Leicestershire healthy schools

Girls begin to doubt sporting ability at age seven

Girls begin to doubt sporting ability at age seven

Research by equalities office finds girls enjoy physical activities until year 3 – but then destructive stereotypes kick in.

Girls become more self-conscious and begin to doubt their sporting abilities after the age of seven, according to research commissioned by the government equalities office. The study found that girls aged seven and eight had not yet ruled themselves out of doing sport on the basis of their gender, but that unhelpful stereotypes were beginning to emerge.

Some girls told interviewers they disliked playing games outside in the cold and that they worried about their performance – even if they were actually considered good at sport.

The small-scale study, which involved 38 pupils, found that boys consider themselves faster and stronger than girls, and more sporty. “Girls are rubbish at football ... when they kick the ball, it goes, like, 5cm,” one interviewee said. “Men can play more sport than women.”

“Girls are clearly conscious of these perceptions,” researchers said, warning that cracks appear in girls’ confidence when they are aged seven and eight. “Some are starting to agree with the assessment that rough or overly competitive sports are not appropriate for girls. This was also observable in the playground. However, other girls disagree, and some are keen to be included by boys in order to prove that they are just as good.”

Researchers say challenging gender stereotypes could help to maintain a culture in school and at home which values sport for girls and boys equally. “A perception of not being good at sport – or feeling that others don’t think you are – can be very off-putting for girls who want to participate,” said the report. “This could be why many of the girls in the focus groups are already beginning to feel uncomfortable about taking part in PE alongside boys who fuel their insecurity.”

From year 3, girls also started to notice the lack of female sporting role models, the study found. And despite enjoying PE, many girls surveyed disliked being outside and cold, while boys appreciated the extra space. Girls were more likely to participate in swimming, dance, tennis, netball and gymnastics, while boys said they liked football, cricket and rugby.

The women’s minister, Jo Swinson, said schools and parents have a “golden opportunity” when girls are seven and eight years old to support and encourage them to keep taking part in sport. “We know that after this age, low confidence and body consciousness can combine to reduce their eagerness to take part, which is a real shame and can have lasting effects on health right into adulthood. This can be part of a vicious circle: if women don’t take part, their daughters won’t either.”
 

The Guardian, Rebecca Ratcliffe

Thursday 26 March 2015
 

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