School’s out and the kids are ready for sunshine and two months of summer adventures.
Our community centres and parks are swarming with kids doing all kinds of sports — but if you look closely, you may notice something odd: The older the kids, the fewer girls you’ll see on the sports fields.
Research shows that although boys and girls have the same innate physical abilities and start out equally active, girls’ athletic skills start falling behind after the age of seven. This gap only increases with age.
Only eight per cent of girls are getting enough physical activity, compared to 14 per cent of boys.
If girls haven’t participated in sports by the time they are 10 years old, there is only a 10-per-cent chance they will do so later in life. Moreover, by the time girls turn 13, they start dropping out of sports and other regular physical activities at twice the rate of boys.
Why is this happening? After years of coaching, I have learned that girls face complex social pressures and barriers that can limit their access to and interest in participating in sports. These can include: body image, peer pressure, lack of encouragement, and lack of female role models.
This means we all — parents, educators, and those of us in government — need to work harder to encourage girls to be active in sport.
Taking part in sports isn’t just fun — it’s important.
Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence provides life-long mental and physical benefits — and our girls are missing out. How about signing your kids up for tennis lessons perhaps. Or how about football in the park. They’ll love it.
Besides building strength and endurance, physical activity improves thinking and learning, emotional regulation and self-control, stress management, self-esteem, self-worth, resilience, and the ability to cope with anxiety and depression. Kids who engage in regular physical activity are more socially connected, successful, and less likely to use drugs than their inactive peers.
Girls who don’t participate in regular sports activities don’t get these benefits — which can limit their ability to reach their full potential.
Lessons learned on the sports field — such as teamwork, goal-setting, time management — transfer well to the board room and other career pursuits. Women who stay involved in sport often thrive in all aspects of life.
The challenge is encouraging more girls to get involved in sports when they are young and stay active — particularly during the critical teen years.
This is an issue our government is working hard to address.
Through the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture’s Sport Branch, government provides more than $21 million each year for programs that get kids moving in recreational and competitive sports. The bulk of this money is administered by viaSport — an independent non-profit society that delivers grants to provincial sports organizations across the province.
Our government is paying special attention to getting girls and women involved in sport. We are partnering with viaSport to ensure that gender equity issues are addressed. viaSport has created a Girls and Women’s Advisory Group to look at ways to improve girls’ participation in all amateur sports across B.C. It has also started offering Lead Forward Grants — which provide up to $2,000 for training, educational or policy development that advance leadership opportunities for women in sport.
Later this year, my government will strengthen these efforts by unveiling a new, comprehensive sports strategy for British Columbia. One of our key priorities will be to improve participation rates for girls in sport.
But government can’t move the dial on this issue alone. As families, we have to work harder to give girls the support they need to embrace physical activity.
Dr. Vicki Harber, professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, recommends we give our daughters the same opportunities and support as we give our sons. She also advises giving girls a lot of choices. They are more likely to stay physically active if they are allowed to try different sports and change activities when their interests evolve.
This summer, let’s make sure our girls don’t miss out on the many great physical and mental benefits of participating in sport.
Let’s introduce them to a wide range of exciting activities and encourage them to test their limits. And let’s cheer for them and celebrate their accomplishments as loudly as we do for the boys.