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Girls Don’t Do Sport

August 25, 2013
young female baby

Alexa Hill, aged 1. A future sports woman? I hope so!

 

“Girls at school would do the dangerous ‘fainting trick’ to avoid Physical Education. I won’t go into detail for fear of someone trying this but the action involved getting a couple of friends to push on a certain part of your body until you fainted – effectively slowing or stopping your heart for a second. It scared me then and it scares me even more now to remember how dangerous this was.” (Anon, August 2013)  

 

As a female and a mother to another female (even though she is only 1), I can’t help but blog my mouth off about the issue of us girls and getting actively involved in sport and exercise. In this post, I hope to shed some light on why, in my experience and opinion, young women and children of the female gender, may be discouraged, embarrassed by and put off from doing exercise, especially if it’s called ‘sport’.

 

Gender-Typing

The main issue in my experience of life is parents. Whether we like it or not, some of us mums and dads are gender-typing our children. Boys are the active ones who will make money one day from sport, girls are the caring ones who like to look after babies and help mum around the house. I have a girl and a boy who are close in age and I admit, I’ve been guilty of gender-typing on the odd occasion – getting my little boy into football, buying my little girl a toy baby. Once my little girl is at walking age however, I’ll be actively encouraging her to try different sports, get outside and see exercise as fun. 

At Home

I remember that as a young girl, I was exposed to very few sporting female role-models. That’s why Sally Gunnel became such a heroine to me, she was the only woman I saw achieve things in sport on TV. Apart from Sally, I cannot remember seeing a plethora of famous sporting females on the telly or in newspapers. This was reflected at home. My mother used to be fit and healthy because she did everything around the house and took us to the park regularly. She wasn’t involved in sport and rarely talked about it. There was no one else around me who was female and sporty. Even my dad wasn’t sporty, he still isn’t. 

Education

At infant and junior school, I don’t recall seeing any females take part in sport. My twin sister and I were the first girls in our year to start playing football with the boys – many girls followed in our footsteps later.

Although I tried ballet and tap as a 5 year old and karate later on, I never understood why sport was important or what it could do for me. No-one at school taught me why sport was important and I was never encouraged to join a team of any kind. I knew as a child that I found sports games like football fun. Playing with the other children (or the boys), feeling like I was involved in something big, running around for ages and the rough and tumble of a childhood game of football were highly appealing to me. I never knew that there were girls football teams or girls teams for any other sports such as basketball, cricket, rounders…    

Media

Everyone complains about media; about TV and reality shows, about the lack of female sport in the news. I agree that women need to be covered more widely in the news but that isn’t exactly going to attract younger participants now is it? We need to look at teen magazines, look at how girls are using social media, look at why girls are more engaged with what their friends are doing and posing in ‘selfies’ photos. If you’re young and you want to look good, exercise and eat well. There’s too much emphasis on young women being singers, models and just plain beautiful. There are millions of beautiful girls out there but the ones people remember are the ones who stand out from the crowd and achieve in sport or in great careers. Vying for public attention constantly does nothing for self-confidence. 

Teenage girls

In my opinion, the problem with many teenage girls (like I was once) is that they lack so much self-confidence. At school as a teenager, I loved sprinting, I won every 100m and 200m race on sports day, without fail. I was in the Air Cadets…Which was the only institution to push my running further where I ran for my region and eventually my county. I was due to run a final race to be entered for the national championships when I fell down the stairs before school and banged my lower back meaning that I couldn’t run. That was the end to my running career, maybe I could have been running alongside Jess Ennis-Hill… 

The point here is not what I achieved or didn’t achieve but the fact that I had to fight against low self-confidence and self-doubt just to go to training. This was ultimately my downfall, not the fall down the stairs. I was complacent because I didn’t want to go against the ‘norm’ of what my piers were doing after school. It’s only when you reach 28, have gotten married and have two kids that you realise the things that could have been.

The very few girls I knew at school (I can only count one in my class) who were into sports and achieved in sport were the confident ones. They were self-assured, organised and seemed generally a lot happier than my friends who were using the ‘fainting trick’ to avoid any exercise whatsoever. I was always in the middle, always wanted to take part but never wanted to take the next step. I had no confidence to do so.

Looking back, what I find most annoying is that teachers could see my potential but never tried to support me. I played hockey and scored goals but always felt like the spare part. I would never have even known to join professional sports clubs or had the confidence to ask.

In part-conclusion (as I’m sure I’ll be writing further blogs on this issue), I realise now that sport enables young women and girls to develop, to grow, to be comfortable in their surroundings and opens their lives up to opportunities and experience. I hope times have changed now in schools but in my experience, I had no help, no support and was mainly ignored by teachers.

As a parent now, I see how difficult it is to get children involved in sport – the cost, the time, the travel. This was initially why I set up http://www.funmefit.com, to help parents find ways to get their kids (and their girls) active and see what opportunities there are. Now though, I see that times need to change before more young women can feel encouraged enough to take part in sport. They need to know about the opportunities around them, encouraged that sport will help them stay young and healthy as they get older, help them make new friends and build self-confidence. I wish I could take the 14 year old me, shake her and say: ‘You can do it! Running is what you can do. Don’t worry if you get set back. Get off your backside and go to training. Keep trying!’

My daughter will not befall the same fate. It is my ambition to open doors for her, help her see how fun sport can be. Help her find what she’s good at, whether that be football, hockey, running, gymnastics, dancing, horse riding, basketball, skating, rounders, tennis or your less popular sports. Attitudes have to change all together, families have to change, the media has to change and girls themselves have to be given the confidence to try something new, take a chance. Don’t do the old ‘fainting trick’ to avoid PE!

 

This blog post was inspired by the recent BBC News article (22/08/2013)

Children need more exercise – especially girls, study saysby Nick Triggle.

 

This article was written by Kate Hill, Founder of FunMeFit.

Please contact info@funmefit.com

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