Why girls simply must not give up on sport

We have just enjoyed a record-breaking sporting summer with Team GB achieving their best medal tally at the Rio Olympics since 1908 with a wealth of inspiring performances from dedicated and inspirational athletes. Fabulous female role models like Laura Trott, Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and the Ladies Hockey team abound and yet statistics tell us that by the age of 14, girls drop out of sports twice as often as boys. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), factors such as social stigma, lack of access, safety and transportation issues, costs and absence of positive role models, can all contribute to the reasons why girls drop out of sports in their adolescent years. As a headteacher, I hear other reasons too, why girls might give up sport: they want to focus on their GCSE studies; they don’t like field sports; it clashes with revision classes/drama/music; they hate the kit. As a lifelong sporting enthusiast myself, I have a battery of reasons why these are terrible arguments!

Studies commissioned by the WSF point to the benefits of girls staying active in terms of their physical and mental health; it can prevent chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease as well as boosting self-esteem and confidence levels. In an age dominated by technology and social media, it provides a valuable break from the screen and opportunity to develop focus, concentration and co-ordination. Improved teamwork and communication skills, the opportunity to develop leadership skills can lead to improved achievement opportunities in school and at work. In an EY Women Athletics Business Network and espnW survey, 74% said a background in sports can help accelerate a woman’s career; 66% believe that athletes make excellent candidates for jobs because they’ve developed a strong work ethic, can be a team player, and have the determination to be a great employee; and 75% stated that competitiveness is an asset to their leadership style in the workplace.

Fortunately at Blackheath High GDST, we are working to reverse the general picture of girls opting out of sports. It helps we have fabulous role models in school; our Director of Sport is tackling a marathon this year and our Junior sports specialist teacher is a former England netball captain. More than that, we do not force girls to choose between studying GCSEs, acting in the school play or playing in the U16 Hockey XI, we know how important a skill balancing these commitments is and just how much the girls develop as a result. We espouse an approach that supports both excellence and participation, offering a broad range of activities so that there is something active to appeal to every girl, with specialist sports teaching from their first arrival in the Junior School, all through to Year 13 . There are no gender stereotypes here, with girls participating in Football and Ballet with equal relish and commitment and long may it last and grow!

Carol Chandler-Thompson, Head, Blackheath High School

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