According to research from the Institute of Sport at Loughborough University, conducted for the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WWFF), 45% of girls say sport at school is “too competitive” and 48% say being sweaty is “not feminine”. So, in a year when London is to host the Olympics, the premier sporting event involving both men and women, nearly half of all girls think that sport is not cool. This is very perturbing, especially when you consider the state of our nation’s health and the alarming obesity statistics.
The provision of sport in coeducational schools is presented as the villain of the piece by WWFF and it is argued that teenage girls lose confidence on mixed school playing fields becoming increasingly reluctant to participate in sport.
One solution suggested for addressing the problem has a great deal of merit. Boys should be taken out of the equation, with teenage girls participating in sport in a single sex environment. When you consider that in all major competitive sports the genders are segregated this makes a great deal of sense.
In relation to competition, I personally think there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition in sports and, certainly, at the top of all games it is to be expected. However, for the majority of girls and young women, apart from improving agility, strength, coordination and so on, the objective of sports at school must be to achieve a level of aerobic activity, fitness and health. In this context, competition is unnecessary and can be detrimental.
Based on our experience of successfully teaching girls for many decades, the key to fostering an enjoyment of sport lies in making it fun, varied, inclusive and accessible to children of all abilities. To this end girls should be encouraged to try everything and anything that captures their imagination, from tennis to touch rugby, hockey to hip hop, as long as it gets them up and active and enjoying being a little bit sweaty, out of the sight of boys!
We promote a “sports for all” philosophy in our curriculum, with classes streamed by ability to allow the sporty girl to compete at an elite level and the less competitive girl to enjoy sport. Nothing in our numbers for club attendance corroborates the WWFF research findings or suggests that girls are shunning sport at the Stephen Perse Foundation and we run a full fixtures list for teams.