Published by BBC NEWS - 7th March 2022

Girls playing football

Image source, Getty Images

Many girls who used to be very sporty have “fallen out of love” with physical activity as teenagers, a study reveals.

The reasons include body image, puberty and fear of judgement, Women in Sport, which surveyed 4,000 teenagers, says.

It is a myth girls drop sport simply because their priorities change, the charity says, urging the sport, leisure and education sectors to work harder.

Half said they disliked being watched if they exercised and some seven in 10 avoided sport on their period.

Other reasons included:

  • lack of confidence (61%),
  • schoolwork pressures (47%)
  • feeling unsafe outdoors (43%)

Feeling self-conscious in gym or sports gear was another worry.

One girl shared: “My school has a lot of unisex clothes, by unisex they’re made for boys, when you are in puberty and have wider hips it doesn’t fit right.

“Skort – you feel vulnerable in them, even if no immediate threat and you’re not around the boys, you still don’t feel comfortable.”

Some said they did not “have the right body shape”, while others dislike becoming hot and sweaty.

Sport became too competitive as they grew older, some said, and they no longer felt able to join in just for fun.

Asked what would motivate them, many said making exercise more fun, with more opportunities outside school with friends.

Women in Sport chief executive Stephanie Hilborne said: “It’s an absolute travesty that teenage girls are being pushed out of sport at such a scale.

“Teenage girls are not voluntarily leaving sport, they are being pushed out as a consequence of deep-rooted gender stereotypes.

“We must all do more to reverse this trend and not continue to accept this as inevitable.”

Mental rewards

Kate Dale, from Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, said: “Sadly, this research is not surprising – the gender activity gap starts young.

“Over two-thirds of teenage girls have quit sport altogether by the time they are 16 and 17.

“This means that many girls grow into adults who miss out on the physical, social and mental rewards of an active lifestyle.

“Positive experiences with physical activity at a young age are vital for building healthy habits for life.

“It’s also vital that girls see women and girls who look like them playing sport, to challenge the stereotypes of what women getting active should look like.”

This Girl Can has made Studio You, a video library of workouts for teenage girls, free to all schools.

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