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Girls in Sport and why it matters

By Nicholas Coulson​, Managing Director, United Education 

Sport is back!

(Cue everyone onto their feet immediately for one almighty cheer!) 

 Isn’t it fantastic to see sporting clubs up and down the UK reopening their doors and welcoming back members of all ages for some active fun together? It’s just as exciting for our team too, knowing our children’s holiday camps will be running in full this summer, including plenty of sporting activities we know our campers love to give a go. 

It’s no secret why United Education places an emphasis on physical activity, sports in particular. There is so much to gain from engaging in a sport – much more than simply the techniques required to master the discipline in question. Asides from the multiple health benefits, the social skills participants develop from taking part in a regular sporting activity are incredibleespecially for young people. It’s an environment where youth can express themselves in full, something many find difficult to do within the confines of a school classroom.  

What’s more, it encourages comradery like no other – even with individual sports such as swimming or gymnastics where you could be working on your own more often than as a team – with everyone feeling part of something bigger. And, as a youth services provider, we’re committed to doing all we can to help promote sports to our campers whatever their age, from our littlest explorers through to our oldest Teens.  

Yet for all the positives, sport has its challenges and one of the major issues it faces today is with diversity, in particular, its accessibility for girls. It’s a difficult concept to grasp when we see primary-aged boys and girls joining in all manner of sports, with what appears more access than ever to different sporting codes, including those once deemed a ‘mans (or women’s) game’. Looking beyond the primary schoolyard, though, and the cracks quickly start to show. 

By age 14, girls are twice as likely to drop out of their sport as boys. It’s a phenomenal statistic and one that’s a genuine worry to sporting clubs and parents of girls alike, not to mention detrimental to the girls choosing to opt-out of something they once adored. How is it that so many girls feel compelled to leave sporting activity behind at this age and why? 

A survey by the Women’s Sports Foundation found issues around safety, limited access, the cost involved and a lack of role models all factors on the decision to leave their sport. Throw in the perception of any females partaking in a traditionally ‘male’ sport – think football, rugby or cricket – being labelled as butch or masculine, and it’s a wonder any make it onto the pitch in the first place. 

At United Education, we feel it’s time to tackle the issue head-on and find ways to keep our girls in a sport they love, giving them the opportunities they deserve and the encouragement to participateAnd here’s how.

Provide more safe spaces for girls to try a sport

 For years, now, schools and youth sporting providers have encouraged mixed participation in many sports at a younger age. While many girls will thrive in a mixed environment, others find this a struggle as they compete against boys who are often physically stronger. We need to provide more opportunities for girls to try a sport – particularly those where the male code is more dominant – in a female-only setting, as well as a mixed one, in a space where they feel safe.  

Encourage self-worth and appreciation

Every child is unique. It’s OK to be physically strong or to prefer a ‘man’s game to those more often played by girls at the competitive level, such as netball. It’s equally fine to feel feminine and girls should be encouraged to celebrate their inner-self and strengths, whatever these are. We’re never ‘too small’ to be a netball shooter or ‘too slow’ to be a football striker. Self-worth is something every sports coach should be teaching to their athletes, helping each one to recognise what they can achieve through positivity. With the right mental approach, it’s much easier to meet the many physical challenges sport conjures.  

Introduce accessible role models as standard

Young people often look to their sporting heroes for inspiration, yet if that’s a Ronaldo it can be daunting for them to appreciate the journey from grassroots to fast cars! By having role models visit youth sporting clubs regularly – from a similar background, where possible – participants can hear first-hand from others who have been in their shoes (trainers or boots) how they worked their way toward success. Providing ongoing inspiration from a genuine source can do wonders to uplift a young person’s mind and attitude towards their sporting goals.   

Shine a light on diversity

 It’s called ‘walking the walk’. Leading UK charity, Women in Sport has been campaigning for four decades to improve sport for girls and women in our country, with regular events all based on highlighting the gender gap in sport to initiate change. Their website offers stacks of free advice on how we can all play a part in narrowing the gap and seeing girls given equal opportunities to boys. Hop online and see how you can become involved!    

Giving girls equal opportunities to thrive

Sport has a dramatically positive influence on the lives of young girls, improving physical and mental health and reducing behavioural issues, providing many with a greater life experience. 

At United Education, we’re proud to live our mission of “Enriching young lives” in all we do. Our school holiday camps offer amazing opportunities to young people to embrace the great outdoors, with many sports activities included which the campers clearly enjoy. So, we’ve decided to take our love for sports one step further! This summer, we’re introducing our United Academy of Sport to provide young people of all ages an opportunity to master their favourite sport through access to high-quality training. They’re ideal for girls and boys wanting to stay active, try something new or take the sport they already love to a whole new level – that’s advancing the technical and tactical skills and developing a deeper understanding of their code in a safe environment. As always, with qualified, sports-mad coaches leading the way! 

And that’s not all. This year, we’re excited to announce our first-ever sports programme just for girls! It’s an opportunity for young girls to learn more about a sport in a space where they feel comfortable, giving them the freedom to express themselves without judgement. Asides from the technical learning, we’ll provide sessions on self-worth and wellbeing, talk openly about the challenges faced by girls and how to combat them, and enjoy visits from professional female athletes keen to share their story. 

More details on our Girls in Sport programmes will be available very soon. In the meantime, if you feel your young one would benefit from our academy, then please send us an email and we’ll pop you onto our waitlist to find out more.  

And for now, girls and boys keen to join our Multi-Sport Academy at Ilkley Grammar School this summer break, bookings are already open – so, click here to secure your place!