<p>55 per cent of girls disengage from sports by their 18th birthday</p>

55 per cent of girls disengage from sports by their 18th birthday

Almost half of young girls lose interest in sport by teenage years, study finds

Girls are being ‘pushed out of sport as a consequence of deep-rooted gender stereotypes’, charity says

Saman Javed
Wednesday 09 March 2022 09:41
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Almost half of teenage girls who once considered themselves “sporty” lose interest in sports after primary school, according to new research.

A study of 4,000 young boys and girls, carried out by Women in Sport, has found that most girls stop participating in physical activities due to a fear of feeling judged by others, a lack of confidence and not feeling safe outside.

The charity said the findings highlight the importance of understanding young people’s engagement with sports and exercise through a gendered lens.

Of the boys and girls surveyed, 43 per cent of girls who once actively took part in sports said they no longer enjoyed sport in their teenage years, while 24 per cent of boys said the same.

More than two-thirds of girls (68 per cent) said they stopped engaging in sports because they feared being judged, and 61 per cent said they lacked the confidence to take part. Additionally, 43 per cent said they did not feel safe exercising outdoors.

While six in 10 boys were likely to describe themselves as sporty, only four out of 10 girls said the same with 55 per cent having disengaged from sports by their 18th birthday.

Women in Sport said existing, underlying narratives are causing girls to shy away from sports.

“That girls are not as competitive; that sport is not important for girls; that they will never be as good at it compared to boys; that sport can be at odds with femininity,” the report said.

“Add to that the harassment and unwanted attention teenage girls are subject to when exercising and quite simply, taking part becomes a burden, instead of bringing freedom and joy.”

The charity has highlighted the importance of retaining young girls’ interest in sports as they hit puberty, which can make them “hyper self-conscious”.

Pubescent girls felt more “on show” when being active, with 65 per cent not wanting others to watch them while exercising, and 53 per cent reporting not feeling good enough to take part in sports.

In comparison, 44 per cent of boys worried about how they looked to others.

Girls are also likely to shy away from sports when on their period.

Seven out of 10 girls avoid being active during this time, with 62 per cent reporting a fear of leakage and 45 per cent stating they feel more self-conscious during this time.

The study found that boys and girls also receive unequal encouragement to take part in sport from their fathers, which could be an influential factor.

Only 31 per cent of girls felt supported by their fathers compared to 50 per cent of boys. “We noted that sporty girls are much more likely to have a supportive dad,” the report added.

Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport CEO said it as an “absolute travesty” that teenage girls are being pushed out of sport.

“Losing sport from their lives during these formative years equates to a loss of joy as well as good lifelong health,” Hilborne said.

“We must bust the myth that teenage girls drop out of sport simply because their priorities change.

“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.”

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