Active girls are happier and more confident: On why the play gap matters

A large study has just concluded that physical activity is strongly linked to wellbeing for girls. See here.

“More active girls showed higher levels of the qualities associated with wellbeing which are self-belief, confidence, resilience, happiness and empathy. The largest difference was seen in girls’ resilience. Over three quarters (77%) of more active girls said they were resilient compared to under half (46%) of less active girls.”

The Youth Sports Trust Girls Active report is one of the largest studies ever of girls and physical activity. Kimberly Wyatt writes about it, “The statistics from the Youth Sport Trust show that girls need our help in getting active. Kids decide how they feel about their bodies between the ages of 6-8 and this choice lasts the rest of their lives. I passionately believe in the power of dance and physical activity to give every girl the best chance possible at a happy and fulfilled life and our duty is to do what we can.”

Younger girls said the biggest barriers to physical activity were not being good at sports, not liking being hot and sweaty, and fear of being laughed at. Among older girls lack of confidence is the most often cited reason.

In addition to wellbeing, sports participation and physical activity in childhood is also linked to business and political success.

If the barriers to sports participation are higher for girls than for boys, then other sorts of inequalities result. It’s not just unequal access to sports, though that matters too, it’s also the resulting unequal access to the goods associated with participation in sports and physical activity

Now some people will be tempted to say that physical activity doesn’t have to be the thing that everyone likes. It’s okay if some kids prefer music or theatre or math or video-gaming or plain old fashioned books and board games. My father liked to say, “It wouldn’t do if we all liked the same things.” And with adults that’s almost always my line. You do you, as the kids say.

But the advantages to active kids are so big–health, psychological and emotional wellbeing, and confidence–we ought to try to make extra sure that girls get opportunities to be active. It’s also worth noting that the girls do describe barriers to physical activity. It’s not that that they don’t like it.

When we add the advantages of emotional well being and future success to the known health advantages, we see very strong reasons to remove the barriers from young women’s participation in physical activity.

3 thoughts on “Active girls are happier and more confident: On why the play gap matters

  1. It’s true. Girls tend to be excluded, even when it’s just for fun. The guys automatically try to work around them instead of including them. I remember trying to play Capture the Flag in college with a co-ed group of friends, and the girls were talked over and not allowed to do anything. I walked out on the game because there was nothing for me to do. I mostly exercise alone because it just works out better that way. I’ve found that team sports generally just don’t work out for me.

  2. I suspect it is really hard to separate “lack of confidence” with poor body image in “tweens” and teen girls. I’ve seen it with the girls I teach, and experienced it myself as a larger teen–feeling fat goes hand in hand with girls not wanting to put their bodies out there in sports.

    Girls who develop breasts earlier also have a challenge of not yet knowing how to support everything in a comfortable way, and may not be able to afford the kind of engineering necessary to keep everything in place and comfortable!

  3. This makes a lot of sense. I just wish schools would put more thought into activities that would engage the kids not very interested in team sports. In my kids’ school, they only really have sports like hockey, soccer and basketball but you have to have some skill to make the teams. Self-confidence is a huge factor here. We’ve put the kids in swimming and karate and I keep looking for more activities. This summer we bought a trampoline for the backyard (against various medical association guidelines) and my girls love jumping in it. I’m going to keep trying to come up with fun things (oh, we also have a dog to walk) but I really wish the schools also put more thought into it.

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