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Girls Participation in Sport: When does the drop-off begin?

Girls Participation in Sport: When does the drop-off begin?

David Turner, sports coach UK, Coaching Children Lead

@David_T_scUK

I feel it is fair to say that the fact that there is a drop-off in girls' participation in PE and sport in the UK is undisputed. Alarmingly, this was first identified in 1957!  Likewise I do not feel I am on too shaky ground if I go on to state that the health benefits, physical, mental, social, emotional and even in terms of fertility for girls who remain active in sport are well stated. 

In this blog I won’t go into details about causes of drop-off or even too much on the potential solutions, the WSFF and my colleague Sarah Milner (@scohen_leeds) have done a much better job on this than I could hope to.  You can find a whole host of resources on this topic here.

Not long ago I saw an official press release that claimed girls' participation in PE and sport begins to drop off at age 14 (Key Stage 4 in academic terms).  I have to confess this irked me somewhat. Admittedly, the drop off can be seen to accelerate among girls as they reach approximately 14, but this is an acceleration which could easily be exacerbated by the social effects of earlier drop-out among peers. In my opinion, it would be more beneficial to focus our attention on the origins of the drop-off, a period that seems to coincide with the transition from primary school (Year 6) to secondary school (Year 7). 

One of my oft quote facts to friends and colleagues is that most children in the UK report a positive primary school experience, yet several pieces of research have listed our children as the least happy in Europe by the time they reach high school. Where it’s all going wrong is for a Master's dissertation rather than a blog.   So for me I’d like to focus on what we can do, either as coaches of childrehttp://www.sportscoachuk.org/site-tools/workshops/about-our-workshops/how-coach-fundamentals-movementn or as PE teachers, to minimise this drop-off. 

I hear quotes such as “My friends stopped playing sport a while ago, so now I have too”. Surely the place to focus our efforts and resources is on those girls who drop out first?

My belief is that offering girls more opportunities to take part in both high quality PE and sport during the 5-12 age range is the best way to ensure continued participation in sport. I’m not saying anything new here, but I do feel it is important that we are aware of when the drop-off begins (rather than when it accelerates) and recognise the positive role the development of fundamental movement skills and holistic coaching can provide. To enjoy sport and remain active, and hopefully successful, I believe that girls (and boys for that matter) need to be confident physically and socially to participate in sport. 

I would argue that elite level female sport is in a very healthy situation in the UK – I present our latest Olympic Gold Medallist, Lizzy Yarnold, as Exhibit A (a javelin thrower in a previous life, I’m proud to say). So for me this is a priority in terms of the health of the nation rather than the Olympic Medal table. The counter argument, of course, is how many children are realistically able to participate in the sports in which we are winning gold medals, but each elite success has the potential to inspire young people to participate in every sport.  The more girls we keep interested in sport the better, throughout the sporting landscape.   

Useful resources:

ICSSPE and WHO paper

WSFF: Teenage Girls and Dropout

WSFF: Changing the Game for Girls

Next Steps

If you enjoyed this blog David has posted a number of other blogs on ConnectedCoaches - our free online community for coaches of all sports and activities. You can view all his blogs here.

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