When it comes to girls and sport – 2019 doesn’t add up.
Team Girls is dedicated to fostering and promoting girls’ participation in sport. It’s about girls supporting girls, building up their confidence, and knowing they’re stronger when they stand together – on and off the court.
I want you to stop. Stop and take in this moment.
Right now, it is a truly magical time for women in sport.
Look around you. Everywhere you turn you’ll see strong, gutsy Aussie women breaking records on courts and ovals, in pools and oceans, on fields and greens. Finally, FINALLY, sportswomen are receiving the attention they deserve as they make headlines and fill Instagram feeds kicking goals and reminding our daughters life is about what your body can do, NOT what it looks like.
There’s Ash “The Smash” Barty tennis. On the soccer field there’s Sam Kerr. Hannah Green in golf. Sally Fitzgibbons in surfing. Tayla Harris in AFL. All the teams in Suncorp Super Netball. The Matildas.
And yet a disconnect is most definitely happening. Our teen girls are walking away from sport. Walking away instead of running towards it and the multitude of physical, social and emotional benefits it brings. Did you know that close to 50 per cent of our girls are dropping out of sport by the age of 17? That’s according to Suncorp's Australian Youth & Confidence Research 2019 report.
NEARLY FIFTY PER CENT.
How is this happening?
It’s not rocket science when you take a look.
As teens get older, weekend jobs become more appealing (and sometimes more necessary) than Saturday fixtures.
Puberty means changing body shapes on top of the fragility of adolescence - this can leave girls feeling incredibly vulnerable when forced to wear swimmers, short skirts or bike pants on the field or court in front of their peers.
Well there’s the bigger academic workload of years 11 and 12 at school and – let’s be real - sport tends to be the first thing girls drop from crowded timetables. (The irony of course is that teens who play sports do better academically. Sports provide that much-needed mental health break from the stress of study).
But there’s another reason why our girls are dropping out of sport.
It’s us. Our kids are dropping out of sport because of their parents.
Parents mocking their children’s opponents.
Parents berating their own kids for not playing well enough.
Parents getting into verbal arguments and physical fights with other parents on the sidelines.
Parents yelling obscenities at coaches and referees.
A few years ago, when my daughter played soccer I watched in horror as a parent yelled criticisms throughout the entire game. The players were eight-year-olds.
It’s unsurprising then that a recent survey by Tampa Bay’s i9 Sports of kids aged eight to 14, found that more than 30 per cent of respondents wished “adults weren’t watching their games.”
Meanwhile, more than 10 per cent said they’d been called a name by another player’s parent; almost 40 per cent said they’d witnessed verbal fights between parents.
Take that in for a moment. There are kids going to weekend sport who have been called names by another kid’s parent.
So, when our girls tell us that sport is starting to feel ‘too serious’, we have to ask ourselves if it’s because we’ve ruined it for them.
When did ‘winning’ become the single focus in kids’ sport? Because – spoiler alert – around one per cent of high school kids actually go on to become professional athletes. So why is winning the priority?
Winning (and learning to win graciously and fairly) is just ONE experience we want our kids to have playing sport. Isn’t it? Don’t we also want them to develop that grit inside them to get back up and play another day? To be honourable in defeat? What about how to be a team player? Learning to take feedback from a coach? Finding their voice on the field - knowing that the best team captains aren’t always the strongest players, they are the people who have an ability to inspire and lead.
Sport teaches our girls so many life skills that have nothing to do with full time scores or trophies.
As parents, let’s remember that we set the tone.
- Let’s be enthusiastic: parental enthusiasm for being active and playing sport helps shape our children’s attitudes and eagerness to get involved.
- Let’s focus on what matters: Forget goals and PBs. Let’s champion teamwork, resilience, leadership and all those skills our kids are soaking up.
- Let’s learn to be supportive spectators: Let the coaches and refs do their job. As parents let’s say two important sentences after every game: “I love watching you play” and “Did you have fun out there?”
The research is clear that getting active does wonders for our children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
When it comes to sport – let’s be their cheerleaders.
What's the deal with negative self-talk? How do you convince a teenager to not quit sport? Suncorp's Team Girls resources have helpful articles for parents, teenagers and anyone else who'd like to help build the next generation of confident girls on and off the court. Explore now and be inspired.
Rebecca Sparrow is Suncorp’s #TeamGirls ambassador and a best-selling author, columnist, podcast host and passionate advocate for teenage girls. Rebecca regularly visits high schools to present to students, and has developed a range of resources to help girls navigate their way through their formative years.
This content includes the views and opinions of a third-party, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Suncorp.
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