Boys aged between 8 and 15 spend almost twice as much time doing sport activities as girls of the same age (The Independent)
By the age of 7, girls are 22% less likely than boys to call themselves “very sporty” (The Guardian)
Twice as many girls as boys claim a lack confidence prevents them being active at school (Youth Sports Trust).
Watching the Sports personality of the year this weekend, with sporting legends such as Billie Jean King and the more recent role models of Dina Asher Smith and the England Netball team, I felt buoyed by the achievement and diversity of these incredible women. Yet, the above statistics show that their experience and achievements are not the norm for girls over the age of 7 and the trend is declining participation.
Truthfully, I would not have described myself as sporty at school (I had enough of a healthy respect for lacrosse sticks to keep a very safe distance…), but having always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I chose to spend most of my teenage years at the dry ski slope at Hemel Hempstead. Reflecting back on it, that would probably be considered an odd choice for a 16 year old girl now. But my obsession with all things involving travelling at speed on snow, was vital to my confidence and self esteem, especially whilst navigating adolescence and all the drama that entails.
And it is sport that I have gone back to throughout my life - during my university years mostly either spent in the mountains or in the waves (again on reflection, Birmingham was probably an odd choice given it’s lack of either…), during my time in the Army and eventually on becoming a mother to two energetic kids.
Yet, I also know that my career choice enabled this to be a continual thread and therefore, something that is easier to return to. For those who stopped participating, whether in their teens, twenties or thirties, it is much harder to pick up again - not least because of the loss of confidence in what their body is capable of, or not identifying as someone “sporty”. And the danger is that sporting role models can become almost like demi-gods - there to admire if not necessarily emulate - and that an emphasis on competition can prevent someone from even beginning.
So personally, I reckon it’s time we start to shift the goal posts. Sport is about competition and there is enormous joy and reward in winning, but it’s also about qualities such as community, personal development and - most critically - fun. Watching my kids on the football pitch or haring around park run, they want to win, but I also know that wouldn’t even be there if they weren’t enjoying it!
My mission now is to share my own passion for adventure sports with other women - to support them in going outside of their comfort zones to discover what they are capable of achieving, both physically and mentally. And hopefully in doing so, they can show that the joy of sport is something open to everyone and inspire the next generation to stick with it too!
To find out more about my Resilience and Adventure Workshops, email firstname.lastname@example.org