This week we have guest blogger Tanner Roos (@mrRoosPE).
There are special days, weeks or months for all sorts of things. For example, National Physical Education and Sport Week is May 1-7. I might make a social media post about it or do something fun in class, but a week later I will have already moved on to the next thing. However, I don’t think we can move on so fast from February 7. That’s when we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day. We take the time to reflect on how important girls and women are in the sporting world. We make sure to really encourage girls and women to take part in something active. But why is it one day a year? Why don’t we make girls and women in sports a priority all the time? We really should.
Did you know that in 2017 only 52% of school-aged girls play organized sports? That’s quite a bit lower than the 66% of boys in the same age range. (1) Why do you think that is? As a physical educator, what can you do to influence those numbers? I ask myself similar questions often when I can’t figure out why only 20% of my morning intramural program is young girls. I always assumed it was because the group of students just wasn’t interested. As I researched more, I found out that probably wasn’t the reason.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation (2) some of the main reasons that girls and women drop out of sports include lack of access, safety and transportation issues and a lack of positive role models. Did you know that girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have? The limited opportunities cause girls to have to look elsewhere to join a team. Often there are not local teams available or the added cost deters them from participating. Take a minute and think about the local youth sports programs that you know about. Are girls having the same opportunities as boys? The high school feeder baseball team my sons played on this summer had boys as young as five years old on the 7u team. The same high school feeder softball program won’t even have a place for my daughter until she plays 8u. That’s three years less of opportunities she will have compared to her male siblings.
In dense urban environments, traveling through unsafe neighborhoods to get to the facility is quite common. If there is a local facility, it’s often too far to walk. It’s suggested that if carpooling isn’t an available option, the safest option could be to drop out and stay home. I think about all the students at my elementary school that want to join running club or intramurals, but the long walk across the dangerous road keeps them home. It’s probably the same problem they will face when they have a chance to be involved in middle or high school athletics. It breaks my heart to know that there are girls that want join an organized sports program, but safety is preventing them signing up.
Lastly, the lack of positive role models has been one of the main reasons that girls drop out of sports. Although the Women’s Sports Foundations discusses how the media features external beauty rather than confident and athletic women as role models; I’m going to look at it from another perspective.
In a study of nearly 6000 children’s books published during the 20th century, 57% are written with males as the main character; compare that to just 31% female. Even books written about animals have a gender imbalance. 23% of books feature male main characters; whereas only 7% are female animals. (3) Where are our strong, confident female children’s book characters? Television is a problem too. For almost 20 years, ESPN’s most popular show SportsCenter has been devoting a tiny 2% of their programming to women’s sports. (4) If our daughters and students don’t have access to positive stories about athletic girls being successful, what thoughts are we putting in their brains? Do we really want little girls thinking that only boys can be confident, strong leaders? I know that’s not the story I want to tell.
Fortunately, there are authors like Shelly-Boyum-Breen (@SportShelly) who tries to balance these sad statistics. The saddest of them all is that only 1% of children’s books feature a lead female sports character. Her children’s book series called Shelly Bean the Sports Queen, is refreshing to read. (5) Shelly Bean, although fictional, can be a positive, athletic role model for our youth. Where else are our female students going to read about a girl, like them, learning to play new sports and having fun getting the hang of it? It teaches a good lesson for young boys as well.
When I asked Shelly Boyum-Breen why she is passionate about girls and women in sports, here is how she responded. “Participating in sports, not necessarily being great, taught me many life lessons. I learned how to be humble. I learned how to push myself physically and mentally. I learned what it took to be an effective leader. I learned how to be a contributing member of a team as well as how to receive feedback. I learned how to win and I learned how to lose. In fact, I lost more games in my life than I ever won. All of these life lessons are used on a daily basis in my career and in my personal life. We also know from research that girls who participate in sports are more likely to be successful in the classroom They are more likely to be active later in adulthood. They are less likely to stay in abusive relationships or experience an unwanted pregnancy. And we know that physical activity reduces stress and increases bone density just to name a few more benefits. As a Breaking Barriers Award winner for the Minnesota National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I have met dozens of women and men who have come before me to increase opportunities for girls to play for these very reasons and every day, I want to be giving back as well. We need to #keepherinthegame because we know she’s worth it.”
By now, I think I’ve made my point. I hope by now you are looking to make a change somehow. It’s unlikely that you can’t get ESPN to show more highlights of the LPGA Tour, but there are things you can do locally. Have you had an intentional conversation with your students about the benefits of organized sports outside of school? Here is a good place to start. According to www.motherjones.com women and girls who participate in sports have higher grades than students who don’t. They also have lower dropout and teen pregnancy rates. Additionally, women and girls who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs and more likely to graduate college. (6) How about taking a closer look at how you set up your school athletic programs. Could changes be made there?
Right away I know I need to do something different with my intramural program. What does your intramural program look like? It is coed? Mine is, and it’s not working. This week we had nearly 30 students attend. Of those 30, only six were female. I have to ask myself if changing how I set up my program would increase female participation. Besides having girls one day and boys another, maybe I should consider what activities we focus on. A well thought out survey of my students could identify program flaws. I’m not sure what needs to change, but doing nothing isn’t going to increase the percentage of girls that participate in organized sports.
Now it’s your turn to keep the conversation going. Many of the readers will want to hear your ideas. Log on to Twitter, follow the hashtag #slowchatPEgirls and answer a few of these questions. Be reflective. Something you are thinking about doing might work in other parts of the country or world. If we want our girls and women to be strong and confident, we need to work together to close the gender gap in organized sports.
Keep the conversation going on Twitter!
Q1) What can you do with your before and after school sports program to increase female participation?
A1) Create a detailed preference survey, girls intramurals day, female guest speakers, high school or middle school student-athletes join for a day or two. #slowchatPEgirls
Q2) What can you do extra during your physical education classes to promote girls and women in sports?
A2) Post pictures of inspirational women in sport on the walls, read to class Shelly Bean the Sports Queen or short stories about successful female athletes, interview female staff about youth sports experience and share results. #slowchatPEgirls
Q3) Who are the resources around your school or community that could help promote girls and women in sports?
A3) Girls on the Run coach, director of city Parks and Recreation, high school sports coaches, female staff at school, parents of students. #slowchatPEgirls
Q4) What are your questions, concerns, comments on this topic that haven’t been addressed yet? #slowchatPEgirls
A4) …… #slowchatPEgirls