In a year marked by a mouth-watering feast of sport there is some concern that the legacy promised by the Olympics “to inspire a generation” is failing to engage teenage girls. Research conducted by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WWFF) reports that only 12% of 14 year old girls are participating in expected levels of sport, with 45% saying sport at school is too competitive and 51% claiming that school puts them off sport.
Clearly this research poses quite a challenge for schools nationally. Teenage years for girls are inevitably caught up with self-esteem issues and a misplaced belief that to be super thin is more desirable than to be super fit. This notion of wellbeing is key to unlocking the possibilities of an active life for teenage girls. Sport must meet their needs and should be based on a very simple principle – choice. Fitness is the ultimate goal and this can be achieved in a myriad of ways.
In our school we have a nuanced approach designed to challenge the sporting elite whilst also promoting sport for all. As a single sex girls’ school from ages 7-16 we have already removed one potential barrier to sporting interest – boys! It also means that in addition to playing traditional girls’ sports such as netball and hockey, we can add to the mix more traditional boys’ sport eg cricket and soccer, without any sense of gender bias. Equally valued are dance, yoga, rowing, touch rugby, basketball, multi sports, ultimate frisbee, athletics, Duke of Edinburgh Award – a carousel of choice is the secret of engagement.
An additional weapon in our armoury owes its inspiration to the Paralympics. The nation really embraced the Paralympics and enjoyed the huge range of sporting opportunities. This term the PE department, as part of an innovative curriculum development with a trans-disciplinary approach, has learnt with the students the skills and attributes required for sports such as sit down volley ball, goal ball and wheelchair basketball. This initiative has enjoyed overwhelming support and has succeeded in challenging students in very different ways.
Of course, teenage girls also need very positive role models. Here the Olympics and Paralympics have really delivered. The prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year which last year had no women on the short list, this year offers the voting public a balance between the sexes. Although Jessica Ennis is the stand out all-round sportswoman, what about the perseverance and never say die approach of Kathryn Grainger who finally won a gold medal in rowing in her fourth Olympics to add to her three silvers and six world championships? And the boxer, Nicola Adams, who fought her way to the first female boxing gold medal – putting the ultimate sporting gender prejudice to bed.
Each of these women is not only a sporting hero at the peak of physical fitness, she also illustrates another equally important dimension of sport – character. Hard work, self-discipline, dedication, self-sacrifice – all are integral to sporting success. This is why sport is so important. “Mens sans in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body is an eternal truth.
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