Feb 07, 2024 • 6 min read
By 14-years-old, girls drop out of sports at two-times the rate of boys. This number has been researched and explored at length with the decline in participation coming from limited access issues, finite transportation and safety, social stigma, and few and far in between female role models.
Many parents sign their child up for a sport or sports in hope of it becoming a life-long passion all while instilling positive habits. However, something occurs that makes quitting or taking a break from sports a more desired choice for many girls.
So, what can we do to keep girls engaged and playing sports?
Hire more female coaches and role models
When a young girl sees someone “like them” it not only feels approachable, but inspirational. In order for young female athletes to grow up with role models, they need to see coaches, or mentors like them. Part of keeping girls in sports is hiring, retaining, and developing female coaches. There’s been a decline in women’s sport coaches since the passage of Title IX, and at the NCAA Division 1 college level it’s been reported that 97% of men’s teams had men as head coaches and about 54% of women’s teams had women as head coaches.
The Positive Coaching Alliance has created a guide with strategies for organizations wanting to hire and recruit more female coaches. Some of the tips include simply asking and inviting women to apply! Another example is to include female mentorship program. By getting more women coaches, young girls will be able to see people like them in these leadership positions.
Create safe spaces
At the core of any positive environment is a feeling of safety. More girls will stay in sports if they feel comfortable and safe to compete and be who they are. Social stigma will always creep into the way of young girls, however if the environment is welcoming and open with positive communication, girls will feel more inclined to stick around. Creating those safe spaces is an investment in the people who lead, and the area in which practices, games, and lessons are had. Providing more accessible ways for kids to compete and play in safe places will keep and engage more girl sin sports.
Use inclusive language
Changing the way we speak about girls and their athletic ability and potential is key. Many girls drop out of sports because they feel socially obligated to act or dress a certain way. If we practice celebrating them at a younger age as people, versus “you sure don’t play like a girl” we’ll see a transformation in gender biases.
It’s been incredible to see brands all over the globe invest in girls and women in sports. e.l.f. Cosmetics, a beauty brand, for example ran an entire campaign celebrating girls in sports for the “skin they are in”.
Making space for girls to express themselves as athletes will rightfully keep more of them in the game.
The list is forever growing in ways we can break this barrier for young girls in sports, but there has been some incredible investment over the past few years that are creating a shift in perspective in women and girls in sports.
According to Nielsen, the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament drew nearly 10 million viewers for the final game between Iowa and LSU. This number is up 1-3% from 2022. Additionally, interest in the Women’s Super League (soccer) increased by 81% from 2022-2023. The World Cup also drew in record-setting numbers, with nearly 80% of the population aware of it happening and 40% finding it interesting (the highest out of any women’s sport competition).
It may be correlated, because fandom really does fill stadiums, but according to Project Play’s 2023 State of Play Report, sports participation is actually increasing for girls and declining for boys. Although boys still are playing sports at a higher rate, this is the highest participation rate for girls since 2013.
So, how do we keep this momentum?
Keeping girls engaged in sports requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various factors influencing their participation. Here are some strategies to ensure girls’ involvement in sports:
Equal Access: Ensure girls have equal access to sports programs, facilities, and resources as boys. Eliminate barriers such as financial constraints, transportation issues, and limited equipment.
Diverse Program Offerings: Provide a wide range of sports options that cater to diverse interests and abilities. Offer both team and individual sports to accommodate different preferences.
Positive Role Models: Showcase successful female athletes as role models to inspire and motivate girls. Highlight their achievements, perseverance, and dedication to break gender stereotypes and demonstrate what is possible in sports.
Inclusive Environment: Create a welcoming and inclusive environment that values diversity and respects girls’ contributions to sports. Foster a culture of inclusivity where all athletes feel supported and encouraged to participate regardless of gender.
Quality Coaching: Invest in quality coaching staff who are trained to understand and address the specific needs of female athletes. Provide opportunities for coaches to undergo gender-sensitivity training and education to create a supportive and empowering coaching environment.
Promote Positive Body Image: Combat negative body image stereotypes by promoting healthy body image and self-confidence among girls. Emphasize the importance of physical activity for overall health and well-being rather than focusing solely on appearance or weight.
Peer Support Networks: Foster peer support networks among female athletes to create a sense of camaraderie and belonging. Encourage teamwork, collaboration, and mentorship opportunities to help girls build friendships and support systems within the sports community.
Flexible Programming: Offer flexible scheduling options to accommodate girls’ busy schedules and competing priorities such as academics and extracurricular activities. Provide opportunities for girls to participate in sports year-round through seasonal and off-season programs.
Family and Community Engagement: Engage parents, families, and communities in supporting girls’ participation in sports. Provide educational resources and workshops to raise awareness about the benefits of sports for girls and encourage parental involvement in their athletic journey.
Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate the achievements of female athletes at all levels, from grassroots to elite competition. Organize events, awards ceremonies, and media campaigns to showcase their accomplishments and inspire future generations of female athletes.
As we look ahead and celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day (today and every day) this is a movement happening.