As youth advocates, many of you know firsthand the challenge of keeping girls in the game – that is, engaged in sports. Though nothing new, it’s still pretty shocking to see the numbers:
- By age 14, girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys. (By age 17, 51% will have quit sports.)
- 7 out of 10 of the girls who quit sports during puberty said they didn’t feel like they belonged in sports, according to a survey of more than 1,000 girls, ages 16-24.
- Nearly the same number (67%) said they felt society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.
- Female athletes received 63,000 fewer opportunities and $183 million less in NCAA athletic scholarships at NCAA institutions.
In addition, girls are bombarded by images that objectify female athletes. “Hottest Female Athletes” is searched online at 11 times the volume of either “Best Female Athletes” or “Hottest Male Athletes.” Warning: the search can be sickening.
How can youth advocates of all kinds respond to these numbers and the countless girls they represent?
1. Kick to the curb gender inequity and socio-normative beauty standards.
- In your marketing efforts, choose images of female athletes of all body types and skill levels that show women actively playing, sweating, and competing.
- Male coaches can teach respect for female athletes (and girls, in general), encourage attendance to girls’ games, and perhaps even share in fundraising efforts. Female coaches can seek partnerships with male coaches and teams.
- Remember our blogposts about the benefits of free play (here and here)? Try a co-ed scrimmage to encourage fun and respectful interaction between boy and girl athletes.
- Educate dads, and get them involved in advocating for gender equality and supporting girls’ athletic interests.
2. Promote the ways girls benefit from sports.
61% of female executives say sports contributed to their career success and 94% of women in the C-Suite played sports – 52% of them at the college level.
You can promote the top 3 benefits for girls staying in sports:
- Increased confidence (62%)
- Teamwork (64%)
- Leadership skills (54%)
3. Promote the personal growth opportunities for girls – beyond sports skills.
- Provide opportunities for competitive and beginner athletes.
- Profile alumni – both sports and non-sport professionals.
- Encourage social opportunities and connections.
4. Target underserved populations.
Here’s the reality:
- 75% of white girls play sports, compared to less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls, and half of Asian girls.
- Less than 50% of girls from immigrant families play sports.
Here’s how to respond:
- Use Facebook to access your underserved audience through location, multicultural affinity, and household income.
- Seek to understand and respond to any cultural, social, or religious concerns your audience has about sport.
- Personal connections count! Invest time with local organizations and community groups that work with these populations.
Even if you’re not a coach or sports director, you can still support girls in sport. Be intentional about encouraging them to make time for their sport, try new sports and develop new skills, and stick with athletic interests even if they’re no longer competing.
Finally, you can’t be too tenacious about modeling respect – for girls and boys – and teaching young people how to honor one another, their parents, their teachers and authority figures, and all human beings.
CNN: How to Make Your Kids Hate Sports Without Really Trying
Mother Jones Charts: The State of Women’s Athletics, 40 Years After Title IX
Women’s Sports Foundation: Title IX Myths and Facts
Women’s Sports Foundation: Pay Inequity in Athletics
Women’s Sports Foundation: Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America
The New York Times: Study Finds Gender Barriers in Sports
NCAA Publications: Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 2009-10
National Federation of State High School Associations
CNN: The Real March Madness: When Will Women’s Teams Get Equal Pay?
BBC Sport: Wimbledon Pays Equal Prize Money
Fortune: Here’s Why Women Who Played Sports are More Successful