Ahead of International Women’s Day, Women in Sport has found that more than one million teenage girls (43%) who once considered themselves ‘sporty’, disengage from sport following primary school. A fear of feeling judged by others (68%), lack of confidence (61%), pressures of schoolwork (47%) and not feeling safe outside (43%) were some of the reasons given for not wanting to participate for this group of girls.
The charity surveyed 4,000 teenage girls and boys as part of its research work ‘Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls’, funded by Sport England. It found 43% of teenage girls who once actively engaged with and enjoyed sport were being side-lined in their teenage years and made to feel not good enough, compared with just 24% of boys of the same age. Women in Sport believe this group is the ‘The Missed Opportunity.’
The charity is calling for the sport, leisure and education sectors to work harder to prevent teenage girls from gradually disengaging from sport, particularly in the transition from primary to secondary school and during puberty. Activity offerings need to be reframed to cater for the changing needs of girls and make them feel they deserve to play, whatever their level of ability.
This comes at a time when teenage girls are experiencing an increase in mental health issues, especially relating to loneliness and anxiety, which has been amplified by the recent pandemic.
Women in Sport’s research found complex barrier and deep-rooted negative attitudes are affecting girls’ enjoyment of sport. Body image and puberty are also significant factors. 78% say they avoid sport when they have their period while 73% don’t like others watching them take part in activity.
Stephanie Hilborne, Women in Sport CEO said: “It’s an absolute travesty that teenage girls are being pushed out of sport at such a scale. Losing sport from their lives during these formative years equates to a loss of joy as well as good lifelong health. It is well documented that taking part in physical activity can have a profound and positive effect on mental wellbeing as well as providing many pivotal life skills such as resilience, teamwork and communication.
“We must bust the myth that teenage girls drop out of sport simply because their priorities change. Our research has found that 59% of teenage girls who used to be sporty like competitive sport, but they’re being failed due to early years stereotyping, inadequate opportunities and a complete dearth of knowledge about managing female puberty.
“The transition from childhood to adulthood should be filled with happiness, opportunity and optimism for the future. Teenage girls are not voluntarily leaving sport, they are being pushed out as a consequence of deep-rooted gender stereotypes. We must all do more to reverse this trend and not continue to accept this as inevitable. No-one should be excluded from the joy, fulfilment and lifelong benefits of sport and exercise.”