Girls and sports – encouraging the next generation

Within this blog post, mother of three and Parents’ Voice Steering Committee member, Rachel Clemons, reflects on the different sporting expectations placed on boys and girls and offers some helpful tips for parents who are looking to encourage their daughters to engage with sport and physical activity.

The benefits to kids from participating in sport are significant and wide ranging. Playing sport can give them confidence. It teaches them about competition, teamwork and being a good sport. And of course, it can help them improve and maintain fitness.

But as a mum of two girls I’ve sometimes felt like the odds are stacked against me when trying to encourage and support my daughters to take interest, and continue to participate, in sports.

From when they were very young, it struck me how often they would receive craft or clothes as gifts, when my son would be given bats, balls and other sporting equipment – even though he loves art and craft as much as his sisters (and they, sport).

During school cross country I’ve noticed that the boys more often than not will run the course, while it’s not uncommon for girls to walk it, perhaps not wanting to risk putting in the effort only to look silly or potentially get a poor result.

And I’ve heard depressing tales about the gender bias that exists in some sports. One friends’ daughter, for example, had a terrible experience with basketball where the boys didn’t pass to the girls, and the coach completely ignored the girls.

So, I felt saddened – but perhaps not surprised – to read these nationally representative statistics about girls and sports from Suncorp Australian Youth and Confidence Research 2019[i] :

  • Only 55% of Australian girls aged 11-17 play sport, compared with 69% of boys of the same age
  • Girls aged 11-18 are significantly less active (by 1 hour 18 minutes on average) than boys of the same age in a typical week
  • Nearly 50% of girls turn their back on sport by age 17

But while there’s still a long way to go, I can’t help but feel the tide has been changing for girls and sports in recent years, which will hopefully contribute to an improvement in these stats.

A highlight for me is the increasing media focus on female sporting role models, and women’s sport more generally.

It has been great for my daughters to see tennis champion, Ash Barty, who’s such a positive role model and great ambassador for girls and sport, on the label of their jar of Vegemite in the past, and to hear her telling them that “you play for you”.

And we can now turn on the TV and have a decent chance of catching a game of women’s AFL or Big Bash League, rather than just the men’s versions. Normalising the presence and enhancing the visibility of girls and women in sport is so important if we want our daughters to play sport too. As the saying goes, “If they can see it, they can be it.”[ii]

Top 5 tips for parents

So, as parents, how can we give our daughters the best chance of having a positive and lasting relationship with sports?

The Australian government’s Girls Make Your Move campaign gives some great tips for parents, and for me the following five have been the most helpful:

  1. Be a role model — don’t just encourage your daughter, be active yourself and speak positively about what you do. My partner is active in a local triathlon club and helps run the kids’ events. After my Pilates class or personal training sessions I always feel great, and where possible I tell my kids that.
  2. Sample and have fun — encourage your daughter to try different activities until she finds something she likes. My eldest daughter tried numerous sports before discovering her love of netball. My youngest spent a year playing soccer, then tried skate boarding and has since circled back to soccer again.
  3. Make it a family activity – Make physical activity part of your family routine and outings. Our favourites include family bike rides, bush walks that incorporate geocaching, swimming in ocean pools and kicking around a ball at the local park.
  4. Trade the screens – Limit screen time at home and encourage sport and physical activity in the spare time. We have a dog that needs walking and a trampoline in the backyard, which is helpful!
  5. Search for new opportunities – Some of the greatest of passions can be found when trying something new for the first time. Help your daughter find an event or activity that you can participate in together. I’m currently working on getting my eldest daughter to do Parkrun with me on a regular basis.


Feature Image Credit: Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

[i] Suncorp. 2019. ‘Suncorp Australian Youth & Confidence Research 2019’. Accessed 03/03/20.

[ii] Reece, LJ., Foley, BC., McInerney, C., Bellew, B., Bauman, AE. Women and Girls in Sport, Active Recreation and Physical activity- A Participation Review. SPRINTER Group. 2017. The University of Sydney. Accessed 03/03/20.

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