Participating in sport can be a hugely positive experience for young women. Aside from the physical benefits, it can help in building body positivity, confidence and mental well being, and provide person to person engagement rather than through the medium of a smartphone.
Despite all this, the rate at which teenage girls are dropping out of sport is astonishing. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by the time girls reach age 14, the drop out rate is twice that of boys.
Only 1/3 of girls say they enjoy taking part in exercise and another third say they do not take part as they do not like being watched or feel self conscious.
There are so many reasons teen girls quit sport but they might include:
- Time- increased homework and social activities.
- Body confidence- 36% of teens report being unhappy with their bodies.
- Confidence in their sporting ability- school team sports often promote participation of ‘good’ players. Girls often label themselves as ‘not sporty’.
- Social FOMO. The fear of missing out on what their friends are doing is a huge factor.
- Lack of family participation in sports.
- Lack of facilities or access.
- Breast related issues.
This final point has been identified as a really significant factor in girls and women engaging in sport and what I would like to talk about in more detail.
Breast related barriers to exercise
Teenage years can be fraught with confidence issues and body consciousness as bodies morph into new and unfamiliar shapes. A study by Scurr et al. (2016) found that 73% of 1285 girls surveyed reported breasts related concerns that negatively impacted their participation in sports. This can be in several different ways.
1- Breast pain. This was experienced by almost 50% of girls, and was more common among girls with larger breasts.
Breast pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor support (see point 2), breast size, hormonal changes, and breast development.
2- Sports bras, or lack of. More than half of the girls never wore a sports bra. Which unsurprisingly leads us to point 3
3- 38% of girls were concerned about breast bounce.
4- 87% of girls surveyed wanted more information about breasts. We are still not talking about this topic enough. This is the only way to remove stigma and stereotypes around the subject.
Overall, breast-related factors can be a source of significant concern for teenage girls, and may discourage participation in sports and exercise.
By promoting the use of supportive sports bras, we can help to reduce or eliminate both breast pain and breast bounce, making sport a more appealing prospect for girls.
What else can we do about this?
Aside from getting our girls into decent sports bras is there anything else we can do to help encourage the younger generation to get active?
1- Lead from the front. Get active yourself and lead your daughters by example! Take the dogs out together, go to Park Run, try that Body Pump class at your local leisure centre.
It will be less daunting to do something out of your comfort zone for the first time if you have a hand to hold. It can also be a great bonding experience- those endorphins will put smiles on both your faces.
2- Reframing ‘sport’. Certainly when I was at school all sport on offer was competitive team sport. The pupils fell into 2 categories- sporty or not sporty. There were not any group exercise activities, which are a great way of working out as part of a group, but not in a competitive way.
3- Understand that sport is about your own sense of personal achievement. It should leave you with a smile on your face and a sense of pride in yourself. It does not have to be about winning.
4- Open girls’ eyes to what is available- do not just rely on what school sport has to offer. Tap into existing behaviours to increase daily activity, such as walking instead of driving to the shops.
5- Expand the image of what ‘sporty’ looks like. Get away from fitness influencers on social media! Go to your local leisure centre and see what actual real life sporty women look like.
This Girl Can was launched by Sport England in 2015 and aims to encourage women of all ages and backgrounds to participate in sports. It features a series of TV ads, social media posts, and events that showcase women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities participating in sports.
The campaign has been very successful, with many women reporting that it has inspired them to try new sports or return to sports that they had previously given up.
Whilst it is a big challenge to keep our girls active, it is one I feel very strongly about. As a mum to twin girls I am passionate about making sport and activity something that we ‘do’ in our family.
Sport has been a great source of positivity for me in my life and something I would like them to experience. In trying to get them active outside of school, I believe it will also help maintain perspective on school life, friendships and social issues they may encounter through their teen years.