In the past years, the participation by girls in sports has increased at all levels – youth, high school, college, professional, and Olympic.
The acceptance of female athleticism by society seems to be on the rise. However, it’s been observed across many youth leagues that the rate at which girls drop out is significantly high compared to boys especially when they hit puberty.
Catherine Sabiston, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, followed more than 300 girls between 14 and 18 years old to explore the relation between their involvement in sports and their body-related emotions. Did how they felt about their appearances have a positive or adverse effect on their likelihood to enroll in sports or engage in physical activity?
Sabiston’s study covered two seasons, and during just the first phase of her study, 6% of the girls dropped out.
“Self-consciousness related to the body is one of the key reasons why girls drop out of sport during adolescence as their bodies are changing,” Sabiston explains. “It starts as early as 10. We need to help more at that level, as girls are going through body transitions.”
Girls at this age group have a tendency to compare their bodies with their peers leading to negative emotions that influenced their confidence in their abilities. This distorted perception lead to poor performance and feeling anxious about sports in general.
At this age, girls are most sensitive about their weight and appearance and yet choose to leave the activity that guarantees will keep their bodies in peak condition and at the ideal weight. It has been observed that beyond girls’ insecurities over their bodies, the following also played factors in why they were more likely to drop out of sports:
Society leads them to believe that sports are unfeminine
Despite the significant shift in mentality by society when it comes to women in sports, the cultural view is still that sports are masculine. And most girls don’t want to be associated with anything that makes them appear less feminine because this is the age where girls and boys alike start enjoying the attention of the opposite sex. Naturally, girls don’t want boys to see them participating in an activity that makes them appear unfeminine or unattractive.
Girls are more inclined towards cooperation than competition
Girls going through puberty are experiencing a surge in estrogen levels. This leads girls to shift towards relationships and to stay connected. Sports, on the other hand, is about competition and because girls are keen on meaningful connections, they start to move away from struggles and rivalries particularly ones that are on the physical level.
The lack of positive female athlete role models
In professional sports, there are few female athletes for young girls to idolize. The reality is that the focus is still on male athletes as the most popular sports are still dominated by males. Even with the existence of female leagues, there is much less attention and exposure. Because of this, young girls start to pull away from sports by their teens when they start to see less of a future in it.
And because only 15% of youth coaches are women, there are simply not enough female authority figures in sports to keep young girls inspired and motivated towards a long-term relationship with sports.