One in three girls drop out of sports in late teens, study finds

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Adolescent girls continue to drop out of sport at very different rates from their male peers, according to a new national study on sport participation.A report released Thursday by Canadian Women and Sport found that one in three girls who participated in sport left sport in their late teens. In comparison, the dropout rate among adolescents aged 16 to 18 is only one in 10.

“It’s pretty alarming and it makes me sad, partly because it’s not a new trend, but also because there are so many girls who lack the value of the sport and all that it can offer and teach, “said two-time Olympic trampoline gold medalist Rosie MacLennan in an interview with CBC Sports.

MacLennan would know. The 31-year-old woman from King City, Ont., Says sport was an integral part of her growth, but has also helped shape the person she is today.

“For me, the gym was a space where I was really comfortable. I was allowed to fail, get up and try again and learn, “she said. “We had a coach [Dave Ross] who supported us and really ignited our passion for the sport. We had incredible role models in athletes like Karen Cockburn and the rest of the senior team at the time, who showed us how great female athletes can be and what we can do. ”

According to the study, many teenagers do not have the same experience. Sport participation rates for Canadian girls decline steadily from childhood to adolescence, and up to 62% of girls do not participate in sport at all.

The study found that Canadian girls’ sport participation rates decline steadily from childhood to adolescence, with up to 62% of girls not participating in sport at all.

“Is it discouraging, absolutely yes. It is disheartening when you think about what these girls are missing in terms of the benefits that sport brings. It is disheartening that our communities are also missing, “said Allison Sandmeyer-Graves. , chief operating officer of Canadian Women and Sport.

“But I am also very motivated by this statistic. I hope when people see these numbers they will not be overwhelmed by them. What we really hope is that people will see and say ‘Let us intensify our daughters, see where we are can do better.’ ”

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During data collection, more than 10,000 Canadians (75% girls and women) aged 13 to 63 responded to a survey conducted by IMI International in February 2020. Although the study explores current trends in sport, its focus was on the participation of girls in the 6 to 18 age group. Sports participation includes any team or individual sport organized at least once a week in the past 12 months.

Canadian Women and Sport hopes that the report will help raise awareness and make changes in the delivery of sports programs.

“The girls are fine. Let’s take a look at the system, ”said Sandmeyer-Graves. “There are so many different possibilities to make a difference, whether you are a parent, a coach, a spectator, a media worker, a corporate sponsor. Everyone has a role to play. ”

For a parent, this goes beyond simply registering your daughter, transferring her to and from sport or paying the fees. The study found that when parents are also active in sport, their daughters are three times more likely to be active.

Many factors distract girls from sport

As for coaches – and many of them can be parents in the community, at the local level – Sandmeyer-Graves says they can use educational resources and tools to help their participants play. Understanding the needs and interests of girls and the barriers they may face can help.

One in three girls in this study reported low self-confidence, negative body image, perceived lack of skills and the fact that they were not welcome as factors preventing them from playing sports.

Some reasons for this include the lack of programs to reflect the level of play in their communities (for example, their chosen sport has only one competitive team and no “home league” options where they would like to try a sport but are starting at an older age). , how do they catch up?). Rural life, costs, religion and culture were also cited as obstacles.

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Not to be overlooked, girls face different changes at puberty than their male counterparts – menstruation, body changes, and better self-awareness.

MacLennan is fully aware of the body image issues that exist, particularly in a sport deemed to be the trampoline, but she turns her past anxiety into a different conversation.

“For me it was having open and honest conversations with my mom, my teammates and my friends about how I felt and what I was going through. I think it has helped us to develop some resilience and to slowly recognize that we can reframe the way we see things. our bodies.

“If you look at the female athletes on the Canadian Olympic team, they come in all shapes and sizes. You can see that each of them is elite in what they do. We are not limited to this one definition of what a body should look like. ”

The link between physical activity and better physical, mental or emotional health is well known – from building a strong heart to lowering the risk of developing anxiety and depression. Socially, sport offers opportunities for leadership and success. For example, 94% of female executive leaders have participated in sport, according to a global study by Ernst & Young and ESPNW.

While there are no instant solutions, awareness can help change behavior.

Sandmeyer-Graves has this advice:

“Follow women’s sports. Look at women’s sports, ”she said. “The more people get involved, demonstrate the value, develop respect. The more support and resources go to women’s sports. And that will contribute to the type of change we are looking for. “

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