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Encouraging girls into sport - what they really need

by katie malkinson 05 Apr 2019 0 Comments

Girls Sport

Earlier this year I was watching the FA Cup and was sat on the sofa with a smile on my face. It was the men’s FA Cup draw but there was a man and a woman performing it. The woman was Alex Scott MBE, former Arsenal and England footballer.

On the surface it looks as though they just had two footballers involved in working out which teams would play each other in the next stage of the Cup as usual, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s much more to it: the BBC had placed a female footballer on prime time TV carrying out the duties that predominantly a man had done before; and they were showing girls and women that it is possible to gain the coverage that male sports’ stars in the UK enjoy.

I am loving the sea change that is happening across the media when it comes to women’s sports and it’s not just because I enjoy reading those stories. It is so much more than newspaper copy.

Girls in sport then and now
Firstly, let’s go back to, say, the 1970s - the UK was still tilted in favour of men although maybe things were starting to change... a little. Imagine being a girl who liked football then.

  • It might have been hard to be accepted into a team – she would likely have been told that football is a ‘boys’ sport’ and to go and play something typically played by girls.
  • She may have been bullied for playing a ‘boys’ sport’, been called a tomboy and the like.
  • And, she probably didn’t have any role models: she couldn’t see anyone older or further on in the game in real life or in the media of the day, who had fought her battles of being accepted into a team and the name calling as well as the challenges of playing sport as a teenager (periods, feeling self-conscious, lacking confidence being just three). She probably thought she was fighting a losing battle and so gave up, channelling her energies into other ‘more gender acceptable’ sports (we hope, although it’s highly likely she might have given up altogether)

  • Fast forward to today and things are, thankfully, so different. If we carry on with the football theme, my daughter has just started playing for our local team and she is loving it! It benefits her in so many ways – exercise, a new friendship group, her confidence levels and just trying something new - the club has over sixty girls participating! Likewise, my son is training and playing cricket alongside girls much of the time and local towns have dedicated girls’ cricket teams. How that young girl from the 1970s would have loved it.

    And let’s be clear: it’s not all about girls playing ‘boys’ sports’. Even girls playing ‘girls’ sports’ didn’t used to be able to see their favourite sport on TV or reported in the newspaper. Coverage of women’s sport was pretty thin on the ground regardless.

    Why coverage is important
    Role models - this is why it’s so important for there to be coverage of women’s sports. We can buy our girls all the sports’ equipment in the world but what they really need are role models and when it comes to girls and sport, it’s critical, quite frankly. Girls, regardless of level, need to have others to emulate and who inspire them. They need to see that it is possible to achieve great things, be that at the local, county, national or even international level. And by establishing healthy habits through exercise and sport at a young age, they are on the right track to helping their mental and physical well-being as they grow older too.

    And with that in mind, I was really thrilled to see that The Daily Telegraph has started two campaigns recently. The first is “to transform the profile and visibility of women’s sport and to campaign for change.” They are going to start to publish a dedicated women’s sports’ supplement. This is MASSIVE news! Dina Asher-Smith summed up the importance of role models brilliantly, “I am very much aware that I am here because I am female track and field. I could conceptualise going to the Olympics as a female sprinter at the highest level. I could see it on TV. It should be the same if you are a young girl playing football, cricket, netball or rugby.”

    Their second campaign is called Girls, Inspired which aims “to close the gender sports gap in schools and keep girls active.” As I’m sure you appreciate, this is right up my street and follows other great initiatives such as “This Girl Can” and “Chance to Shine” for girls in cricket.

    Social media
    Social media receives bad press much of the time but it does have its pro’s too and especially so when it comes to women in sport. It has afforded many professional sportswomen the platform to create their own coverage and not only that, but in a really authentic way. They can post videos of themselves ‘behind the scenes’ to show that perhaps they’re not always ‘winning’ at sport, or at life! That training days are hard, that they sometimes resent the diets they have to eat but that overall, it’s to help them achieve their dreams.

    Girls in sport need to be able to see successful women to spur them on to achieve their own dreams. Unlike the FA Cup, coverage of women’s sport shouldn’t be down to the ‘luck of the draw’ and whether the story warrants taking the place of a men’s sports’ story. It’s so important to provide role models and in order for things to change there needs to be deliberate action to affect the status quo. It’s great to see what The Daily Telegraph is doing but now we need other media organisations to follow suit.

    This piece was not sponsored by The Daily Telegraph in any way! I just like what they’re doing. Follow them on Instagram @telegraphwomenssport.

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