As well as my High Performance Parenting work, I also do some consultancy facilitation work. Last week I was lucky enough to be involved in a think tank run by the social enterprise, Women Ahead. On the agenda was the issue of how to increase participation and positive perceptions of female sport in children and young adults. Gender diversity in sport is an issue close to my heart, having worked in a sport where female coaches are few and far between, but I had never really researched the knitty-gritty of where we are in the UK on this issue. Some of the data that came to light was eye-opening.
In Olympic year, we are not far away from seeing a festival of men’s and women’s sport all over the media, and I for one can’t wait. But did you know, that on average the coverage devoted to women’s sport across the media as a whole is only 7% of the total. The BBC does a much better job with the figure between 20-30%, but it is still a long way from gender equality.
There are lots of reasons why this might be so. More men play sport, therefore more men’s sport is shown. More men watch sport, therefore more men’s sport is shown. There is more funding in men’s sport and more sponsorship, therefore more men’s sport is shown. But one of the quotes that was shared at the Think Tank which really resonated with me was from Billy Jean King,
“You have to see it to be it”.
Is the fact that young girls and women are exposed to far fewer role models in sport, creating a self perpetuating situation, a catch 22 where lots of girls don’t see sport as relevant for them?
This is certainly borne out in the participation figures; from year 4 to year 6 in primary school, the proportion of girls participating in the recommended amount of sport and physical activity drops sharply, whilst the proportion of boys increases. By age 14, only 1 in 10 girls are doing enough physical activity to benefit their health, compared with roughly twice the number of boys of the same age. By age 14, girls drop out of sport twice as often as boys due to social stigma, lack of access, safety and transportation issues, lack of facilities such as showers, costs and lack of positive role models.
It makes pretty sad reading, not just for sport but for the wider societal considerations of health and economy. I don’t need to tell you how involvement in sport is obviously good for long term health. But what about the economy? Well this quote from the organisation EY sums it up.
“Sport is where boys have traditionally learned about teamwork, goal-setting, the pursuit of excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behaviours – critical skills necessary for success in the workplace. In an economic environment where the quality of our children’s lives may be dependent on two income families, our daughters cannot be less prepared for the highly competitive workplace than our sons. It is no accident that 80% of the female executive at Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as former “tomboys” – having played sport”
So to all you High Performance Parents out there, keep encouraging your sons and daughters in their sporting pursuits. Take them to see men’s and women’s live sport to inspire them and give them positive role models and healthy gender images. Challenge their schools and their sport’s clubs if you see evidence of gender inequality. And perhaps accept the fact, that for the time being, until Women Ahead have changed the world, your daughter might need more support, encouragement and understanding to pursue a sport than your son.
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