Saturday / 1 / October

Supporting women and girls in sport

It’s an exciting time for women and girls in sport. Girls now have access to a wider choice of competitive sports and a better depth of competition. Earlier this year, AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick announced that eight teams will compete in next year’s newly created women’s AFL competition. Even if you have no interest in football, you should be excited about this. Let me tell you why.

During my primary school years, boys played football, soccer, and cricket, and girls played netball, softball, and vigoro. But that was only at a school level. The opportunities to play these sports competitively, short of joining a specialised sporting club outside of school, were quite slim. So to have an all-women’s league created to further expand women and young girls’ options is very exciting.

To say that the creation of a semi-professional women’s AFL competition is significant might be a bit of an understatement. This competition creates a pathway for young girls looking to compete in the professional sporting arena. It will also create space in the sport and recreation industry for conversation about equality.

This year, Cricket Australia announced a four-year, $4 million funding drive to support women and young girls in cricket. They plan to foster more all-girl teams and competitions around Australia by investing funds into clubs, associations, and secondary schools. Research identifying that local clubs needed to provide the opportunity for girls to play alongside people of similar age and ability triggered the financial investment.

Since the Australian women’s rugby sevens won gold at the Rio Olympics, the ARU launched a women’s university level competition. The ARU hopes this additional level of competition will accelerate the game’s growth and foster more pathways to the elite Sevens program.

Campaigns and support

Governments and organisations left right and centre are employing initiatives to boost women’s involvement not just in sport, but physical activity in general. The Queensland Government is currently running the “Start Playing, Stay Playing” movement, a campaign aimed at getting women and girls active for life. This initiative is aimed more toward older women becoming involved in physical activity and staying active so they can reap the rewards associated with regular physical activity. The website links to local sporting clubs and recreational areas, research relevant to the program, funding, and awards.

Another recent campaign is “Girls Make Your Move“, a fantastic Australian Government initiative aimed at encouraging young women to become more active. A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health says the program planned to achieve this by “generating positive perceptions, reducing perceived barriers to participation, and generating intentions to be more active”. “The campaign is part of our efforts to address preventable illness and morbidity through the promotion of healthy lifestyles for improved health and wellbeing,” she says.

Spokeswoman for Federal Department of Health’s “Girls Make Your Move” says the campaign ran from mid-February to May this year. The campaign also has an ongoing Instagram channel to promote events that support the cause. The campaign website has tips and information about a whole range of sports and activities. The website also has tips for parents and teachers about how to encourage their daughters and female students to become more active.

Also over the last few years, several campaigns aimed at promoting women’s strength and overcoming negative female stereotypes emerged. One that was done well is from Always.com called “#LikeAGirl”. This was a television advertising campaign showing how differently young women, men, boys, and girls interpret the instruction of doing something “like a girl”. The particularly interesting part comes when girls around the age of 10 demonstrate how to run, fight, hit, and throw like a girl, compared to when young boys, women, and men demonstrate the same actions. Girls performed the action as they normally would, while boys and young men and women performed the same action in a manner you could describe as weak and patronising. Watch the video here.

Why girls?

By now you might be wondering why there are so many campaigns aimed solely at females, since there is so much talk about equality. The Federal Department of Health outlines various reasons why they aimed their campaign “Girls Make Your Move” at young women:

  1. Research shows that young women exercise at a lower level of intensity and with higher amounts of rest time than young men
  2. Less than half of girls aged 15-17 years participate in moderate or high levels of physical activity
  3. More than half of girls aged 15-17 years do no or low levels of physical activity, compared to less than half of boys the same age
  4. Young women face additional barriers, including the fear of being judged or ridiculed and their self-consciousness about how they might look while exercising

Supporting your daughter/sister/friend

The “Girls Make Your Move” website gives parents some tips on how to encourage their daughters to become more active.

Tips include:

  1. Being a good role model
  2. Showing her that physical activity can be fun
  3. Encouraging her to try different activities
  4. Making physical activity a family routine
  5. Talking with her about why she doesn’t enjoy physical activity (if applicable). Kids should enjoy what they do so they aren’t discouraged from future physical activity, so encourage them to try different sports and activities until they find their fit.

Do what you love

The Cricket Australia investment also includes an increase in the payment pool for women’s cricketers from $2.3 million to $4.23 million. This funding means Australia’s leading female cricketers are now the best paid of any women’s team sports in the country. That means women have more opportunity to make a living from being a professional sportsperson, which is an exciting prospect for aspiring athletes.

As a result, more female competition and more funding for clubs and associations means a greater potential to be better paid. It’s an exciting time for women in sport. So girls, forget the “rules” about what sports you should play – if you love it, do it; you never know what opportunities await you.

Header image via: Melbourne University Women’s Football Club

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