Many young girls around the world enjoy playing sports with friends. But by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at almost twice the rate of boys. By age 17, more than half of them quit sports altogether. Why? What causes girls to walk away from their potential? How can we keep them in sports? Girls are losing confidence and potential due to social stigma, lack of access and many more factors affecting their participation in sports. There are many different things we can do to help encourage them to keep playing.
According to a study done by Proctor and Gamble, by age 14 girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. By age 17, 51% of them have quit sports completely. Obviously, this has already been mentioned, but why? Why are girls dropping out sports? Some of the many factors affecting girls’ participation in sports are lack of access, lack of positive role models, and social stigma. The Women’s Sports Foundation says, “Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have. Lack of physical education in schools and limited opportunities to play sports in both high school and college mean girls have to look elsewhere for sports –which may not exist or may cost more money.” Many schools keep the importance of girls’ sports in their peripheral and keep their focus on boys’ sports so, many girls lose access to being able to play sports.
While lack of access is a huge factor in their participation, there is also an odd stigma applied to girls playing sports through puberty. The Women’s Sports Foundation states, “Despite recent progress, discrimination based on the real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of female athletes persists. Girls in sports may experience bullying, social isolation, negative performance evaluations, or the loss of their starting position. During socially fragile adolescence, the fear of being tagged ‘gay’ is strong enough to push many girls out of the game.” Girls are told that playing sports makes them too masculine and “manly.” So, with their peers telling them to change, it’s no wonder why they lose motivation to play their favorite sports.
Alongside the social stigma, there aren’t many role models around to motivate girls to keep playing. The Women’s Sports Foundation says, “Today’s girls are bombarded with images of external beauty, not those of confident, strong female athletic role models. To some girls, fitting within the mold that they are constantly told to stay in is more important than standing out. Peer pressure can be hard for girls at any age; when that pressure isn’t offset with strong encouragement to participate in sports and healthy physical activity, the results may lead girls to drop out altogether.” Instead of telling girls to do what they please and be themselves, we tell them they need to change and look and act a certain way. If we continue to encourage girls to play sports and be active, we can give them confidence and teach them perseverance.
Many people already know that girls should be motivated to stay in sports, but how we can do so is unknown to others. Although a very common cliche, many boys have at least one memory of playing ball with their father. Most girls have almost no memories similar to those of boys. The most important thing we can do to keep girls in sports is simple: “Go out and play with them,” says Jan Welter, the first woman to be hired as a coach in the NFL. Being active with girls is the easiest thing we can do, but there are many other things that can be done. “We need to show them that we value their participation and that we’re going to be there to cheer them on, help them grow and build that confidence, whether it’s win or lose,” says Nanette Burstein who directed the #LikeAGirl by Always. Teaching girls that they will always have someone’s support is important in helping build their confidence in their skills and talents. When girls drop out of sports, they miss out on being able to develop confidence. Soccer player Alex Morgan says, “Personally, playing sports helped me grow and build confidence while also learning the skills of teamwork, leadership, and perseverance — both on and off the field.” Girls lose the opportunity to become confident and persevere by dropping out of sports, so they stay hidden in a shell and not as strong of a person as they could be.
All in all, people should be doing as much as possible to keep young female athletes from dropping out of the sports they love.