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How to get more young girls playing sport

Earlier this month, the Queensland Government reconfirmed their commitment to women and girls in sport with an investment of $15 million going towards 45 sports projects across Queensland. These projects are set to encourage more women and girls to take up sports and recreation activities to ultimately help them lead and maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle.

While the investment is obviously a good sign for women and girls in sport in Queensland, it begs the question, can more be done on a national level to get women, and more importantly, young girls, playing and enjoying sport?

Why is it important to get more young girls playing sport?

As a nation, we need more young girls playing sport and enjoying it so they maintain an active lifestyle as they move through their teens and into adulthood. Girls aged between 5 and 17 years old should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day, but research suggests that some girls aren’t reaching these targets.

For young girls, regular exercise helps to…

  • Build confidence and self-esteem
  • Manage anxiety, stress and depression
  • Support good concentration, behaviour and sleep patterns
  • Decrease the risk of disease and illness
  • Teach good social and life skills
  • Improve stamina, strength, flexibility and energy
  • Increase fitness and heart health
  • Develop a positive body image
  • Reduce screen time and time spent doing sedentary activities
  • Refine important motor skills such as hand-eye coordination

We know there are physical and mental benefits to sport and physical activity, so it is important that young girls enjoy playing sport and feel comfortable and confident when they do.

How do we get more young girls playing sport and enjoying physical activity?

We believe it comes down to these four things…

Strong female role models in sport

We all need to highlight female role models at an elite level so that young girls can have a group of people to look up to and aspire to be and so they understand the opportunities and pathways that are available to women in sport. Progress is certainly being made and it’s having an impact on young girls who have a new cohort of athletic, passionate and empowering role models like the Matilda’s newly named captain Samantha Kerr, AFLW stars Chloe Molloy and Tayla Harris, Netballers Gretel Tippett, April Brandley and Kim Ravaillion, Tennis Champion Ash Barty, Rugby League sensation Ali Brigginshaw and International cricketer Beth Mooney. These women are becoming household names and alongside their teammates, are inspiring the next generation with their every move, both on and off the field.

The more these women are profiled in the media and placed in advertising campaigns, the better off our daughters, nieces and friends are. Young girls need positive role models that inspire and show them the possibilities and elite athletes are positioned to take on this important role.

Building confidence is key

Helping young girls feel confident in their skill and ability when they play is the key to keeping them interested and committed to playing sport and an overall healthy, active lifestyle. The minute they lack confidence or see a fault in their ability, they will opt out. So, to keep more young girls playing sport we need them to feel confident, no matter their skill level.

If you’re a parent of a tween or teen girl, here are a number of ways that you can help them build confidence in their skill and ability in their chosen sport…

  1. Connect them with mentors – they could be older girls at school, someone who plays semi-professionally or a coach that is passionate about working with them
  2. Give them access to private sports coaching that can be tailored to their skills so they have the benefit of personalised training and dedicated attention
  3. Talk about their contribution and effort rather than the final score. Encourage them for being involved and enjoying sport rather than making it about a result or ranking

Sydney Mum Tracey Marsh shared her story with us about her daughter Keely and how a lapse in confidence on the netball court impacted her confidence in everything, however some one-on-one coaching sessions with netballer Tayla Fraser changed that.

Tracey said:

“I decided to get some coaching for my daughter after she missed out on selection for the rep netball team. By missing out on the team she had decided she was not good enough to play netball. But it also impacted her off the court. She had decided she was no good at anything – including school. She had lost her confidence in everything. So we stopped talking about netball. When this season came around she said she would like to play but wanted to be confident in her own abilities. I decided to get some training with PlayBook Coach Tayla Fraser hoping this would give my daughter a better mindset. And it did. Tayla has been great. She listened to my daughter, and then spoke to her as an equal. Tayla has been a really positive influence on her netball mindset but her confidence in general. She is starting netball again and has tried out for the school netball team. She has even suggested she may try out for reps again…”

Young girls are increasingly choosing to opt-out of sport due to a lack of confidence, so it’s important that parents help them feel supported and confident in their ability, during both the highs and lows, so they continue to love playing sport.

Government programs and community initiatives

While the Queensland Government’s commitment to women and girls in sport is great we need to make sure we are making the most of the government programs and community initiatives to support more children to play sport around the country.

The opportunities for young girls is sports is growing, there is a wider choice of competitive sports, a better depth of competitions, opportunities to play among their peers, pathways to take their skills to the next level and role models to pave the way, but we need to continue to contribute to these to ensure they stay.

Campaigns like The Queensland Government’s “Start Playing, Stay Playing” movement and The Australian Government’s “Girls Make Your Move” campaign inspire young girls to find activities that they enjoy so they genuinely like playing sport and we need to back that up with action as their parents or family members.

In a recent interview with PlayBook, AFLW Player and Brisbane Lions Vice-Captain Emma Zielke said more can be done at the grassroots level to ensure the next generation of AFLW players has the same access and opportunities. She said development programs need to continue because the girls coming through the ranks are the stars of the future, but they need every resource that is available to them to really drive the standard of the game in the years to come.

And it’s not just the case for AFLW – In every code more can be done at the grassroots level to ensure young girls have the same opportunities as boys if we young girls to enjoy playing sport.

Supporting women in sport on a national level

The last few years have been pivotal in shaping a shift for women in sport. Opportunities and pathways have become more accessible with the launch of the Women’s Big Bash League in the 2015/2016 season and the AFLW in 2017. We’re also seeing the Women’s Rugby League ramp up competitions and participation to get more women and girls involved in the game, and the new TV deal with Channel 7 and Fox Sports for women’s cricket is helping get the game in front of more people.

Couple that with the Matilda’s triumphant performance in the last few years and the gold medal win for the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team at the Rio Olympics and women’s sport is well and truly in the spotlight.

The media is making strides forward to ensure that young girls are exposed to the athletic, passionate and dedicated Australian women who play sport at an elite level. As parents, we need to ensure that young girls are exposed to this coverage in the public sphere and that the work that the media is doing to foster participation or giving a new sport a go.

The more we see elite female sportspeople in the media – in publications, on TV and in advertisements – the better.

How to get your young girl involved in and enjoying sport?

If you are a parent of a young girl and want to help them enjoy playing sports and being active, here are some tips that might help.

  • Watch women’s sports on TV and go to live games where possible, both elite games and local ones.
  • Understand the reasons why she avoids exercise and sport so you can discuss possible solutions and how you can help them enjoy it more.
  • Show her that sport can be fun and that it can be a family activity. Start by playing a game of basketball in the backyard, going for a bike ride or taking the dog for a walk.
  • Experiment with different activities and help her find something she enjoys – it doesn’t have to be a traditional sport or competitive.
  • Be a good example and show her that you enjoy being active.
  • Introduce her to positive role models locally and in the media.
  • Help her find her favourite female players or athletes on Instagram, listen to podcasts they feature on and show her newspaper articles where female athletes are profiled.
  • Practice at home and support her if she needs your help to improve.
  • Get her friends involved and create a social element – talk to other parents of girls in her age group and find a sport they all enjoy and can do together.
  • Find the right community, perhaps the right team isn’t the school team, try clubs or communities outside of school so she can find her right fit.
  • Talk about the benefits of an active lifestyle and why it’s important for her overall health and wellbeing so she knows why it is important.
  • Have the right conversation – make sure she knows that playing sport doesn’t have to be competitive or about being the best. If you need some help with talking to her about winning and losing, check out this blog post.
  • Help her create more time in her schedule for sport – if she is under pressure during exam periods or has a part-time job, help her schedule in time for sport so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed and stressed by it. Prioritise sport as the health initiative it is.
  • Inspire them to play and enjoy sport – every young girl should watch Cricket Australia’s powerful #WATCHME campaign for the launch of the 2018-2019 summer season of women’s cricket, whether they are interested in cricket or not.

If you want to connect your daughter with an inspiring role model, there are 45 female coaches across 12 different sports on PlayBook, including netballers Gretel Tippett, Jemma Mi Mi and Kim Ravaillion, AFLW player Chloe Molloy, cricketer Beth Mooney and the Jillaroo’s Ali Brigginshaw. Jump onto PlayBook to get started!