Sport needs to be carried out in a supportive environment and seen as an intrinsic part of school life to prevent girls from losing interest, according to a leading sporting academic.
A report by the charity Women in Sport, carried out ahead of International Women’s Day, found that more than one million teenage girls who once considered themselves ‘sporty’, lose interest after primary school. A fear of feeling judged by others, lack of confidence, pressures of schoolwork and not feeling safe outside were some of the reasons given for not wanting to participate for this group of girls.
Chey Hooper-West, Assistant Director of Sport at Malvern College in Worcestershire said the trend could only be reversed if sport was seen as a vital part of school life, and if teachers harnessed a positive environment.
“For far too long, sport and physical activity has been seen as a distraction from schoolwork and academia,” said Chey.
“Frankly, the opposite is true. There is countless research out there that backs up the age-old belief of ‘health body, healthy mind’. Just last year, this was backed up by research from the World Health Organization, Europe, which found that increasing the amount of physical activity can have a positive impact not only on children’s health and well-being, but also on their performance in the classroom.
“With so many girls stating that the pressure of schoolwork is a reason for losing interest in sport, it is vital that educators recognise its benefits and give it just as much priority as languages, sciences and other areas of academia.”
Women in Sport surveyed 4,000 teenage girls and boys as part of its research work ‘Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls’, funded by Sport England. It found 43% of teenage girls who once actively engaged with and enjoyed sport were being side-lined in their teenage years and made to feel not good enough.
“It is important that, at an early age, you instil a love of what they do. If you’re offering young people a range of options that relate to sport and physical activity it is easier for someone to find something they enjoy and stick with it.
“You also need to create an atmosphere that is positive and encouraging. If you get this right, it will aid the transition from primary school to secondary school and, hopefully, to life beyond education.”
The school encourages its own pupils to play at least two sports - even if the pupils are on a sporting scholarship.
Chey says: “If you’re on a named hockey scholarship, for example, this can sometimes feel like it comes with a lot of expectation and there is the danger that you start to feel like it’s your job. But if you then play another sport you can just have fun with it. Sport can be such a power for good, so we need to keep it as good as it can be so our pupils can enjoy it.
“Anything is better when you are enjoying it.”