls who don't play sport.Women and girls that play sports are also more likely to feel happy on a daily basis, and less likely to feel lonely and bored.
"Researchers have found that people who engage in physical activity and sport have higher self-esteem, and this plays a particularly powerful role in strengthening physical self-worth,'' says sport psychologist Dr Ciara Losty. "There is a substantial body of literature demonstrating the fundamental importance of social connectedness for healthy child and adolescent development, and sport offers a popular and engaging setting for these positive interactions to occur. In simple terms, sport is a healthy and positive way for adolescents to spend their free time."
2 BOUNCING BACK
Women who play sport rate their ability to cope with pressure higher than those who don't play sport. Meanwhile, 47pc of mothers and 35pc of fathers believe that sport teaches children to cope with failure. "Sport teaches us lots of transferable life skills," says Dr Ciara Losty. "This can happen really well if girls have meaningful interactions with supportive coaches and coaches seize teachable moments to transfer life skills such as taking responsibility for your own performance. If you are coached and supported well by family and parents, playing sports can provide parents with opportunities to maintain communication with their children, and provide opportunities for children to make decisions and choices, such as coping with success and failures, managing thoughts and emotions, time management and work and excel within a team environment. These are skills that will serve us in every area of our life."
3 TACKLING BODY CONFIDENCE
Girls who play sport report significantly higher body confidence, while women that don't play sport report higher incidences of pressure to look a certain way. Says Lyn Savage, national development officer at the Ladies Gaelic Football Association. "We're beginning to see that there is no one-size-fits-all for any sport. When you look at any team, there are all different shapes and sizes so who is to say which one conforms?"
4 PRIDE & ACCOMPLISHMENT
Women who play sport are more likely to experience a sense of pride, with 25pc of the women who play sport saying they feel proud on a monthly basis, compared to 13pc of women who don't play sport. Lyn Savage points out that this pride doesn't always have to be derived from scoring points or winning matches. "In most cases, you are playing for your community, and that alone brings pride," she says. "Also, coaches are beginning to realise that women want one-on-one feedback. They need to know what they are doing well and what they are not doing well. Nowadays, most coaches are aware that every single girl who walks out those doors leaves with a sense of pride that they have achieved something."
5 A SENSE OF BELONGING
For close to half of girls, the fact that their friends were no longer playing was a reason for quitting. Meanwhile, girls who participate in sport rate their sense of belonging highly. "If there wasn't a social element, a lot of girls wouldn't stay with it," says Lyn Savage. "It's fundamentally a pastime, when we lose touch with that, we lose the sport. Girls who play sport are surrounded by other girls with a common interest, and there is always someone to fall back on and these really strong, lifelong friendships come out of it. I know myself that my closest friends now are girls I played sport with." She also points to the importance of accountability partners. "When a girl joins, we always encourage her to bring two friends along the following week."
6 BACK TO BASICS
Women give up sport earlier than men - at the start of secondary school as opposed to college. "We've worked with girls between the ages of 8-13," says Lyn Savage, "and it's phenomenal to see the amount of girls who can't do simple things like running backwards and jumping. How can we then hand them a stick or a bat if they haven't got the fundamentals? We can't be too hard on our schools - they do a great job in educating, which is their number one role. But we need to work on fundamental skills and turn PE into something girls want to do again."
7 HEALTHY ROLE MODELS
Girls who play sport are more likely to have sportswomen as role models, rating the likes of sailor Annalise Murphy as higher (20pc), compared to 12pc of women who don't play sport ."We firmly believe that if you can't see it, you can't be it," says Emily Glen, co-founder of Fair Game, a podcast that focuses on Irish sportswomen. "If you're growing up and you don't have someone to look up to, then you can't see a clear path to where you want to get. If we promote female role models, then it does so much for female participation." Lyn Savage agrees: "When girls get to know the players, their [day] jobs and the hours they have to put into training, they see that this isn't at the flick of a switch. They have to work if they want to do it - but they can balance their lifestyle with it. They know it's not a matter of giving up sport for work."
8 PUSH AND PULL
Three-quarters of women agree that girls give up sport as they are not as encouraged as male counterparts, while close to half of parents, girls and adults agreed that boys are under less pressure academically if they do well in sport. Meanwhile, 27pc of women say they don't play sport because they were never encouraged - compared to 19pc of men. Lyn Savage says girls who persevere with sport tend to receive strong encouragement from their parents, while parents tend to "buy into coaches who show an interest in their daughter as a person and not just as a player". She also notes that boys may receive more encouragement to persist with a certain sport as their interests are not as varied as their female counterparts. "One thing we have seen is that boys tend to pick the sport they are good at and focus on it; whereas a girl who likes sport will tend to want to play every sport that is going in the area."
9 DISMANTLING GENDER STEREOTYPES
While there is still a perception that women and girls don't play sport because it is not feminine (19pc of girls and 27pc of women agreed with this statement), only 2pc of girls and 2pc of women said they avoided sport for this reason. "My personal point of view is that women playing sport used to sometimes clash with expectations of femininity," says Emily Glen, "and now it's really not the case. It's so much more acceptable and it has so much more cultural currency." Meanwhile, only 1pc of the women (and 0pc of girls) who have never played sport said it was because they believe it makes you 'bulky/ muscly/ unattractive'. "Strength and conditioning is the buzzword at the minute," says Lyn Savage. "People used to associate it with body building. Now they see it as body toning, and a way to look and, in turn, feel better."
10 STILL A MAN'S GAME?
While there was high agreement among those interviewed that women's sport is being taken more seriously, 62pc of women, 74pc of girls and 56pc of men believe that, overall, women's sports is taken less seriously than men's. Emily Glen calls it the "terrible trifecta". "I can't attend an event if the media don't publicise it. Subsequently, sponsors don't get involved if nobody shows up. It's this self-reinforcing circle." However, she adds that there have been "major steps" to redress the balance. "The Lidl sponsorship [of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association] was trailblazing; we have groundbreaking crowds in Croke Park for the women's All-Ireland final every year and the Women's Rugby World Cup is really exciting."
* STATE OF THE NATION: TEENAGE GIRLS AND SPORT BY SPARK MARKET RESEARCH. The Research was independently commissioned on behalf of Lidl Ireland and endorsed by the LGFA.
Health & Living