Do your daughters play sport?

Do your daughters play sport?

I ask this because it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about encouraging, and for a very good reason: the benefits of playing sport for our girls are impressive – and plentiful! From developing communication skills and building an ‘extra’ social circle, to improved academic performance and increased self-esteem, research also proves how participating in sport promotes a more positive body image for girls.

But there’s another reason I’m committed to helping as many girls as possible develop and maintain an active sporting life – and it’s the fact that, sadly, some research suggests that by the age of 14, girls start to drop out of sport twice as fast as boys.

There are a whole lot of reasons for that – even the fact that there’s a gender pay gap in sport, so that the sportswomen our girls look up to don’t get paid equally, is thought to play a role.

But if you have a daughter, niece or granddaughter, rather than drilling down into the reasons why girls stop playing sport, it’s more helpful to look at how you can encourage the ones in your life to start and stay playing sport.

And when I say ‘sport’, bear in mind it doesn’t have to be the traditional variety either – anything that encourages your girls to be active, whether that’s dancing, rock climbing or learning a martial art, counts.

Here are three things to bear in mind.

  • Make it about participating instead of competing. While it is important to nurture kids who are naturally talented and have the ability and desire to play a sport competitively, participating as a child or teenager doesn’t have to be about being the best at it or winning – it’s all about enjoying it. To help your girls understand this, put the emphasis less on outcomes and more on how they feel while they’re playing it. That’s what really matters, regardless of any natural ability that may or may not be there, which leads me to the next point…
  • Playing sport should be fun! Sure, their sporting idol might be Serena Williams, but if your girl doesn’t like or get a genuine kick out of playing tennis, try another sport. One factor that predicts whether our kids will stick with a sport and stay physically active as an adult, is whether they enjoy doing it as a child or teenager. Let them experiment and try a whole lot of things until they find something that really clicks. In fact, research shows that to help prevent overuse injuries and burn out, it’s much better when children don’t specialise in playing one sport too early.
  • Help them find their tribe. Another thing that’ll keep your girls interested in playing sport? If they genuinely like, and have a connection with, the other girls and boys who play it, too. So encourage them to try new sports and activities. It’s being exposed to the widest variety of sporting environments possible that’ll give the young girls in your life the best chance of ‘finding their sporting tribe’.